Almost 2 years ago I posted some thoughts on decisions that have had a major impact on my life and lead to my satisfying retirement. since then I thought there are enough new readers to run it again. Also, I have had more time to consider the importance of each decision and add additional thoughts.
A life is a collection of events, happenstances, genetics, luck, and environment. It can be altered in a second by an accident or medical emergency. These factors are usually out of your control. But, a life is also the sum total of decisions that you make along the way. Regardless of age or present situation certain choices you make affect what happens to you from that point forward. Here are some of the primary decisions that have shaped my journey.
People tell me I was rather odd in one regard: I knew what I wanted to do at age 12 and stayed with that choice for 40 years. A more normal occurrence is to struggle with the decision of what should be one’s life work through the teen years, into college, and maybe beyond. But, the first time I stepped foot into a radio station in Cambridge, Ohio at that tender age I was hooked. By fifteen I was a DJ after school and on weekends at a tiny station in suburban Boston. Another dozen years of playing rock and roll records in various cities lead to a being a consultant and researcher.
I remained completely satisfied with my career choice until I stopped work at age 52. That I was able to discover my life’s passion for a career so young saved me a lot of struggles and uncertainty. The fact that I loved the radio business meant I was not going to a job everyday to earn money. I went to work everyday because I was passionate about all of it.
Today, it is much more likely someone will change careers throughout his or her working years. In fact, current studies suggest most people will change occupations between five and seven times. On one hand I can see that as a good thing. Different parts of one's personality and skills can be more fully used. Feelings of stagnation or being trapped are less likely. Of course, the risk is there is no opportunity to ever be at one place long enough to build much in the way of retirement savings. But, over all I see advantages to the willingness to shake up employment life on a regular basis.
Marriage must be very high on any list of important decisions. Your life changes forever. It is no longer just your life, but a shared life. You are at least partially responsible for every major choice that now affects at least one other person. Your ability to compromise, to become less self-centered, and to share will have a direct effect on the marriage’s chances for success. I have been happily married for 36 years. It hasn’t always been easy; it isn’t supposed to be. But, the commitment we made to each other was forever and neither of us can imagine a life that doesn’t include the other.
As I noted in a post a while back about Boomers and divorce the rate has doubled over the last two decades among those 50 plus. That post mentioned some of the reasons so I won't repeat them here. But, divorce among soon-to-be retired, or fully retired folks, is a serious social issue. In addition to the obvious emotional pain, there are several unintended consequences for everyone: more people without the financial resources to survive and extra burdens on the health care and nursing home systems. I have no answers to suggest but know we must be aware that the breakup of a marriage among older folks is just as devastating as it is when young children are involved.
From our marriage came two daughters. If you tell yourself that getting married means big changes, hold onto your hat. Having kids makes the changes of marriage look minor by comparison. The primary reason for living, the center of your world, and the force behind almost every choice you make from that point forward are different when you have children. Parents know the absolute love and complete terror that comes with children. At least for me (and my wife), there is nothing I have done that comes close to equaling the importance of the birth and development of our kids.
Very important has been the ability to maintain close relationships with both girls, and now, the grandchildren that have come along. To have all of us living within 40 minutes of each other affects each of us in positive ways. It has been great to see the grandchildren able to experience the blessing of interacting with two sets of grandparents on a regular basis.
Another key decision happened very early in our marriage. My wife and I agreed to live by three simple financial rules. We would always live beneath our means, we would not follow common wisdom as it applied to our investments, and we would value experiences over things. I have written several posts about this direction for our financial life together. As we have moved from our early years together, through the raising childhood phase, to empty nest, and now retirement those financial decisions have proven crucial to our stability and enjoyment of our life together.
The decisions I made were right for me at that time. If my circumstances had been different some of those choices may have been different. But, that is the amazing thing about life. Every one of us is different. At least to a degree we have the chance to shape and re-shape our life constantly. That makes waking up every morning exciting. What will the day hold and how can I shape it? What will happen that makes this a satisfying retirement?
OK, your turn. Look back on a key decision or two in your life. If you had them to do over again would you? Did your choices prove to be a good ones? If not, what did you do to put the mistakes behind you?