January 17, 2022

Mortality Will Be The Death Of Me Yet

I have no idea what my expiration date is. Unlike a carton of milk, there is no visible stamp somewhere on my body that tells me I am best used by a specific point on the calendar. And, frankly, I don't want to know. I would rather continue to live as if the rules of mortality don't apply to Robert Lowry. After all, it has worked so far.

OK, a little flippant about a serious concern of all of us. Among all living animals, fish, plants, and viruses, humans are the only ones cursed with an awareness of death at some point. There will come a moment when we are no more. While the other 7 billion people will continue on quite nicely, the idea of me no longer occupying space is not the easiest to accept. Won't there at least be a solar eclipse or something to mark my disappearance?

Nope, unless the two events just happen to coincide. There will be some sad, upset people. Stories of my life will become exaggerated over the years and then slowly disappear forever. The space I occupy will be filled in by time, both physically and mentally.

So, how do we accept this inevitability without going crazy? How do we avoid falling into a deep depression knowing what we know? In my opinion, answering this question is one of the most important we face during the aging process. How we approach this reality will make all the difference in the quality of our life moving forward.

To many, the answer lies in their belief system. All major faiths have some concept of what happens after our physical death. Whether there is an afterlife, resurrection, reincarnation, the Hindu samara, or a period of time after death until judgment day (Akhirah in the Islam faith), humans look for reassurance that this life is not all there is. 

Others take the position these spiritual beliefs are nothing more than the human desire to impart lasting significance to our existence. We can't face death if we think only of "dust to dust." So, we have invented ways to make the end not really the end. Atheists and Agnostics are among those who reject the happy ending: death is death, done and gone. 

Like most human beings I want to believe there is something after this life ends. Since childhood, I have been part of a belief system that preaches that everything great really happens after death on this earth. In the meantime we are to fight the good fight, accepting our failings and doing our best to adhere to the behavior that God wants.

A few years ago I began to involve myself in a serious examination of what I believed and why. I studied what various texts and sources say and what they mean to someone alive in the 21st century. 

What are the core messages in books, like the Bible, that were written when people still believed the earth was flat, heaven was a literal place just above the sky, and the sun rotated around our planet? Was there anything important behind the words that no longer made any logical sense in today's world? 

The short answer for me is yes. Books like the Bible are written by human beings attempting to describe something that is indescribable in human terms. The myths, stories, and miracles are the only language the authors had to put their feelings into words. As is often said, if we can perfectly describe a God, then he/she/it isn't much of a God. A force that formed the ever-expanding universe is beyond our limited capabilities to put all of that into words.

That being said, what about my mortality? What happens to Bob when Bob is no longer breathing?

The nice thing about what I am about to write is I will have no idea whether I am right or wrong until it happens. And, if I am wrong, I will be dead and unable to admit my mistake since the me who wrote it will have ceased to exist.

I believe an overall spiritual force or energy formed the universe. There are simply too many moving pieces that must all interact in precisely the way they do for everything in every galaxy to have happened by chance. 

I believe that spiritual force, and I am OK with the word, God, is infused into everything in the universe. Humans, dogs, plants, trees, the ocean...you name it, and there is something from the creator in each. Certain religions would think of it as the Holy Spirit and I am fine with that as a human way to describe what I am attempting to describe. 

I  believe that this spark of ultimate energy does not disappear upon my death. The fact that energy can neither be created nor destroyed - only converted from one form of energy to another, is what allows me to hold to this premise.

Now, what does that mean for the unique creation that is me? Do I come back in a different form, do I reunite with lost relatives in something we call heaven, does my body reform but without pain, suffering, or male pattern baldness? I have no idea. But, to believe that I am so irreplaceable that my death only sends the whole of me to a different plane of existence, strikes me as seriously egotistical. 

I believe that the essence that is part of my being will not be relegated to the dump, but reabsorbed back into the universal, eternal force that formed everything. I don't have a clue how that "essence" or spirit or soul is used or manifests itself from that point on. And, I don't need to speculate because that is all it would be, a wild guess. I know that my perception of what happens next gives me great comfort. It allows me to go about every day I am still here with energy, happiness, and a desire to contribute. 

Believe me, I am in no rush to find out if I am correct. But, my mortality does not have a terrifying, fearful hold on me. True, I may be kidding myself. If so, the good news is I will never know.

January 13, 2022

Retirement Revisited: How To Get Ready

Every so often I am returning to the roots of Satisfying Retirement and rerunning a post that deals strictly with the nuts and bolts of retirement.  If you have yet to leave full-time work and have questions about what is ahead, I trust these posts will help you. If already retired, there is never a bad time to review what got you there and how to improve your experience.

What if you eventually want to retire, just not now? You are not there yet. Maybe it is a savings and money issue. Maybe you enjoy your job and the stimulation it gives you. Maybe your responsibilities with your family must be front and center for now. Maybe retirement scares you a bit. That just makes you normal. For whatever reason, you want to remain in the workforce but would like some suggestions on how to prepare for the day when you are ready.

Here are some important concerns:

A) Make Your Financial Projections: Get a paper and pencil, spreadsheet program on your computer, or anything that will help you with the following:
What is your projected income from now until you retire? Obviously, this is a guess. Your job might disappear tomorrow. But, based on your past situation, you should be able to make an educated guess of what you expect to make from now until you do retire. 

What do you expect to receive from Social Security? Avoid the "it won't be there for me" panic attack. We don't know the future, but we know the present. If Social Security undergoes revisions, those changes won't take effect immediately, they will be well into the future. So, for now, use what is real today.

You get a yearly report that tells you what you can expect based on your past earnings. Do you think you will have to take your payments as early as allowed, or will you be able to wait? There are logical reasons for both courses of action that are based on your status. Add that monthly amount to your projections.

What is the current status of your retirement savings and investments? You can't predict what the market will do. You can project how much you plan on saving and investing in the years ahead. Using a conservative growth projection, what should you have when you are ready to retire? What do you need to have available when you retire?

Here's a biggie: what about health care costs? None of us knows what the future holds in this area. Personally, the only thing I expect is prices to continue to rise, deductibles and copays to increase, and coverage to get skimpier. Plan on a 10-15% increase every year until you are eligible for Medicare (or its successor). Even after you turn 65, the average American will spend $250,000 on medical care. Budget for that often forgotten expense.

OK, now with those figures available to you, can you live on that for 30 years? People in good health today who are in their 40s or 50's can expect to live into their late 80s or mid-90s. If you retire sometime around 65, you will have to take care of yourself for another 20-30 years. Can you?

B) Make Your Lifestyle projections: Your financial situation will determine the overall structure of the life you will lead in retirement. Lifestyle issues will determine the quality: whether it is enjoyable and satisfying. Are you ready?

Where will you live? Many folks want to escape weather they don't like and use retirement as the motivation to move somewhere more to their liking. Or, their family lives somewhere else in the country and moving closer would make them happier.

Others like the roots they have established where they are, have family and friends nearby, and don't want to go anywhere. Moving to a retirement community on the other side of the country would never cross their mind. Aging in place is the plan.

Do you envision yourself in an "active adult" community, an age-restricted setup, an urban or rural environment, or selling everything and becoming a nomad in an RV?

What about the complications that arise when one or both spouses are with each other 24/7? Trust me, this is a major adjustment for both partners. No matter how many books on relationship building you've checked out of the library, and how much you love your partner, being together all the time is tough without some planning.

Do you have something besides work that you love to do? If work is your vocation and avocation what will you do when you don't have that anymore? Do you have any interests, passions, or hobbies you'd love to explore? It is best to figure that out before you walk in the door of your house, retired, with no idea what to do next.

I've made the point many times that retirement is a huge adjustment for anyone. I don't care how well prepared you think you are, there are things you have not foreseen that will happen. Such uncertainty shouldn't freeze you in place. Life is all about change. There is no way to cover all your bases ahead of time.

So, what to do? Plan, plan, plan. Then plan some more. Consider everything you know and things you know you don't know. Then, when the time is right for you, just do it. You will learn to adjust. You will struggle, grow, panic, and thrive. That is life whether you are retired or not.

And, as I begin my 21st year, I can vouch for the satisfaction that comes from having your time and your life under your control.

January 9, 2022

The Value of Remembering The Good and Not So Good.

I have begun a 52-week creative writing course. Every seven days there is a new topic with some probing questions. The goal is for me to take life experiences, attitudes, and brainstorming to enhance both my writing skills and provide me with possible posts for this blog.

One of the first series of questions dealt with work. I was to write a paragraph or two about all the various jobs I have held in my lifetime, both paid, and volunteer positions that were long term.

Then, I was to recall my worst employment memories and the best ones to help me uncover some personality traits and decisions that put me in those positions. Finally, I was to develop a handful of takeaway life lessons. 

I am aware that some of what I wrote, and will now convey, won't be completely relatable to you. They were things that happened to me that you likely don't share. But, there is a chance if you read through my responses to this writing course, it might trigger some memories of your own. Maybe some were suppressed, forgotten about, or maybe bring back a flood of positive remembrances.

A) Jobs and long-term volunteer commitments I remember:

Counselor in training at summer camp, newspaper route, selling collectible stamps, writing and distributing neighborhood newspaper, radio station janitor and then part-time, full-time radio announcer, corporate positions, consultant, researcher, speaker, JA teacher, board member, blogger, author, lay ministry and teacher, prison ministry, library board positions.

My worst job was as a counselor in training. I had to call my parents to take me home after realizing I was completely unsuited. I was much too immature to be in charge of kids just a few years younger than me. I picked favorite campers, became homesick, and found a strong dislike for a cabin/in-the-wood lifestyle. I think I lasted less than a week,

My Grandad wrote me a wonderful letter about understanding what had gone wrong and to learn from it, to not get too down on myself. He turned a personal disaster into a supportive learning moment. I will never forget his grace at that moment.

The second worst job was taking a new company startup position in Tucson and having my righthand man quit to go into competition. I had no idea what I was doing in setting up that company. Once another part of the company's business fell through, my job quickly vanished.

Of course, that firing set up a very successful self-employment ride. But, initially, it was scary. In thinking back, I don't remember ever being in a real panic. I was pretty confident from the beginning that I could land on my feet and support the family. But, mac and cheese for the better part of a year leave some scars.

One of my radio on-air jobs was really a step down from the previous one. Both in terms of the people and learning, it was a placeholder for whatever was next. I was beginning to understand that being a disc jockey wasn't to be my long-term future.

I knew being a program director had to in the very near future. I would probably have been better served to stay at the first station until that happened. I think I got kind of bored and started to feel unfulfilled with the sameness of the job each day, even though the air work was quite a kick.

So, I took a position closer to my hometown. But, it didn't help me grow my skills at all. There was no one to teach me or prod me into improving. This was a 12-month long mistake.

Best jobs? Probably the first part-time work at a small local station near my hometown. At 16 I felt grown up and found it very fulfilling. I was like a sponge, soaking up everything from people who, in hindsight, weren't the best teachers. But, they motivated me up to commit to this as my life's work.

Doing live broadcasts at the county fair and car dealerships was a rush. Thinking back, I have often wondered how the Ford dealer felt paying for a radio station live appearance and having a 16-year-old kid running it. Probably disappointed!

Most important to my future was being hired by a consulting company based in Cedar Rapids. That was a strong vote of confidence in my skills in radio and set me on a path that would result in a national reputation and solid future. The people I worked with were stimulating and generally supportive. I learned to spend much of my time on airplanes and in hotels.

I did learn one very important lesson: a large corporate position wasn't my best fit. I had a hard time agreeing with what I saw as bad decisions, trying to fit into a particular mold, and having to temper my speech and communication to not rock the wrong boat.

At one point I was working for the broadcasting arm of the Mormon church. Being a non-Mormon created a constant undercurrent of being an outsider. I wasn't particularly religious or opposed to their primary beliefs...I didn't give them much thought. Bonneville was a meal ticket and an excellent listing on my resume. However, I probably couldn't have bought into their philosophy of life and family, and beliefs for too long without things becoming uncomfortable.

After the corporate exposures and being fired in Tucson, I was forced into self-employment. The sales part and the marketing didn't come naturally to me, but word of mouth, well-known clients, and a string of successes led to a comfortable life.

The downfall came from not growing. I simply repeated what I already had learned while the industry changed around me. I dedicated absolutely no time in analyzing what I and others were doing and how my product could have been improved.

I also became a little too full of myself, refusing to wear appropriate "consultant clothes,"  at times, under the attitude if they couldn't take me the way I looked, then who needed them? Bottom line? I did.

I remember one particular time when I showed up at a new client in a casual shirt and pants instead of the normal suit or sports coat and tie. I still recall a rather shocked look from the woman who met me at the airport. She was expecting a management-looking person, not someone dressed like one of her on-air jocks.

Pride before the fall. Taking too many clients. Not investing in myself in terms of learning and growing. And, having the industry change so dramatically that how I worked was doomed.

I was offered a chance or two to join a company as an in-house consultant or programmer. But those opportunities would have involved a move, put me back in the corporate world that I knew was a bad fit. I decided my freedom and possible income would be too restricted.

End result: out of business about 10 years earlier than I expected to be. Commitment to a spend-less-then-you-earn lifestyle for the previous 30 years meant we did not have to fight to remain in what had become a grind for me. 

For the last 5-7 years of my self-employment, I think I was just going through the motions. That was completely unfair to the clients paying me, and to myself for doing something I was no longer passionate about.

Lessons Learned:

1) Know yourself and change your situation to allow you to flourish

2) Invest in yourself continuously

3) Stop doing whatever you are doing when it is no longer fun and fulfilling

4) Plan for the end of your employment life even if you have no idea when it will occur.

I hope this "behind the curtain" look was interesting or at least caused you to think a bit about what major factors brought you to where you are in life now.

I get a fresh set of probing questions from the writing course every Monday. What lies ahead?