February 27, 2014

Lessons I Learned While Working Are Still Working

I spent 36 years in one industry before retiring over thirteen years ago. It was an exciting and rewarding career that allowed me to interact with some of the big names in the music and radio business. I got to live the rock and roll lifestyle for a dozen years as a DJ at Top 40 radio stations. Eventually, I moved from performer to consultant and researcher and spent the next 26 years on airplanes and in hotel rooms. And, yes, the George Clooney movie of a few years ago about frequent fliers is quite accurate. I have one of those 1,000,000 mile cards from Delta.

Over the course of three and a half decades what did I learn then that is helping me now?  I didn't really appreciate it at the time, but a solid foundation was being built. Here are some lessons I learned that continue to influence me today.

Being in the right place at the right time can make a huge difference. My career was moving forward very slowly and I was having doubts about the lifestyle of a DJ. Long hours, low pay, and living with the constant risk of being fired because of low ratings lead to a stressful life. 

Just then my brother happened to write a complementary article about the radio station I was programming while he was in town for my wedding. That article was seen by someone at the top radio consulting company. They had an opening and I got it. Instantly my life and career were on a path that would allow me to own my own consulting and research business a few years later, enjoy financial stability, and retire early. All because of one article, in one small newsletter, seen by one person, at exactly the right time. I would never have even been on their radar without that event.

Being at the right place at the right time is something you really can't control. But, if you are alert enough to recognize that opportunity, grab it. Some may call this luck and that may play a part. But, if you are not sensitive to the big chance when it presents itself being lucky won't help. Train yourself to look at situations with a fresh eye. When others see a problem, do you sense an opening?

Paying your dues. To break into radio at the age of 15, I started as a janitor at a tiny radio station in suburban Boston. Mopping floors, throwing out the trash, and running errands for the announcers eventually lead to a chance for me to try out for an on-air opening and get it. The truth is I got the job because I agreed to work for virtually nothing after school and weekends. I hung around the station even when I wasn't being paid, doing newscasts and playing taped programs for free.

I'm afraid there are a lot of people today who believe society owes them success. Hard work, learning the ropes, and doing the stuff others don't want to do are foreign concepts to many. They believe starting at the bottom and working your way up is not for them. I'm pretty sure that skipping the first several rungs of the ladder will set you up for a nasty fall at some point.

Long hours and sacrifice are part of building anything meaningful. My first  air shift as a DJ while away at college was from 12 midnight to 6AM Monday mornings. I had an 8 O'Clock class that I almost never attended and barely managed to squeak by with a D. Several months later I worked from 6 PM-12 midnight 6 days a week while carrying a full class load. Later as a consultant I worked seven days a week for almost three years to establish my business.

It was not often pleasant, but building something worthwhile comes at a cost.  I chose to make those sacrifices to build what I was striving to build. There was no other way. 

Your word is your most valuable asset. I had more than one client tell me that I had their total trust and confidence. They believed my word was my bond and i would do everything in my power to help them succeed. In life, as well as business, trust and honesty must be earned. The cost if you squander them can bankrupt a business and a life.There is nothing more valuable than your word. Protect it at all costs.

Take an occasional calculated risk. When I was fired shortly after moving from Salt Lake City to Tucson in 1980 I had a real problem: a family with two kids under the age of 3 and no way to support them. After long discussions with my wife, we decided I would try to establish my own consulting and research business. The odds were against us. I didn't have much money for marketing and promotion.

It worked. One major station decided to take a chance on me and that lead to a national client base. It was tough at first. We didn't even allow ourselves to go shopping at a mall for one full year. But, the calculated risk we took paid off. It probably helped that we had no Plan B. It had to work.

Learning must never stop. One important lesson cost me my business and pushed me into retirement at least 4 or 5 years earlier than I had planned. I allowed myself to coast on past performances and reputation. While the industry was changing all around me, I continued to use the same approach that had worked so well for so many years. I stopped learning and evolving. When radio finally went through another gigantic upheaval in 1996 I had no way to stop the decline in my business.

The lesson was simple: never stop learning. Whatever you know today is likely to be different or obsolete much sooner than you expect. Whatever your expertise or experience, it will become worthless at some point if you don't keep learning. It doesn't matter if you are in business or retired, the world will pass you by if you step to the sidelines and watch the parade. 

Know when to fold 'em. In 2001 my wife and I looked at the wreckage of the business and had to make a critical decision. Do we take a chunk of our savings and attempt to resurrect the business?  Or, do we say it was a great run while it lasted. and stop?Retiring when I did was a real leap into the deep end but that's what we did. We took that risk. We knew when to call it quits.

Sometimes you have to stop something you are doing, or change direction. You may have to undergo a difficult transition to get to the next stage. You may have jump into the deep end of the pool without a life preserver. But, the riskiest decision you can make in such a situation is to not jump. To continue along a path that isn't working for you is only going to take you farther away from where you want to be.

February 24, 2014

Medicare Decisions Made

About three months ago I wrote the post, My Medicare Decisions Are Only a Few Months Away.  Then, I was considering all my options for coverage that will begin on May 1st. Should I opt for traditional Medicare, pick an Advantage program, or take Medicare but add Medigap and Part D drug coverage?

The decisions are not easy. There are dozens of options available with all sorts of different monthly premiums, including some at $0. Being rather healthy (my recent food poisoning episode not withstanding!) should I take a bare bones package now and upgrade when my health requires it? What if I wait too long, have an expensive problem and my "gamble" backfires?

My Medicare card arrived in mid-January, actually several weeks before I could even sign up for anything else. Of course, I was given the option to mail the card back and tell the government I was not going with traditional Medicare. But, I think they mail the card as early as they do to "help" me decide. With the card in hand and active steps on my part needed to choose differently, they may be counting on folks just going with the easiest choice.

Not so fast. I still wanted to look again at all my options and costs. Betty and I discussed the amount of risk we were willing to accept to save some money each month. We talked through the choices and what seemed to make the most sense.

As I looked at Medicare Advantage programs I was initially attracted by the low premiums, decent coverage, and simplicity: one check to one company takes care of everything. But, upon closer inspection two serious flaws became evident. Advantage programs don't travel. That is, they provide for coverage in your home county, but are difficult if not impossible to count on when traveling. A good policy at home might turn out to be worthless if I had a medical problem while on an RV trip far from Scottsdale.

Secondly, the type of coverage that certain Medigap policies provide is not part of an Advantage plan. The customer will still be on the hook for a potion of costs that Medicare doesn't cover. And, it is not possible to buy a supplemental policy if someone is covered by an Advantage program. I could be liable for more than $6,000 in additional costs each year.

Two weeks ago, I finally made my choice, filed the applications, paid some money in advance, and prepared myself to enter a new world of health coverage in just over two months. I decided to go with traditional Medicare, adding both robust Medigap  and a Part D drug coverage policies. The cost was $250 less than I was paying last fall, and $70 less than the individual policy I purchased through the Health Marketplace for coverage that started January 1st.

Medicare will cover up to 80% of my expenses. The Medicare supplemental policy will pay the 20% remaining and for 100% of some services that Medicare doesn't cover. I choose Plan F, certainly not the most inexpensive, but with the type of benefits I want. The Drug coverage policy will leave me with a monthly cost of $3 for the two basic, generic prescriptions I take now. In the future, their formulary looks to be on par with others and should keep my prescription costs under control.

The cost of basic Medicare is deducted automatically from my monthly Social Security check. The other two policies will require me to pay two additional premiums. Was this the easiest choice? No. Was it the most inexpensive? No. Did it provide the security and peace of mind I wanted? Yes.

With a chance to pick other policies and other approaches every fall, I am feeling pretty good about things. Time will tell.

February 20, 2014

A Funny Name, A Beautiful Getaway

Dead Horse Ranch State Park. Not the most alluring name, is it? The good news is the dead horse that gave this park it's name has been gone for quite some time. The even better news is this is a real gem in the Arizona State Park system and only 90 minutes from our home.

Betty and I decided to take a quick break from routine with a two night trip here a week ago. With the weather predicted to be sunny with highs in the upper 70s, the timing couldn't be better. We hadn't camped here since last fall and were anxious to get back.

Located along the Verde River in Cottonwood,  there are three campground loops for RVs, another just for tents, and a section with a dozen cabins for rent. Horses are available for hour long adventures among the hills. Even better, there are miles of hiking trails along the river and around three picture perfect lagoons, meant for fishing, picnics, or simply sitting on a bench and loving nature. Bailey, our dog, was in heaven: more new smells and places to explore than even her hyperactive little doggie legs could take her. Even a pack of coyotes howling at the full moon didn't distract her from her explorations.

Like all Arizona State parks we have been to, Dead Horse Ranch is well maintained. The shower and restrooms are clean and modern.. Each site has a picnic table, grill/fire ring, water and electric services. A dump station is located on the drive out. Our site had a huge tree offering perfect shade throughout the day. Nothing more than a light breeze gently shook the awning projecting from the side of the RV.

The mini break was just what we needed. We slept late, ate simple meals, read, napped, walked several miles each day, had solid discussions about a marriage book we are reading together, and watched a movie as it got dark.

For arm chair travelers, here are some pictures to entice you to Dead Horse Ranch State Park some day. It can be unpleasantly hot here in the summer. But, for a mild mid-February break, there is no place better.

"Where should we explore next, Daddy?"

When the trees turn green in a month this will be amazingly lush

Perfect spot to sit

Which path to take? It doesn't matter when you are retired!

A full moon on Valentine's Day Night - how romantic!
I'll let Bailey decide

My beautiful bride on her birthday and Valentine's Day

My two "girls"

And a relaxing time was had by all

February 17, 2014

I Survived Week One of Retirement

A regular reader sent me an e-mail a few weeks ago. It was a recap of the first week of full retirement for her and her husband. I thought it captured the excitement, fear, joy, dread, anticipation, sense of freedom and change so well, I asked if I could use it here. Other than removing the names and a few minor adjustments, it is a real-life glimpse into the first blush of the phase of life I call a satisfying retirement:
WHEW! It is NOTHING like I thought it  would be. The party is over.
Key to business was handed over to next (young!!) guy. 
Feels WEIRD!!
 But-- first of all, it's only a week!  I am finding that hubby and I are processing retirement completely differently! (We worked together so retired on the same day.)
I am DONE. FINI! Can't even bear to TALK ABOUT the industry that has BURNED ME OUT TO A CRISP!
Hubby...still nostalgic, going through his scrapbooks and thank you letters from the clients. Still wants to talk about all the good times.
ME: Anxious to buy the RV.

Hubby--taking his time with research.
Hubby : Needs a lot of time alone to process this, for now!
ME: Thought I would want to immediately jump into some "FUN"  part time work/hobby, but I DO NOT! I can't BELIEVE this feeling of relief and freedom! I am not going to work any time soon!! This is a true surprise to me, this feeling of wanting to NOT WORK AT ALL.  Ready to PLAY,read,NAP,hike,travel.
Hubby: Still thinking he may want at some future date, to work part time... he is leaving it open ended.
I am also having dreams/not quite nightmares, but INTENSE dreams related to the work I was doing that aggravated me so much-- like my SOUL is throwing it all off, night by night.  Till I am "cleansed!" 
hmmm..this retirement stuff is not for wimps is it?
Also--I have days I feel really "safe" and secure, and a couple of days when I am saying to myself "WHAT WERE WE THINKING WE MAY NOT HAVE ENOUGH MONEY TO LAST TILL WE ARE 100..we may become bag people!! LOL!!!" 
Well,it's just week one.

I am sure this journey gets.. a bit easier, right?? right??

If I could have written an e-mail that perfectly describes the rush of emotions and thoughts in the first seven days of retirement, it would have looked very much like this. I had forgotten about the dreams and almost a sense of "flushing" the old from your system, but she has it absolutely right. That happened to me in just the same way.

I assured her she and hubby were exactly on track. All of these emotions and the sorting things out will take weeks, maybe months before a more settled mindset begins to assert itself.

But, then, one day, husband and wife will turn to each other and wonder" why did we wait so long? Life is meant to be lived on our terms.

Viva retirement!"

February 13, 2014

I Miss a Good Morning Newspaper

Like many folks in my generation, a morning paper in the driveway was part of my life for as long as I can remember. My parents subscribed for all the time they lived independently and I developed the same habit. Except while away at college, I started my mornings with a paper and a cup of coffee. At one point I actually subscribed to two daily papers: the local one and the New York Times.  

I grew up reading the Boston Globe, considered one of the best papers in the country for decades. Later, daily papers in Cedar Rapids, Salt Lake City, Tucson, and Phoenix started my days. I never gave it much thought: papers were just part of the fabric of life. 

Obviously, that is no longer the case. Print newspapers are an endangered species. Each year produces a growing list of cities and towns without a printed paper. For many cities that still have a physical paper, it may be delivered only a few days a week. The paper has gotten thinner, the ink smudges more easily, and the desperation of subscription telemarketers increases with each call.

Aware that many people get their news and information from the Internet, most newspapers have made a valiant effort to develop and promote a digital version of the paper. Some, like the New York Times, have seen strong growth in this area. In fact, one report I saw noted the Times added over 600,000 digital subscribers last year alone.    

As anyone who has tried to access the digital version of their local or national newspaper knows, there are problems. Reading a story on a tablet or even a laptop isn’t the same as turning pages. It just isn’t. Ads in the print version are more easily avoidable than videos that suddenly start up on line, or ads that crawl across the screen and pop up in the middle of a story. 

Most sites now have pay walls, so you can get a little of the paper’s content but after a point you must subscribe to be able to read the rest. If you subscribe to the print version the digital version is either added in or comes for a small premium, but a digital subscription alone costs about as much as having the paper end up in your driveway. 

Besides the physical decline in virtually all newspapers is the serious drop in quality. In Phoenix, the 6th largest city in the country, our only major newspaper has local news restricted to two or three pages. Business news? Two pages. The arts?  Today that means movies and pop music. Interested in books, paintings and dance, or other forms of artistic expression? Don’t look for much in the newspaper.  

I am quite aware that the Internet and all the forms of social connection and information exchange makes the traditional form of newspaper news delivery obsolete and much too expensive to produce.  

That doesn’t mean I can’t be sad I don’t have a high quality, entertaining, and informative alternative waiting for me each morning. Reading a good morning newspaper allowed me to start the day slowly and at my own pace.

I miss it.

February 10, 2014

Just One Little Can

It is amazing what power exists in one small can.

Two weekends ago I had an experience I have never had before: food poisoning. I will spare you any of the details, but it was not pleasant. We believe a can of tuna fish that made up part of my dinner on Friday evening was the culprit. I have never had anything come upon me so quickly and violently.

By Sunday afternoon I began to eat some solid foods again, if dry toast, jello, and broth constitute solid food. On Sunday evening I allowed myself a baked potato with just a hint of butter. Monday morning, after sleeping almost 10 hours, I felt almost human again.

A side benefit: in 48 hours I lost almost 6 pounds. As a diet I wouldn't recommend it, but the body is an amazing machine that rids itself of whatever is causing problems as quickly and efficiently as it does.

Once again, this lost weekend impressed upon me the absolute blessing good health is to my satisfying retirement. It is almost a cliché that you don't realize what feeling good is, until you don't. To not feel your stomach doing its job or to not feel too weak to get out of bed, are too easily taken for granted when healthy. Granted, at almost 65 I have the usual aches and pains that come with age, but nothing significant. I have no issues that restrict my ability to go about my daily life pretty much as I see fit.

Experiences like this past weekend make me appreciate that blessing. I am well aware that too many people, including lots of readers of this blog, have ongoing physical limitations that make each day a push through their infirmities. They do it because they choose to live as fully as possible and fight against the pain and problems. I hope that as I begin to face the health complications that are waiting for me I can show the same grace and determination that these folks do.

Finally, and just as important as the slap of health reality this episode gave me, was a fresh appreciation for the incredible woman who is sharing my life. Betty did things to help after some of my more unpleasant attacks that I am not sure I could have done, at least not with the concern, and love, and compassion she exhibited. She immediately put her own needs aside, getting as little sleep as I did during the worst times and ministering to me.

I am not sure how a small post on food poisoning turned into a love letter for my wife, but that was the end result. She has her 60th birthday on Valentine's Day (so appropriate!). My goal is to surprise her with a little something special to help show her how much I love her. I will be happy to spend the time with her, watching her enjoy the activity I have found and us simply being together.

Just one little can: with a powerful result in two remarkably different ways. Isn't it amazing how life gives us so much to learn from even the simplest event?

No thanks. I'll pass

February 3, 2014

Top Google Searches In 2013

A few weeks ago I stumbled across a series of pages on Google: the top searched terms and events in 2013 for all sorts of categories. It became apparent that I am not as far out of the loop as I thought I would have been in some categories, but without a clue in others. 

So, what were some of the top searches on the Internet last year? Here is a sampling to help you determine if you are a closet 'hipster."

People: Here I did OK. I recognized eight of the top ten names. I do not know why I should know Mindy McCready or Amanda Bynes.

Events: Nine out of 10 rang a bell. I gather Mayweather vs. Canelo involves two fighters but watching two men smash each other with gloves doesn't do it for me.

Most Searched People: Who is Drake? What did Selena Gomez or Katy Perry do to deserve my attention?

Athletes: I recognize only three of the top 10 names.

Celeb Pregnancies: Once past Kate Middleton, I have no idea.

Celeb Breakups: 1 out of ten registers, and a giant yawn for the rest.

Dance Moves: I have heard of one of them: Gangnam Style, but I thought that was a big deal in 2012.

Reality TV Stars: Zero out of 10, a total air ball for me.

Songs: Another zip for 10.

Video games: Another in the Grand Theft Auto series rings a bell. The other nine? No idea.

TV Series Finales: I have seen a few episodes of Breaking Bad and heard of Dexter but the rest mean nothing (since I don't watch current TV).

I am not bothered that I did poorly in several of the categories that were most important to so many people. Frankly, if I knew the top 10 dances or celebrity breakups of 2013 I'd have a reassess how I am spending my time.

So, how do you think you'd do? Test yourself by clicking here for the full report.