November 5, 2016
If Only I Knew This When I Retired
I have been retired for 15 years. When I stopped working the world was a different place than it is today. 9/11 was still 3 months in the future. That event would shake up just about everything, including retirement. Financial planning and a certain predictability of how things worked would change almost overnight. Well laid plans would be shaken to the core.
While still adjusting to a new world, our system suffered yet another huge shock just seven years later, with a recession that came close to an economic meltdown. It's ripples are still being felt today. I could argue that the contentious election cycle we are enduring is part of that ripple.
Just because I had retired didn't mean I was isolated from the twin shocks of the terrorist attacks and the financial mess we found ourselves. In fact, in looking back I think those events may have had a greater effect on me mentally than if I were still getting a paycheck. I felt I had little control over my investments or economic well being. I didn't have an obvious path back to generating more income.
If the stock market or banking institutions started to fail I was dependent on the government to make me (partially) whole at some undefined time in the future. My house seemingly lost value with every passing week. I could see years of planning start to slip away.
Luckily for me, that didn't happen. I lost a bunch, on paper, and then rebounded within 4 years. The stress, worry, and time lost wondering what would happen was very real, but not permanent. I know I was lucky. I learned a very valuable lesson that continues to pay dividends today: There is always a path forward. Even when events conspire against us, there is positive movement possible. The surroundings, the trappings of one's life, the place and type of life one lives may all change, and not necessarily for the better.
But, the freedom that comes with retirement, the ability to shape a life that is satisfying, regardless of the external circumstances, is a never-ending gift. The ability to not only survive, but thrive on a different path than the one planned for, is something I wish I knew when I first retired.
My life in 2016 is not the one I envisioned in June of 2001. In fact, what turns me on today and keeps me motivated wasn't even on my radar back then. I could not have predicted how things are evolving. Now I understand what truly is important and makes me happy. If I had only known!
I must add that millions of my fellow retirees weren't as fortunate. Their future was forever altered by the events of the last 16 years. Retirement became a dream for many that was delayed, or unattainable. For them, much of what I write about a satisfying retirement probably rings hollow. And, for that I am truly sorry. The best I can do is offer encouragement, maybe help you find a different path forward with what I write here, and be a sounding board for your frustration.