September 24, 2017

Hurricanes and Retirement : What Do They Share?

The devastation of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma is very fresh in our minds. The rebuilding of lives and property will continue well into the future; some people and places will never be the same. I feel for these losses and the massive toll on the countries hit and the people fighting to come back. At the same time, floods in Italy, Malaysia, India, just to name a few other locations, have wreaked absolute havoc.

Preparation before disaster strikes is essential in a world where nature seems to be running wild. A "what will be will be" attitude may work when it is time to choose a restaurant for dinner, but not when confronting Mother Nature in all her power.

Since my mind is a little odd, it occurred to me that preparing for an event like a hurricane or typhoon is somewhat akin to we should do before retirement strikes. Of course, a storm usually passes in a few hours though rebuilding may take weeks or months, even years, to repair.  There may be injuries, even deaths. 

Certainly, I don't mean to minimize the seriousness of a major storm. I have lived through a few hurricanes and they are terrifying. But, if you will allow me to extend the metaphor, when retirement hits us we have another 20 or 30 years to adjust to. So, being fully prepared makes tremendous sense.

*Loss of power. In a major storm, we are likely to lose electricity for awhile. Cell phone service, Internet access, all are at risk. During retirement we are threatened with a different type of power loss: loss of energy, drive, and goals that we strive for. No power for a few hours or even days can be quite uncomfortable. No energy or drive during retirement can has longer lasting effects.

*Loss of belongings and stability. Pictures from the hurricanes' aftermaths show the heartbreaking devastation of houses, businesses, property, even the landscapes. Harvey left tens of thousands of cars underwater. Irma flattened some Caribbean islands beyond recognition and forever altered parts of Florida. Puerto Rico may be without dependable utilities well into next year.

Retirement is not that dramatic, but there is a type of loss, a loss of belonging to a group of coworkers or an organization. The stability of a regular paycheck is replaced with the hope your financial walls are strong enough to withstand the wind. 

*Forced change in routine. Think of the pictures of the thousands of people housed in shelters. Think of all the lives that will be on hold for weeks or months. Everyday routines will be upended for the foreseeable future.

Retirement suddenly puts you in charge of 24 hours a day. Almost like a storm survivor, a newly retired person is really starting over in how his day is managed. You must develop new routines and a daily schedule.

*Storm warnings ignored. I guess it is part of human nature, but I always wonder what possesses someone to ride out a hurricane believing it won't be that bad. If you can evacuate but choose not to that is risking your life as well as those who must rescue you.

In retirement, a storm warning can come in various forms: a report from your doctor of health problems, a statement from your financial institution that your withdrawal rate is dangerously high, an argument with a spouse or partner that is more severe than normal. Like a serious hurricane warning, you are putting a lot at risk if you ignore the warnings you receive during retirement.

Hurricanes can change someone's life completely, and rarely in a good way. You have very little control. Retirement will change your life. Whether it is a positive or negative experience is much more in your control. Make the most of it.


  1. From being in the direct path of Irma, only to have it move slightly to the east (as in 'The Hand Of God') plus the impact of having my identity compromised thanks to Equifax, I have come to realize in my retirement that there is no meaning to anything. The thought of losing ALL my possessions plus the thought of having ALL my money wiped out of my 'secure' bank accounts made me realize the stupidity of almost everything. It was a great 'wake up' call. The only security in my life is my belief in God. Everything else is just noise. Everything else is meaningless.
    I like the word of King Solomon: Eat, drink and be merry.
    Works for me!

    1. You are echoing Ecclesiastes with Solomon's "Meaningless, meaningless, utterly meaningless." Of course, by the end of that particular book in the Bible, he understands that knowing and worshipping God are the keys to everything.

      Your point is a powerful one: in the face of physical destruction and the loss of financial security what is our response? Personally, I hope I am learning to worry less. Virtually everything I worry about never happens or is out of my control, so why do it?

      If, or when, someone steals my data from Equifax (or any of dozens of other companies) what is my response? Take reasonable steps to protect myself, be vigilant, and lead my life.

    2. Bob,

      One of the best advantages of retirement is that it has given me the time and opportunity to examine (or reexamine) and reflect on my "first principles" and/or philosophy of life. Having more life behind me than ahead of me tends to sharpen the vision.

      I am a happy agnostic who thinks the universe unfolds via the laws of physics. We are part of it and along for the ride. Nevertheless there is wisdom in scripture, religious and secular writings. Some that have influenced me:

      “I've had a lot of worries in my life, most of which never happened.”

      ― Mark Twain

      And Reinhold Niebuhr's "Serenity Prayer:"

      God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
      Courage to change the things I can,
      And wisdom to know the difference.

      I am somewhat a Stoic in philosophy, and try to live by the wisdom of Epictetus, the Stoic philosopher:

      "We are not troubled by things or events, but rather by the view we take of such things."

      We are in control of our thoughts and reactions, but many choose anxiety and despair over things they have absolutely no control over. It is one of the reasons I am increasing avoiding the news. It is full of many things that I have no control or ability to influence. Why do I need to know such things?

      I will close with one of my favorite poems, that comes as close to a "prayer" as I get. I often find myself reciting it (and going into nature) in times of trouble. It is by Wendell Berry, the poet, farmer, philosopher:

      The Peace of Wild Things

      When despair for the world grows in me
      and I wake in the night at the least sound
      in fear of what my life and my children's lives may be,
      I go and lie down where the wood drake
      rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
      I come into the peace of wild things
      who do not tax their lives with forethought
      of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
      And I feel above me the day-blind stars
      waiting with their light. For a time
      I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

      Rick in Oregon

    3. I very much appreciate the time you took to share these items with us all. The Serenity Prayer is one of my favorites and a guiding principle.

      I was unaware of the Epictetus quote but like it quite a bit.

      Thanks, Rick.

  2. Hi Bob! Great metaphor and certainly something we should all stay aware of as we age and approach retirement. Things change. Expecting things to stay the same in a changing environment is like rearranging the deck chairs as the ship is going down. Instead, I believe that staying resilient and adaptable is probably one of the greatest skills we can develop in life. Then no matter what, we will navigate the storms successfully. Thanks for another thought provoking post. ~Kathy

    1. Sometimes retirement can cause changes that are life-altering, just like a serious storm. We may not be able to avoid them, we may even be worse off for a time afterward. But, we do have the skills to find a way around the disruption and adapt to whatever comes our way.

  3. Interesting thoughts. I am now one week into retirement and, while not exactly experiencing a hurricane, I find it is, for now, more like a light rain shower. I had been very much looking forward to retirement for some time, and had pictured my first week as one of complete euphoria. Instead, I find that while my brain is greatly enjoying not getting up and going to work, my gut is feeling a bit of melancholy. Perhaps it has something to do with leaving a group of good friends that I had worked with for 25 years or more. I know I will see them again, but being out on my own while they are still together at work is not what I am used to. Regardless, I am looking forward to experiencing all that retirement has to offer!

    1. That sort of let down feeling is quite common. The body and mind need time to adjust to the new reality so expect some conflicting feelings for awhile. That may be followed by a period of mild panic...where is the money going to come from, what wil I do all day, etc.

      But, then you will enter the time when all the possibilities and freedom of retirement hit you full force and it is a very good feeling!

  4. Failing to plan is planning to fail. Whether it is a hurricane or retirement or anything else, I always have a plan, including goals and action steps. Sound boring? Not to me. I have been retired for 5 years and I have a plan for every part of it: golfing, fitness, church activities, family relationships, friends, travel. Does it limit spontaneity? Not for me. It gives me the freedom to pursue spontaneity, without spinning out of control. Does everything go according to plan? NO! Plans need to be reviewed and changed regularly.

    1. I wrote a post awhile back on planning for spontaneity. It was right in line with what you are saying: plan the important basic stuff and let other things happen on the spur of the moment. That is what adds spice to life.


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