May 18, 2019

Unintended Consequences

A while back, a regular reader oSatisfying Retirement left a comment that raised an issue of retiring that I had never thought of before. Here is what he said:

"A new insight today....a little bit of anger from my friends who are feeling abandoned by my plans to leave the community. I knew it would be scary for me, but I think I underestimated the impact upon my friends, band mates and neighbors. I just didn't think of myself as being all that important in their lives. It is a bittersweet revelation. I doubt I'll lose any friendships, but I know some of them are feeling pain that I never intended to inflict. I wonder how commonly this occurs."

I have written quite often about moving after retirement. It is a major decision that should not be taken lightly. I usually advise folks to wait at least a year after retirement before moving to a new home. Leaving work is a major cause of stress to nearly everyone, as is moving. To pile them on top of each other is risky.

With that said, I have rarely written about the effect on those you leave behind. Often a move is made to be closer to family, leave bad weather, or find a place with a lower cost of living. But, what about friends? This fellow has raised an interesting point about unintended consequences and what, if anything, we need to do about them.

I imagine you are familiar with the concept of unintended consequences: something you do or say has a ripple effect you didn't consider. Some of the best examples occur when some level of government passes a law without fully considering all the ramifications. Unexpected complications or effects not planned for occur. Whoops!

A famous example occurred in India years ago. The government wanted to reduce the number of cobra snakes, so it offered a bounty for all those reptiles turned in. That ordnance  caused a huge spike in new cobra snake sales as people tried to collect the bounty money. The program was abandoned, leaving more snakes than before.

Unintended consequences are a part of life. On the job you are probably quite familiar with something that might qualify: an e-mail that is read by the wrong person, a snide comment that is overheard by the boss, a tendency to be the first to leave the office every night. There is also the flip side: a report that is finished early and helps solve a problem, or a compliment to a co-worker that energizes her to find a solution to something that is hurting company profits.

During retirement there are all sorts of example of unintended consequences. This reader mentioned one that deserves some thought on your part if it fits your situation. Here are a few others:

...The quality of your retirement is negatively affected because you didn't save/invest enough for the lifestyle you are leading.

...You never pushed back from the table or refused that large piece of chocolate cake, so you find yourself taking a boatload of pills and seeing the doctor much too often.

...You treated your spouse like an indentured servant and can't understand why things are so unpleasant at home.

...You enabled your adult child to avoid responsibility for his or her own life for too long, and now they are permanently dependent on you.

...You keep waiting to do something "until tomorrow" and tomorrow never comes.

Then, on the positive side of the unintended consequence coin:

...You lived simply and without lots of "needs." Now you find you can afford to spend that summer in Paris you have always dreamed of.

...You treated others the way you'd want to be treated, and now your life is filled with friends.

...You found activities and interests that keep you energized and excited. As a result you are rarely bored and always looking forward to what each day brings. 

According to Wikipedia, unintended consequences are outcomes that are not the ones intended by a purposeful action. Because these outcomes can be helpful or hurtful, thinking through all aspects of a decision is the wisest course of action. Then, it is more likely that the consequences will be intended instead.

Do you have examples of unintended consequences in your life? Were they humorous, or ones that had meaningful impacts on your life?


  1. Our best friends for decades moved south to get away from the Michigan winters and they have no regards. But their leaving the area sure left a hole in our hearts. It just isn't the same without the impromptu get-togethers. But life is s series of changes and we adapt.

    1. "We adapt" is the answer to most of life's upsets, including the type caused by the loss of friends, isn't it. There are few things nicer than the comfort that comes from being with old need to impress or self-censor.

  2. My friend Joe and I both moved away at about the same time (him to RI, me to PA), leaving our old NY poker friends and golf group in the lurch. I try to get back two or three times a summer to play golf. But not poker. I think they found another patsy.

    1. See my response above...people adapt! After all, poker requires at least four players and there are willing "patsies" everywhere!

      I imagine it is nice to get together on the links every now and then.

  3. Interesting post. We are considering a part time move after my husband retires, with dual residences in the South and the Pacific Northwest. We want to be able to enjoy our only granddaughter, but it will mean leaving the rest of our family behind which is why we are thinking of dual residences at least for a while.

    1. Betty and I played with that idea for awhile, even going so far as to buying an RV and thinking that might be our summer home out of the Phoenix heat.

      But, the pull of family is too strong, especially when the grandkids are not yet old enough to want their own life and space away from the parents and grands. Once they are tenn-aged, the idea of splitting our time will probably become more enticing.

  4. When we left NY for TN nine years ago we did it strictly because it was the right thing for us. Deb had lots of family that are still in NY and we miss them a lot, and most of our friends were there as well. Leaving Jess was a big problem but she solved it within a few years when she took a job in NC and wound up closer to us. To be honest I think life presents both challenges and opportunities, and we chose the latter with the move. It was the best thing for us financially, physically, and definitely mentally, since our former abode had become a real drag on our well being with all the problems at the state level that were affecting us.

    Bottom line is that while it was a big change for Deb and I, it worked out to be much better than we had even imagined. We have much better weather, we travel extensively since the move also encouraged me to retire, and our COL is much lower. Life is too short to not go after what will cause the most happiness in your collective lives.

    1. You highlight the importance of balance in making a decision like this. We only have one shot at this life on this earth so doing what makes us happy and feeling complete is important. At the same time, our lives affect others so we must consider the impact of any decision on all of our human universe.

      Our two daughters and collective families moved back from California to be close to us. Could we now decide to move to Hawaii or the Pacific Northwest for part of the year? Even a month or two in a place only a few hours away, like Prescott or Flagstaff, would seem selfish. Again, balance!

    2. I am surprised that you would feel that a month or two or even part of the year would be a selfish move. It is hotter then the bageebus in the summer in Phoenix. Visiting a parent in a new spot...appealing?
      We moved here to be close to our daughter's family. As the kids get to school aged, we are looking to move to my husband's home town. It is a four year plan of cleaning out and moving with less. We will return to visiting every six months for at least a week.
      Surprise! They are now on a three year plan to move as well. They won't be near us, but it is their opportunity to move to a new situation.
      The unintended consequence was that they felt like they could not leave us....
      BTW- that senior living houses at Northern Arizona Museum is amazing.

    3. If a group of people move to be near me and then I move away from them for a period of the year, maybe betrayal would be more accurate. As you note, though, the age of the people involved will likely change our mind. I don't want to miss a moment of the grandkids when they are at this age. Once they hit mid teens, our time together will remain important, but not necessarily with the same frequency. Then, time away will become more attractive.

      ASU has built some incredible senior housing on campus, too. Living there entitles one to free class attendance and use of all the facilities. Of course, at one million dollars, their target audience is rather limited.

  5. Hi Bob! Don't you think that every choice we makes carries both intended and unintended consequences. I do my best to think them through beforehand and that helps a LOT. But even then, nothing is completely in my control :-) so I am learning to appreciate what ever happens as much as I am able. We too are considering a move in the future but whenever we take the time to do a T-chart on the positives and negatives we talk ourselves out of it. But who knows? That could change as well. ~Kathy

    1. At this stage of our lives we don't feel we are cheating ourselves by remaining with everyone. No one is putting pressure on us, it just feels right for now. Will that change in the future? Probably, but never to the point of spending 6 months away from all the people we love.

  6. I am paraphrasing here but I think it was either Amos Tversky or Daniel Kahneman who said: “That I became a psychologist is hardly surprising but the most important impactful things in my life were completely random. That the woman who became my wife, whom I love and that changed my life in innumerable ways, was there that day was for me to meet was just a combination of random events.”

    If you haven't already I recommend "The Undoing Project" by Michael Lewis which is a book about the groundbreaking partnership of Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman -- sometimes called psychology's Lennon and McCartney.

    1. I'm not aware of their work or that book. I will put it on my list right now. Thanks, David.


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