by Mitch Anthony
As we enter the third stage of life, the attitude we choose will have the greatest bearing on our fate. We are entering the final stages of a retirement revolution. The difference between evolution and a revolution is that with evolution, a critical core of proactive people see the inevitable coming and decide to hasten the arrival date. Without question, for the past 15 to 20 years the institution of retirement has been morphing into something other than what we are familiar with. The idea has been evolving slowly toward something other than a playground agenda for senior citizens. The revolution taking place is that many are seeing this stage of life as just the opposite—the most fertile period of life for meaningful pursuit.
The population of experienced adults could be divided into a set of attitudes toward this particular phase of life:
- The “I’m done” crowd
- The “I have to” crowd
- The “I’m inspired” crowd
I can sympathize with those of you who have suffered through years of grinding work with little satisfaction or corporate environments rife with selfishness, sabotage, and subterfuge. You have had enough and just want to trade in your business suit for sandals or golf shoes. As detailed in earlier chapters, you may be in for some unexpected surprises regarding the vacuum left within dispensing yourself from any sort of meaningful contribution or the continued exercise of competencies. This attitude is based on the premise of “I’ve earned this”—and you have. The future is yours to mold; just make sure you’re not the one that is molding.
“I Have To”
Those of you who have adopted this stance toward your circumstances have had your plans disrupted. Whether it was the disappointment of a time of unemployment, stock market losses, or recession period realities affecting your career, when you say, “I’m working because I have to,” you are telling the truth. However, this truth need not be a grudging, wholly obligatory death march into aging employment. For every mature worker I meet who has adopted the obligatory attitude, I meet another with a grateful attitude, who says, “Hey, things didn’t work out according to plan, but thankfully I’m still healthy enough to work and I’m earning an income. I’ve learned to see the best in these circumstances.”
It is attitude that makes a life, not vice versa. More important than the circumstance we face is the disposition we choose toward that circumstance. In The Doctor and the Soul, Victor Frankl wrote that in life we have a position (how and where we came to be), a destiny (what has happened), and a disposition (how we choose to respond to our “how and where” and “what has happened”). It is the disposition, or the “position taken,” that ultimately defines the individual’s life, not what happens and why.
Ask a cynic why he is a cynic and he will tell you it is because of his position and destiny—what happened and why it happened. Cynics have chosen the worst possible disposition: to give up on the possibilities because their rose garden may have contained some weeds. The all-important point they miss is that their disposition has deepened their unwanted position and entrenched them in a destiny they loathe. Your attitude—your “position taken”—toward events is what defines you, not the events.
The resilient, the survivors, the joyful, and the grateful seem to share a disposition that sees through the disappointment and prevailing circumstances and act resourcefully. They find opportunity and silver linings in undesired circumstances in order to find a way to strengthen what remains.
This contingent has decided to “retire on purpose”—whether they have to work or want to work. If you are part of the “I’m inspired” crowd, you are pursuing meaningful work with a paycheck attached or perhaps getting compensated spiritually or emotionally. Your stories are the accounts the rest of us can draw upon for personal inspiration and guidance. Your stories, along with others’ individual retirement stories, will reshape this planet as people begin to realize the revolutionary retirement attitude that changes everything: I can make a difference now like never before.
Why now more than ever before? Because you have experiences that have informed me. Because you know what works and what doesn’t. Because you have clarity around what energizes my soul and what enervates it. As a result of my work, I have been blessed over the past decade to meet many such retirementors—their stories, vision, resilience, resourcefulness, and buoyant attitudes never fail to inspire me.
My own father’s attitude fits this description. As of this writing, he is approaching his 79th birthday and still works each morning on a project for which we share enthusiasm. He handles syndication of my radio feature, The Daily Dose, which is heard on over 100 stations around the country. I created this 90-second “attitude adjustment” to counter the unending flow of rants and politically infused railing that seem to dominate the airwaves.
Dad spent almost 30 years as a sports journalist in radio and television before switching to a sales career that lasted another 20 years. Seventeen years ago I asked him if he would take on the syndication work for my program, and he’s still pounding the phones every morning. The work is not for the faint of heart. He hears 100 “nos” for every “yes,” but he persists through the drought periods, and we’re always thrilled when a new market jumps on board. Because of his resilience and indefatigable work effort, hundreds of thousands of listeners get a dose of inspiration to start their day in small cities and towns across the nation. Every time someone writes me or stops me to tell me that they listen and appreciate the messages, I think of Dad’s tireless efforts. He knows what these attitudinal arrows can mean to someone’s day. He wouldn’t tell you he’s retired, because he’s not. But he is semiretired on purpose and he is grateful to be engaged.
I’d like to propose the following four attitudes that I have witnessed time and again in the lives of those 65+ years old that have caused them to flourish instead of flounder. Take the New Retirementality challenge and attempt to integrate these four attitudes in your own life:
- I’ll keep meaningful pursuit at the core.
- I’ll challenge my mind, body, and spirit.
- I’ll refuse to be defined by age.
- I’ll keep an eye on my “attitude instrument.”
Meaningful Pursuits: A Midlife Crisis Gone Horribly Right
If we buy into the idea that we are to get and give the most we can from our lives, then retirement at any juncture has new meaning and possibilities. Every month it seems I meet new examples of the New Retirementality—those who treat their lives as an evolving exploration mission. They are not content to sit around and watch television or simply bide their time with random busyness.
Marie Ens had served as a missionary to orphaned children and abandoned grandparents in Cambodia for 38 years when her denomination “invited her to retire at age 66.” She politely declined. I asked her about her reasoning and she told me that “you don’t retire from a calling.” Our family sponsors two of the children in her home, and it’s easy to understand how Marie was unable to walk away from these precious charges.
When visiting Place of Rescue for the first time, one can easily be drawn into thinking that this is an idyllic home, a place filled with perfect children laughing and happy, smiling grannies with wide (almost toothless!) grins. But beneath the laughter and wide grins, Place of Rescue is a haven—an oasis in a world that can be hard, cold-hearted, and downright mean. The fact is that this is a place where you encounter children who have overcome abandonment, grandmothers who are alone after losing their grown children to AIDS, and entire families who live under the daily shadow of HIV/AIDS.
Marie is a retirementor to me as an inspirational example of the idea that you don’t have to be rich to live a rich life, and that you can’t impose a retirement age on a heart full of purpose and meaningful engagement.
On the other end of the financial spectrum, I found another inspiring example of a purposeful approach in Ron Cordes, cochairman of AssetMark, Inc. (formerly Genworth Wealth Management). He is also cofounder of the Cordes Foundation, which he and his wife Marty created in 2006.
In an interview with Fast Company, Cordes stated, “I spent the first half of my life building businesses designed to be the best in the world; for the second half, I really want to support businesses that are the best for the world.” Cordes was looking for a way to link his “passion with his portfolio,” after a life-changing trip to Uganda. He visited a village full of widows who had lost their husbands in the 20-year civil war. He decided to fund a microfinance program there that has helped many of the widows launch successful ventures with which they can support their children. He tells the story of a woman coming up to him and saying, ‘?We appreciate it when [white people] come to try to save our children, but we need to be able to save our own children. Thank you for investing in us so we can do that.’ I’ll never forget that moment.” Fast Company called it a “mid-life crisis gone horribly right.”
Ron told me that his epiphany in that moment was that “empowerment was more powerful than pity.” He decided to capitalize on his skills and expertise as a financial manager and use them in a way that would create more opportunities like this around the globe, where deep and persistent needs exist. He’s calling this venture ImpactAssets, and they are involved in many ventures including microfinance, Fair Trade, sustainable timber, and renewable energy in the developing world.
Talk about a retirementor! Ron is the model going forward for those who want to continue to collect the “benefits” of work. I have no doubt that his efforts not only are making a difference in many lives, but also that he is reaping many benefits as well, including meaningful contribution, solving problems, a deep sense of personal relevance, and inspiring engagement. These are the transcendent payoffs of work, and we can no longer afford to leave them out of our “retirement” discussions.
The math of the new retirementality includes calculating how to best deploy financial assets—if we have any to share or spare—and how to capitalize on all the assets of our persona and identity. This is our social and soul capital and is, in my opinion, the next great frontier for so-called “retirement planning”: unifying the discussions of managing monetary and social assets. The discussions we have been having around retirement have brought us to this place, but they cannot take us from this place. It can no longer be simply a “retirement” discussion, but instead must become a new retirementality discussion that helps us all define our next act.
You don’t have to go to Africa or Cambodia to live out your purpose, but it’s always helpful to be open to the possibilities. You may find your purposeful engagement around the block, down the street, or anywhere there is a need that stirs your heart and suits your skills.
This purposeful approach is now being recognized by the group Encore.org, which gives out $100,000 awards to recipients of its annual Purpose Prize. In 2012, winners included people who:
- Represented low-income homeowners in foreclosure.
- Brought safe drinking water to villages in India.
- Helped female parolees make a successful transition with job training, housing, and legal services.
- Taught life skills to low-income adults and teens.
- Brought seniors and foster care kids together to enrich each others’ lives.
Challenge Your Body, Mind, and Spirit
Going forward, it will be more beneficial to choose a posture of proactive health rather than get caught up in the health care system. You need to decide that this will be a vigorous and involved stage of life as opposed to a withdrawing and “retiring” stage. You can make the preparations you feel are necessary (such as long-term-care insurance), but the greatest impact to your health will be rendered by the New Retirementality decisions we make for holistic well-being, such as:
- Work out your heart on a regular basis by walking, jogging, or some other aerobic exercise. One study showed that walking three times a week for two miles adds five years to your life expectancy; decreases depression, diabetes, and cancer rates; and helps you sleep better. Cardiovascular challenge replenishes oxygen into your cellular system and improves the function of both body and mind.
- Engage in regular, light weightlifting. Lifting holistically produces not just physical strength and resilience but attitudinal and internal strength as well.
- Maintain physical intimacy. The head actuarial at a leading insurance company told me of a conversation he had with a 75-year-old woman who was rated for a 20-year life insurance policy by his company. Having never seen this happen before, he called the woman to ask for the secret to her great health. Her reply: “Frequent and frantic sex.”
- Schedule charitable and altruistic activity into every week. Those who feel a sense of purpose live longer and better.
- Don’t join the “moan and groan” sorority or fraternity. Of course, we will have joints that hurt or don’t work as well as they did, but we don’t have to linger on them. Pessimism leads to an expedited health decline.
- Engage in work or activities that utilize your talents and challenge your brain. “Continuing to work keeps the mind sharp and the body healthy, which aids in maintaining a positive attitude,” says Dr. Russell Clark, a 103-year-old real estate developer.
- Drink a little coffee to start your engine and a little red wine to wind it down. You’ve seen the studies. Cheers!
- Examine your soul each day with reading, prayer, meditation, and checking of motives in word and actions. Forgive those who offend, and love those who don’t deserve it. It has been said that “grace is getting what we don’t deserve, and mercy is not getting what we do deserve.”
Stay focused on healthy living and follow some of the great examples of active and vibrant 80- and 90-year-olds. Your health habits will have a major impact on both your quality of life and the quantity of income available for that life. Think of health habits as an investment—in yourself. Physical discipline leaks over into mental focus, and mental focus and perspicacity leak over into introspection and a meaningful examination of our lives. It is the body influencing the mind, which is influencing the spirit, and the cycle continues back through the mind now inspired and the body now energized.
Refuse to Be Defined by Age
Mapmakers in medieval times faced a problem. They were given the job of charting the continent but were not exactly well traveled themselves. So when they came to a border they had not crossed, they drew fire-breathing dragons toward their own country’s boundaries. These maps, when viewed by the common masses, caused people to believe that if they crossed the border, they would be consumed by these infernal beasts. Needless to say, travel and adventure was limited. Many people, when challenged to try new things, to go to new places, or to try doing things in a different way, simply refuse. When asked, “Why?” they simply respond, “I’m too old”—they’ve been looking at aging maps with dragons.
Lydia Bronte wrote The Longevity Factor over 20 years ago, but the conclusions sound prophetic and eerily familiar with what we are witnessing even more frequently today. In her observations of a long careers study, she wrote:
What emerges from their life stories is a view of the long lifetime different from what we might expect: an affirmation of the increasing richness of experience over time, of a deeper sense of identity, of a greater self-confidence and creative potential that can grow rather than diminish with maturity. It is obvious that seen through the eyes of the study participants, chronological age markers (like 65), which have held so much power in the past, are really culturally created—a norm that was accurate only for a particular place and time.
Why is it that when we talk of the maturity of money, we think of it as a positive form of growth; but when we talk about the maturity of people, we think of it as a time of depreciation? Within a decade or so we will see multitudinous examples of a great harvest of accomplishment and contribution coming after the age of 65 and even 75. There are thousands of examples out there right now—we just need to take notice. We can all try new ventures; we can all stretch our limitations, our abilities, our contribution, our reach, and our grasp. Each of us has the ability to test our endurance a bit further. Without taking risks, we settle into a quicksand called “complacency.”
How old is old? What exactly do we mean when we say someone is old? Are we referring to the person’s years on the planet or the person’s state of being? Or both? By old, do we mean that a person is in a state of decline? Is there a predictable age when this decline commences for all people? Is “old” a man-made border? And do the dragons of decline exist mostly in our mind? Henry Ford said that when a person stops learning, he is old, whether he is 29 or 65. There isn’t much we can do about aging, but there is an awful lot we can do about growing old. We hold “old” at bay by focusing on successful aging.
Satchel Paige was arguably the best pitcher to ever play professional baseball. It is estimated that he won over 800 games in his unparalleled career. Because of racial boundaries, he didn’t get the opportunity to display his talents outside the Negro leagues until the color barrier was broken by Jackie Robinson. When Paige did get his chance to pitch in the major leagues, he was elected the American League Rookie of the Year at the age of 43! Think about this. There is a very short list of men who have possessed the endurance to pitch at age 43. Paige was the Rookie of the Year at that age! He pitched in the majors until he was in his early 50s and continued to pitch professionally until he was 63 years old. Paige understood a few things about longevity.
Because of preconceptions about age and ability, Paige always tried to keep his age a mystery. Whenever he was queried about his age, he would provide a memorable quip like, “How old would you be if you didn’t know how old you were?” or “I never look back on Father Time—he might be gaining on me.”
We have many high-profile examples of achievers in our culture who are not looking back on Father Time, including Warren Buffett, still a leader in investment acumen in his 80s, and actress Betty White, in her 90s and more popular now than when she was on The Golden Girls or The Mary Tyler Moore Show.
And you probably have some great examples of “ageless wonders” in your own community. Study their example, their lifestyle, and, most important, their attitude. When I question these ageless phenoms, they always mention attitude as a key to thriving, regardless of age. Just as the ages of 62 and 65 are “artificial finish lines” for retirement, so also are any other ages that people cite when saying “he (or she) is too old for that.” People are actively skiing in their 80s, racing in their 90s, walking and swimming in their 100s. Some people are working into their 11th decade. Examples of people crashing through age barriers and jumping over physical limitation hurdles are ubiquitous. A while back, I received a video from a family that had four generations perform a synchronized water skiing exhibition in North Carolina: their ages were 5, 40, 62, and 92!
The attitude instrument in an airplane tells you how your wings are aligned with the horizon. When I ask people to define attitude, they often talk of a mood or feeling or perspective. Moods and perspectives are certainly impacted by our attitude but, fundamentally, attitude is nothing more than choosing a direction and sticking to it. If we enter any phase of life without keeping our eye on the attitude instrument, the winds of adversity will tilt us and we will lose our bearings—and, more important, not make a safe landing. Attitude is the premier setting in our lives, as all other functions are eventually dictated by it.
I have always had a keen interest in the mind-set and attitudes of those who thrive in later life and have sought out the life stories of such for the last 30 years. As a kid I read about Satchel Paige. Later, I read autobiographies of people like George Burns, Winston Churchill, Albert Schweitzer, and Linus Pauling. Being a writer, I especially loved the stories of Norman Vincent Peale, Studs Terkel, and Peter Drucker.
One salient characteristic that leaps from the biographies of the “enduring” is their ready wit and lively sense of humor—especially regarding themselves. That those exhibiting longevity seem to share a self-deprecating approach to life tells me that such an approach is crucial to reducing stress. The connection between stress and illness is well established. The connection between one’s attitude and stress level is obvious. Many of those I have read about seemed to possess not only a lively sense of humor but also other survivor attitudes toward life’s stressors. Most were forward looking and concerned about the future as well as the present. Most refused to succumb to society’s limiting views of age-related behavior and activity. They were people who truly believed they could control their own destiny.
A MacArthur Foundation study on aging described how one ages successfully. The study used the phrase “a sense of mastery” to describe how individuals must believe in their ability to influence events and control their outcomes to be positive and productive in their later years. They found that during a period of less than three years, those who increased their sense of mastery also increased their productivity. The opposite also held true—those whose sense of personal mastery decreased saw a significant reduction in their involvement in productive activities. What exactly is personal mastery? Self-reliance.
The person who takes a passive approach to life and lacks the ability to take action will experience a lack of productivity at any age. Typically, as people age, their belief in their abilities and their power to control their own destiny grows. However, this belief can, if allowed to do so, reach a point of diminishing returns. Experiments and experience have shown that if people are willing to try new things in their mature years, their self-reliance and effectiveness can flourish to all-time highs. Stories abound of people creating new boundaries in their life in their later years—those who are flying on airplanes who have never flown, those who are taking up new courses of study, and those who are dabbling in new ventures and careers at ages others would consider old. Take, for example, Florence, who started driving an 18-wheeler semi at the age of 83 to become the oldest “rookie” in the history of the truck-driving industry!
As more of us prepare to spend a large part of our lives in “retirement,” our attitudes toward this stage of life are extremely optimistic; 64 percent of us say we are currently enjoying either “the best” or “good” times in our lives. When you put a magnifying glass on the everyday activities and interests of the so-called retirees, you begin to see why their enthusiasm and optimism flourishes. They are a dynamic and engaged group of people. They object to traditional labels given to their age group, such as elderly, old, or even seniors. They see themselves as experienced, wise, and seasoned.
The numbers in these categories indicate a graying population that is healthy, active, adventurous, and more prosperous than ever before. These numbers only promise to rise with the influx of baby boomers in the 65+ category between now and the year 2030. In the 1960s, there were 17 million Americans aged 65 and older. Today, there are approximately 37 million. By 2030 there will be 70 million aged 65 and older. That number will be somewhere between 20 and 25 percent of the entire population.
Depending on the attitudes you dictate for your own life, you can be one of the stories that your community will be talking about someday—someone who just gets better with age and rejoices with each day’s opportunities.
You clearly have not reached the end of the road yet. There is a lot of territory to cover, and it might be wise before embarking on your next 100,000 miles to get “re-tired.” Some fresh tread will serve you well.
While your peers may be contemplating retiring on the beach or on the golf course, you can tell them you are retiring “on purpose.” Beaches and games are good for respite, but purpose is best for the soul. Set your heart toward making the absolute most of your time, abilities, wisdom, and passions.
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Adapted from The New Retirementality: Planning Your Life and Living Your Dreams…at Any Age You Want, Fourth Edition.
©2014 by Mitch Anthony. Published by John Wiley & Sons, Inc., Hoboken, New Jersey. Available in February 2014 at mitchanthony.comand booksellers nationwide.
© 2014 Mitch Anthony
Mitch Anthony is the founder and president of Advisor Insights Inc., the leading provider of financial life planning tools and programs.
For more than a decade, Mitch and his team have provided training and development for both individual advisors and major organizations throughout the world. Mitch personally consults with many of the largest and most-recognizable names in the financial services industry on both financial life planning and relationship development.
Mitch has been named one of the financial services industry’s top “Movers & Shakers” for his pioneering work, and is interviewed by the media on a regular basis. The Institute is partnering with both Texas Tech University and the University of Georgia to develop financial life planning programs for their undergraduate programs. Mitch is a popular keynote speaker, columnist for Financial Advisor magazine and Journal of Financial Planning, and host of the daily radio feature, The Daily Dose, heard on over 100 radio stations nationwide.
Mitch is also the author of many groundbreaking books for advisors and consumers, including perennial bestseller StorySelling for Financial Advisors, cited by “Financial Advisor” magazine as the number one “must-read” book for financial professionals. Mitch’s other books include From the Boiler Room to the Living Room, The New Retirementality, Your Clients for Life, Your Client’s Story, The Cash in the Hat, and The Bean is not Green. For information on these books and more resources, click here. Contact Mitch at [email protected].