There is no minimizing the hurt and disappointment felt by some of the folks described in Jane Wollman Rusoff’s cover story who have had to rebuild a retirement portfolio lost late in life as a result of some unexpected adversity.
I imagine virtually everyone can think of someone forced to confront a second job, sideline business, a spouse’s return to work, or significant lifestyle change.
The reason we all know of such situations is that life is inherently risky and unpredictable. How many live the life they envisioned for themselves when they were children, or young adults beating a career path?
So the financial predicaments detailed in Rusoff’s “Starting Over When a Nest Egg is Gone” should be no less par for the course of a financial advisor than a seriously ill patient is for a doctor.
Beyond the specific problems and sensible suggested solutions, I think the most telling word referenced in her article is “expectations,” which comes a short distance from, and accounts for, the nearby word “painful.”
Expectations are the enemy of happiness—in retirement, in relationships, in life. It so happens that I just threw out my back and am writing this letter in some degree of discomfort. So the words of one advisor who says of his hard-strapped clients—“They may not be going to Rome—they may be going to Branson”—don’t fill me with horror.
Whining about your wealth is the occupation of he who does not recognize that there’s always more that can be taken away from you—such as your health.
The reason we human beings all fall into this trap is because we are naturally materialistic and therefore tend to judge our self-worth through the lens of our net-worth.
But as the saying goes, “you can’t take it with you.”
Sam Walton demonstrated this point with the final three words the Walmart founder reportedly used to sum up his life.
“I blew it,” he is said to have uttered from his deathbed.
The richest man in America who turned a five-and-dime in Bentonville, Arkansas, into a multinational corporation with revenues of $50 billion a year apparently realized he finished the game of life with a lot of money but with squandered potential in the relationships that most mattered to him.
Downsizing your home or working in your 70s need not be viewed tragically—are not many people actively choosing those options as highly beneficial?
But even if such a course is not your client’s first choice, people with a high-self-worth in the form of close friends and family can easily absorb those liabilities on their life’s balance sheet.
One final thought on delayed retirement:
Anything that is viewed as so important, as contemporary values regard retirement, should not be delayed until an uncertain future. Your clients should build in vacations—even to Branson—and sabbaticals all the way along.
And not primarily for the leisure, but rather for the time away, self-reflection and goal setting without which it is impossible to build genuine self-worth.