Sunday, July 15, 2007

Planning the Senior Years

"Aim at nothing, and you are very likely to hit it," or words very nearly like that set the stage for a class in leadership training I offered at my church years ago. Part of this course laid out a method for setting goals, including deciding about certain things you would desire to happen in the next ten years. "But if you aim for the stars and only hit the Moon, you will have likely been more fulfilled and successful during those ten years," would have been the follow-on line.

One of the older gentlemen in the group (I think he was around my current age at the time), came up to me afterward and asked: "Why should I be setting 10 years goals? I probably won't even be around in 10 years." Twelve years later I reminded him of that conversation.

I have always been a goal setter and a long ranger thinker. Nothing to be proud of, since it seems to have been born in. However, a few changes in my life gave me a jolt. I have neglected this discipline for a long time, and have been coasting a bit ... Ok, a lot. And while it is true that very few people actually sit down and consider their goals, I'm going to surmise (no survey results on this subject) that folks 50 and older are the least likely among adults to do so.

How crazy is that? A twenty-something has 60 years to screw things up and still have the time and opportunity to take several other bights at the apple. Second careers are almost normal today. Back to school in your forties is almost a cliche. But a fifty something is potentially down to 15 or 20 years of active living where most choices are still available (major league ballplayer is probably out.) Every day wasted would be like a week wasted for a young person.

It really hit home with me when I was contemplating the financial side of my future. Because of some unusual ways that my life has unfolded, our family has very little savings compared to our income. To make things more interesting, at age 59 I have one child starting college this year, and one who will start the year I turn 65. Our pretty decent income is well spent every month, so any increase in savings now without a serious increase in income, would mean a decrease in lifestyle.

So the choice might become a decrease in lifestyle during my 60's and my wife's 50's, so we can enjoy a better lifestyle 10 or more years from now. Hmmmm. Not an easy choice, but is it make a choice or to just wing it?!

Multiply that choice by decisions about: where to live, where to travel, how to contribute back into the community, how much time with kids and grandkids, should my spouse or I work, what legacy will we have, and what do we do with the body?

It might seem like my situation is unique. But suppose you have $1,000,000 bucks in your 401k, the house is paid for, retirement is already at hand, and the kids are all married and on their own. Does that change the need to set goals? You could still end up looking back 10 years from now and wonder at the wasted time watching TV, sleeping, or even golfing. You could easily ask yourself at age 70, why didn't I get to know my grandson when he was a kid. Now he's 15 and grandpa is not a major concern in his life.

Next time: How to prepare for setting goals.

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