Put In The Hard Work For An Easier Retirement

There are few things I love more than sitting down with a bunch of other smart, intentional people and swapping thoughts on how we can do even better at this crazy thing called life. I recently had the pleasure of trading ideas (and a few gibes) with Stacking Benjamins Joe Saul-Sehy, Afford Anything’s Paula Pant, and Carl Jensen of Mile High FI in a roundtable discussion on the importance of hard work for an easier life. Intellectually, we all know that doing difficult things, like exercising regularly, saving for a rainy day, and eating nutritious foods, will likely lead to better life outcomes than taking the path of least resistance (a.k.a. being a couch potato).

But the thing about hard things is, well… they’re hard!

We all want to live a great life, now and in retirement. How do we push through our natural resistance to doing the tough stuff so that we can make the most of the only life we have?

I hit a big milestone in 2023. I got my first tattoo! I committed on The Retirement Answer Man podcast that I would get one when our online community Rock Retirement Club surpassed 1,000 members. Of course once I’d made the promise, I had to determine what I actually wanted to have on my body permanently. The Cracker Jack stick-on version wasn’t an option. Ha! In the end, I chose a daily reminder of the formula that is my secret sauce for accomplishing tough goals: (Energy x Focus x What’s Important Now) powered Consistently.​

My tattoo is also a reminder about how I coach people to Rock Retirement: creating positive habits builds the foundation for an amazing life. Here are a few critical areas to build routines around at any phase, but particularly as you approach retirement.

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Nurture your energy.

Energy is the first building block on which everything else depends. You need energy to show up as the best version of yourself. Not going to bed early enough? Eating all the junk food in sight? Spending more time on Netflix than the treadmill? Sorry, not sorry. It’s time to nip those self-defeating habits in the bud. With improvements in healthcare and increased longevity, you may very well live decades in retirement, but the quality of those years can vary quite a bit, depending on how you’ve treated your body. If you’ve never exercised before, there is no need to begin an Olympic training program. Start small with an activity you enjoy. Even the most basic efforts to improve diet, build functional fitness, and increase flexibility can have significant improvements on our quality of life as we age.

Focus on your vision of retirement, not a magic savings number.

We easily get distracted by the mathematics around retirement. Spreadsheets, safe withdrawal rates (not to mention the multitude of opinions of what “safe” even means), investment returns, and Required Minimum Distributions have a way of stealing the spotlight and becoming the focus of retirement planning. While they are undoubtedly a critical component, fixating on the financials can derail you from the larger question: What kind of life do you want to lead? Generating a meaningful vision requires you to know yourself and your values, which can be surprisingly difficult to do.

Set aside dedicated time (with your partner, if you have one) to consider your vision and goals. Start with a few simple questions: What are the things most important to me? Given no constraints, what do I really want to be when I grow up? Once you’ve identified these items, you can begin to align your retirement plan and the numbers with the vision you’ve created. Even though this can be a tricky assignment, I have good news for you. This vision doesn’t have to be set in stone. In a few years, you may not even like it. That’s okay! You’ll be iterating on this plan throughout your lifetime. As we continue to grow and learn (and yes, that shouldn’t stop in retirement) your goals and your vision will transform along with you.

Happy people have projects.

A clear purpose creates a more fulfilling retirement, whether that’s being an amazing grandparent, doing charitable work, or starting a side business. For some people, identifying their passions is easy; others struggle more with the daunting question “what is my purpose?” If you’re waffling on yours, my counsel is to start small. Dabble and experiment with activities that you’ve enjoyed in the past, but maybe gave up on as life got busy. For some people, this notion is totally antithetical to their whole idea of retirement. “I had a purpose when I was employed. Now it’s my time!” If that was your reaction, then consider my earlier question “What do I want to be when I grow up?” Then, imagine how you will actualize that dream. If your dream is to become an artist, then your purpose is to figure out how you will make that become a reality. Perhaps your dream is to attend a Major League Baseball game in every team’s home stadium? Then your purpose is to schedule the arrangements over the years it may take to complete that part of your vision. Your purpose doesn’t have to change the world; it just needs to be meaningful and satisfying for you.

We will never be exonerated from hard work.

I’m a big fan of the work of psychiatrist and author Phil Stutz, who tells us that we will always contend with three things in life: pain, uncertainty, and the need to do hard work. I agree; things worth doing take effort, including living an amazing life in retirement.

Last month, we asked Retirement Answer Man podcast listeners to write in with wisdom they’ve gleaned from their own retirement journeys. I love this nugget from Jeanne:

“Retirement is the continuation of the life you have led up to that point. It is not a magic doorway you pass through where everything starts fresh. If you have led an angry, stressful life, your retirement will be unpleasant. You may be that old person shouting at clouds. If you have lived your life humbly, with gratitude, finding joy even in difficult circumstances, your retirement will be your life’s reward.”

The hardest work lies in starting the habits. Once they are integrated into your routine, you may not even remember how difficult it was to get going. And your future self—who will most certainly not be shouting at the clouds—will thank you.

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