I recently met with a couple faced with a major life crisis. The husband was told by his doctor he had one year to live. That was ten months ago, and I have the task of helping him and his wife organize their finances in the time he has left. Like many couples, the husband and wife split the duties of household finances, work, and raising their children. The husband is 51, his wife is 41, and they have a 4- and an 8-year-old. The magnitude of what they are dealing with helped me realize that what’s important in life is contribution and purpose.
Watching this life experience unfold, along with seeing how they handle it with such dignity and selflessness, is life-changing. They don’t have a choice to transition to a new chapter, but they were prepared for the crisis before it happened — emotionally, spiritually, and financially.
I am a big fan of the late personal development expert and author Stephen R. Covey. I have read his book “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People” many times. It is far and away the most influential work on personal development I have ever read. When we retire, our focus tends to be on more practical and logical steps rather than first developing a strong foundation for our retirement road map.
Retirement isn’t just about dollars and cents. It’s about transitioning to a greater purpose. You must first decide what that purpose is before you move to planning the dollars and cents. It takes deep thinking and planning. I’ll illustrate how to build this foundation using the first three habits in Stephen’s book.
Habit 1 — Principles of personal vision: Be Proactive.
This habit deals with self-awareness and how you see yourself, and helps you define your purpose in life. How do you react to crisis? How do you solve problems? What are you truly about? In addition to travel and leisure, decide what you are truly devoted to changing or supporting in the next chapter in life, such as feeding the hungry or assisting someone with a path out of poverty. Maybe it’s helping your child start a business they feel they don’t have the resources to make happen. A great question to ask is, “How would it make me feel if I took a significant role in making these things happen?” What are you committed to make happen? Be proactive, and take action.
Habit 2 — Principles of personal leadership: Begin with the end in mind.
Clear your mind completely. Imagine you are going to the funeral of a loved one. Picture driving to the funeral home or chapel, parking your car, and going inside. You notice the flowers, the soft music, and all of your family members. You feel the shared pain and sorrow of the loss. You then go to view your lost family member, and you realize it is you in the casket. There are four speakers. The first is a close family member, the second is a close friend who knew you deeply, the third is a coworker, and the fourth is a church member or community organization where you have been involved in service. Think deeply. How would you like to be described, and what would you want them to say about your life? What kind of husband, wife, father, or friend would you want their words to reflect? Using this visualization method properly will reveal to you your deepest fundamental values. This exercise will lay the foundation for the next chapter of your life.
Habit 3 — Principles of personal management: Put first things first.
The third habit helps you organize what you found important from habits one and two in an orderly fashion. It helps you prioritize the important things over the immediate things so you can achieve your purpose. This is the dollars and cents stage of planning. This usually begins with the basics in planning, such as income, growth, taxes, a spending plan, Social Security timing, estate document preparation, and protection (life, health, long-term care insurance). This is an area where guidance from professionals will serve you well. This is the essence of a transition plan.
I have just touched on the book “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People,” but the lessons in this book are timeless. Transitioning to the next chapter can be exciting. Imagine a purpose that can help you carry yourself in the same fashion as the gentlemen facing terminal cancer, with courage and self-awareness. Get the foundation to your next chapter in life right, and you’ll move through challenges with a high level of resolve.
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