A talk given at the Aquarium of the Pacific by Don Ezra, written by David Koch, CFP®, AIF®, CFA.
Don Ezra was Co-Chairman of Global Consulting at Russell Investments. Now happily retired from the corporate world, he’s the author of several books, most recently, Life Two: How to Get to and Enjoy What Used to be Called Retirement. His title underscores his belief that the label retirement itself merits retirement: “It’s so negative!” Among many other awards and recognitions, Don is the recipient of the Lillywhite Award (from the Employee Benefits Research Institute, 2004) for extraordinary lifetime contributions to Americans’ economic security.
During the introduction of Don, as a lead-in to his talk, a quote from George Bernard Shaw was shared: “Life isn’t about finding yourself. Life is about creating yourself.” Don’s discussion made it clear that creating yourself is an integral ingredient for a successful and enjoyable Life Two (What Used to be Called Retirement).
Starting a New Life: A time of freedom, enjoyment, and happiness
As with any new adventure, one must begin with a foundation of data gathering to acquire knowledge: surveying the landscape, looking for potential pitfalls, identifying contingencies, etc. As Don poignantly notes, we begin and prepare for Life One (our working career) with education, but most of us fail to realize how important education is for Life Two. Don proposes a solution for this through the “walks” he takes the reader on in his book. The aim is to help arm the reader with the tools necessary to answer three fundamental questions/issues that abound in Life Two – more on those a little later.
Life Two, according to Don, affords many of us the opportunity to relish the best years of our lives. That’s not just conjecture. Don shared some interesting facts about happiness, including the U-Shaped Curve of Happiness. Studies show the arc of happiness resembles a U-Shape, with happiness significantly increasing as we get older. There are several explanations for this phenomenon, one being that in youth we are full of anticipation for what life will bring, but as we get older we are more emotionally mature and grateful for life as it is. As Don eloquently put it, “wisdom, experience, perspective bring more happiness than anticipation of excitement.”
The role of time plays a big role in the happiness equation. Don provided a matrix for stages of life relative to time and money. In youth we typically have time but no money. During Life One, we tend to have money but no time. But, “it all comes together in Life Two!” – if we planned and saved adequately, we get the gift of both time and money. Putting the U-Shaped Curve of Happiness together with the time and money matrix, it appears time is a greater factor in happiness than money.
Preparing for Life Two: Where do I start?
After Don got us excited about the prospects of Life Two, he revealed the path to help prepare for it. Back to those three fundamental questions:
1) Who am I? This is the psychological question. Many of us are defined by our work (I am a doctor, I am an engineer, etc.), we’ve run a business, we’ve managed people, we have a purpose. Once that is gone, the struggle to redefine ourselves can be quite daunting.
2) How do I fill my time? This is the practical question. Quite literally, what do you do with all your time? How do you make it meaningful – or at least interesting? Don pointed out a mutually beneficial opportunity for the individual and society: volunteering. Volunteering is an overlooked aspect of Life Two, which can add fulfillment not just for the individual, but society as well. A true win-win.
3) Will I outlive my money? This is the financial question. You need something to live for, but you also need something to live on. In general, our culture places a heavy focus on the financial side of Life Two. As a result, we’re often unprepared for the emotional side. Both sides of the coin are important. Typically, around the age of 50, anxiety sets in about finances, and we tend to experience regret over not having started saving earlier – or saved more. This anxiety continues into Life Two. Because of this, for many, there’s a tendency to underspend in Life Two, fearing they’ll outlive their money. Having a trusted and capable advisor can help calibrate to safely maximize the funds saved, while enabling retirees to enjoy the Life Two they’d planned.
So, what are the answers?
The beauty of these fundamental questions, as Don points out, is that the answers are uniquely personal. Each person’s circumstances are different – and will yield different answers. What can be shared and experienced by all is the process of deriving the answers. Don provides a framework of input and internalization. Through the “walks” he takes in his book, the reader is provided with teachings and stories from interviews paired with questions for the reader to respond to, to facilitate the internalization of the teachings in a personal way. This will allow the highly personal Life Two map to unfold through active engagement in the process.
As we know from research, walking is a wonderful form of physical exercise that can have a significant impact on our preparedness for a longer, healthier life. It makes perfect sense that taking these mental “walks” can serve to prepare us for a longer, healthier and more enjoyable Life Two.