Your Life Simplified

Non-Financials of Retirement

February 15, 2024

What is it that people get wrong about retirement? On this episode of Your Life Simplified, Michael MacKelvie, wealth advisor, is joined by guest, Keith Lawrence, retired P&G executive & co-author of “Your Retirement Quest.” They discuss ways to be happy and healthy during one of the largest transitions in your life.


Michael MacKelvie: What is it that people get wrong about retirement? That’s what we’re here to talk about today. We got someone special to discuss. I’m sitting here with Keith Lawrence, author of “Your Retirement Quest.” Keith, how are we doing?

Keith Lawrence: Great, Michael. Pleasure to be with you today.

Michael: Yeah. And for those who don’t know Keith, again, he’s an author of “Your Retirement Quest.” He’s had a chance to speak to thousands about this exact subject, really, the idea of living a healthy, fulfilling retirement. I think I want to just jump right in and just start with a question I was thinking about just in reading your bio, and I think that question is, What do you think people get wrong about retirement?

Keith: Well, unfortunately, they get a number of things wrong about retirement, and that’s why only about half of them live a fulfilling retirement. One, they think it’s going to be really easy. It is one of the biggest transitions they’re going to be ever facing, and as a result, it’s not easy and there’s a lot of challenges. Another is that they think it’s all about the money. So again, money’s very important. Having an advising firm’s really important, but there’s a lot more aspects. We identify 10 keys to have a fulfilling retirement. So again, they think it’s easy, they think it’s all about the money, they’ll plan it later, they’ll do it all by themselves, and that lends them being at risk of not living the life of their dreams.

Michael: Yeah, I think one of the things that’s always struck me, and I’m sure you’ve written about this or at least looked into it, just from a planning perspective, when we’re looking out to the horizon of retirement and we’re talking about, “Okay, well, what’s important, what’s not,” I think there’s this kind of a switch that starts to occur where it’s hopefully not like, “Hey, we’re just trying to accumulate as much wealth as possible because it’s a trade-off with everything, right?” So maybe it’s just taking on more risk and really an uncompensated risk when we think personally about our lives, or we’re maybe opening up the chance of further loss, greater loss in the process of chasing more money. And it sounds like you’ve obviously done quite a bit of work in the space of, “Well, what is this even all about in the first place,” right? So you mentioned that financial piece being slightly overblown. What has maybe been the key to, I guess, not just fixating on that, but maybe opening up the mind to consider what is a little bit more important as one nears retirement?

Keith: Well, again, having an advisor you trust, a firm you trust, and having a sound financial plan, that’s table stakes. That’s the given, right? But then on top of that, there needs to become an awareness that my life is going to dramatically change, particularly those that are at the greatest risk of failing retirement. And those are individuals that their life has been defined by their work, which includes senior executives, small-business owners, et cetera. And they need to start thinking about, “Well, what am I going to do when the day comes that I’m no longer going to be X, Y, Z title?” And it’s more than just playing golf every day because within six months, and we’ve interviewed them, they’re pretty miserable people because they’re doing the same thing all the time.

So we go through exercises like, “Let’s play this out. What’s your average day, average month, average year going to look like in retirement?” And most people are like, “I’m not exactly sure,” and that’s a huge red flag. If you are not clear on what your retirement might look like, you’re going to be exposed to some of the risks that we’ve seen. It’s the highest suicide rate in our country, men over the age of 70, fastest growing divorce rate, couples over the age of 60. Half of the people in retirement aren’t enjoying their retirement, high levels of depression, et cetera. So part of it, to answer your question, Michael, is build awareness that this is not easy. There are risks. The more you can plan holistically, not just financially and envisioning the life you want and get alignment with those are going to be impacted by your decisions such as your spouse, family members, that’s going to be the key to success.

Again, there’s 10 keys to having a fulfilling retirement in our book. “How do I maintain my well-being? How to maintain my connection? How can I have fun?” The more they can start envisioning that, at least start brainstorming that. And we also talk about practicing retirement ahead of time. Start practicing those things ahead of time. You might find out you love playing golf every day or you don’t. But to your point, start planning holistically, not just financially, ahead of time, experimenting and particularly getting your people that are impacted by your decisions, all of your spouse, your family members, your friends, aligned ahead of time. That is what’s going to make a difference as they enter retirement.

Michael: Yeah. So when you say planning and having clarity on what you’re going to do, I think for a lot of people, the idea is like, “I’ve worked my whole life so that I can have the ability to not have anybody tell me what I need to do, to have total freedom,” right?

Keith: Yep.

Michael: Do you think there’s anything to the confusion of that being, “Well, I’m just not going to do much. I want to just be able to do whatever I want whenever I want,” and actually spending time getting serious about one’s, let’s just say, purpose in those latter years, that last third?

Keith: Well, great point, right? I mean, our first chapter in our book is all about freedom, this next stage of life. And again, I don’t particularly like the word “retirement” because that basically connotates to your point, “I’m not going to do anything for the rest of my life. I’ve earned it to this point to just chill out and have total freedom.” Again, there’s a time and place for that, but those that are truly firing on all cylinders in retirement, living the fulfilling retirement, they are spending some time, again, their schedule against making choices they want to do to go apply their skills and their passions against a purpose. They are living a deliberate life where they’re practicing habits around daily health, they’re connecting with friends. Again, these are all the 10 keys to have a fulfilling retirement.

They’re deciding, however, to your point, “When do I want to do that? How do I want to do that? With who do I want to work that with?” My criteria is pretty simple, fun things with fun people. I didn’t have that luxury before. I have that luxury now. So again, you still maintain choice, but if you envision your life being nothing but total freedom, nothing on your schedule, that only lasts so long before some of these risks that we talked about kick into play.

Michael: Mm-hmm. What surprised you as you got into this further obviously? You’ve done this for a number of years. I believe it was 2010 was when you and your partner kind of launched into this roughly, right?

Keith: Well, we had studied it for a decade ahead of that. We ended up publishing the book in 2010 and to our great surprise, it’s been an Amazon 1% Bestseller ever since. So to your point now, we’ve done 30 years of study, thousands of people that we’ve interviewed, coached, do seminars across the country.

What surprised us the most is several things. One is retirement can be truly a wonderful time. Unfortunately, for many people, roughly half, it’s not. What also surprised us was how some really smart people that have been very successful in their careers and lives just totally underthink this and then don’t want to spend any time thinking about it. They just want to chill out. And that, again, presents a lot of risk for them. So what surprised us was it can be fulfilling, it can be fantastic. Few people were prepared. And even those that had had a very successful career don’t really want to spend some time until they get into the disenchantment stage. Then they give Alan and I a call and say, “Hey, I need help. This is not what I cracked up for it to be” and then they kick into the planning that we’ve been talking about.

Michael: Yeah, I’m thinking personally about my dad and him looking out at retirement in the near future here and just he’s really startling with the whole idea of a lot of his friends did it. As many have experienced, the first six months are exciting and fun. You get to go do a lot of things you didn’t have time to do and you have complete freedom there. And then there’s that boredom that sets in. And again, it’s very similar, at least in our early years, maybe to summer break.

And just in looking a little bit at what you guys have done, for me, organizing my thoughts and really, I guess, building out some form of a plan has always been about getting it in written form. There’s something so powerful about just taking what’s going on, the entropy within your head and organizing it on paper. How important would you say writing is to what you’re speaking to?

Keith: Well, great point. First class they taught us at P&G was how to do the one-page memo, right? Because again, to your point, it takes thoughts, it brings them the paper, it organizes your thinking so you’re clear and allows you to better communicate those choices and also to be able to track progress and potentially hold yourself accountable over time. So, it is critically important. But also one of the principles that Alan and I use, my co-author, is we keep things Sesame Street simple. This is not about spending weeks upon weeks coming up with binders of plan. Our typical life plan that we work with people, I coached two CEOs this morning on it, it’s a one-page summary of the 10 key elements, what they’re going to do, how they’re going to measure success against their life purpose, all on one page. Truly important, Michael, to your point of getting it down on a piece of paper. Also recognizing it will change over time. My life plan in 2024 is very different than when I retired in 2009.

Michael: Yeah, it’s the one constant we have.

Keith: You bet.

Michael: It’s change.

Keith: Absolutely. Change and uncertainty, right? But again, so important for you to begin crystallizing your thoughts, getting them down on a piece of paper, engaging others and make sure their alignment. I’m shocked, back to your question on surprises, how few spouses … it’s about one out of four couples are truly aligned on what they’re going to do in retirement. There’s a famous saying amongst spouses, “I married you for sickness and health, but not for lunch every day. And so go get a job at Walmart, for example, because I’m tired of you messing things up at the house here” because they haven’t talked about what the daily routine’s going to look like … go down the list. Really important, having a written plan, but importantly, engaging what we call the crucial conversations with others.

Michael: Yeah. Yeah. What has your retirement been like?

Keith: It has been an absolutely phenomenal journey. As I look back at it, I probably should have graduated earlier from P&G and begun this life because it’s been our best years of our life. My wife and I traveled for years. We now have four grandsons that we love spending time with, a family we love traveling with and spending time with. Our health continues to do well. And it’s not without challenges. I’ve got aging parents and go down through the list of what we’re dealing with, but it’s been truly wonderful. But importantly, it’s because I’ve learned from others. That’s part of the reason why Alan and I did this work originally. It’s, “Let’s learn so we’re not one of those executives that I was working with that was knocking at the door wanting their job back after six months because their wife kicked them out of the house or they were bored by 10 o’clock.”

Michael: Yeah. Yeah. That’s great. I mean, again, that’s, I think, what everybody strives for. Speaking with so many in their, let’s just say 50s, early 60s, this idea of retirement, it’s very strange. I’ve just noticed this transition that occurs. So many people will say in their 50s, “Well, I just don’t really have any desire to retire. I can’t really see myself doing that.” I know everybody else is maybe thinking about that point in time where they’re going to quit their job and just not work as hard.

What’s funny though, is everybody, at least most of the people that I talk to in their 50s will say that. And then as they get into their 60s, suddenly that starts to change. I know from my parents, speaking firsthand, a big part of that was just seeing some of their friends pass away and thinking, “I just did this for 30, 40 years, and that could be me. That could be me that passes away, and I never really had that chance to live that last third of life because nothing’s really guaranteed in life.” But it’s been interesting to see that transition that seems to take place for so many people where … and I don’t know if that’s true or not, it’s just anecdotal, it’s just me, right? But I’ve just noticed that where people can’t envision it at all. And then as they get to their 60s, it’s like, “Well, maybe I do actually want something else besides what I’ve been doing for 30, 40 years.” I don’t know if you’ve had that experience or if that’s irrelevant.

Keith: Well, it is very relevant, Michael. I mean, the data is pretty compelling here. Most people think they’re going to work, 90% of the people in their 50s think they’re going to work till their mid-60s for whatever reason. Half of them never make it there because of your point, a jolt comes around. I call it a jolt. They have a significant health issue themselves or in their family, or they get laid off, terminated, go down the list, and they never make it at that long.

Many people don’t think about retirement in their 50s because they can’t envision what it looks like or they’re basically fearful. It’s like fear of the unknown. “What would I do with all my time? I’ll just pedal the metal, grind out another 10 years or so.” And then to your point, they see a friend, family member or themselves, something happens and they go, “Oh my gosh, the clock is running out.” And I run into many of those people saying, “Boy, I made some stupid mistakes. I should have retired earlier and traveled while my spouse and I could or before COVID.” And they come up with a long, long list of regrets. So that’s why we encourage people in their 50s, I mean, I’m coaching a couple now in their mid-40s that are start thinking about this and planning the next stage of their life. So, the earlier you get started on light planning, the better off you’re going to be.

Michael: Powerful stuff. Well, where can people find your book? I know we’re obviously going to post a link for it, but this book, the workshops, maybe just tell anybody that’s listening to this where they might be able to learn a little bit more about your program.

Keith: Yeah. Thank you, Michael. Again, our book is on Amazon called “Your Retirement Quest.” Again, we have a website, Facebook page, YouTube channel, all called “Your Retirement Quest.” We’d love to have all of you hopefully join us in the conversation on retirement. And if you want to learn some more, just reach out to Alan and I. We’d be glad to help you.

Michael: Perfect. Well, thanks again, Keith. Appreciate you coming on. Thanks for everybody listening. This again is Your Life Simplified. I’m Michael MacKelvie. Industry insights from industry professionals. I think today was just a fantastic episode. Obviously not just centered around the finances because there’s much more to life than just, “How am I going to pay for something?” So thanks again, Keith, and take care.

Keith: Take care.

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