Red, White, and Blue, baby! The land of the free and the home of the brave! Don’t tread on me. These are our rallying cries, the words that inspire us to reflect on our independence from those who controlled us and took advantage of us. Let us never forget from whence we’ve come because if we do, we’re bound to go back there. Happy 5th of July!
Have you ever wondered why we don’t celebrate the 5thof July? I mean, the fourth is great because it represents our collective breaking-free moment from so long ago. But what about the day after? What does that represent to us? For most of us, not so much. But what did life look like for our ancestors once the party had ended and the other work began? I imagine it was grueling because although being under the rule of tyrants has a whole host of unpleasant realities, the newly-independent Americans now had to rule themselves. They had to make all the decisions, appoint all the people, and decide who they now wanted to be, with nothing but themselves to look to for guidance. That, I would imagine, had to be more difficult than we often consider. In other words, the void of outside control meant that we had to devise a whole new life that was worth celebrating.
I wonder if any of the retirees we serve felt a mild (or not so mild) panic when confronted with an absence of outside control. A decades-long career offers us many things that are wonderful, and not so wonderful as well. But one thing that isn’t discussed often is the surprising comfort we find in knowing that someone else ‘has got this’. I mean, I just have to play the game well enough that I get paid, but the game’s design is left to others. That means I can grumble and complain but secretly I appreciate not having to make every decision for the direction of my life; there are others whose job it is to design and manage the game I’m choosing to play.
Early in my career in the financial services business, I operated as a ‘captive agent’ at a huge company. I had a contract I’d signed which required that I more or less sell enough of their stuff so that I was meeting their contractual minimums. If I did, I got paid and also earned a few benefits that gave me permission to keep playing their game. They told me what to wear, taught me whom to serve, and what to say when discussing their available products and services. With no other experience in the career, I did those things faithfully and made a decent living doing so. But something began to nag at me, something pretty powerful in fact. I began to wonder what it would look like to become independent, to chart my own course, and to say what I wanted to say rather than what they required I say. Long story very short, I put into motion the plan to celebrate my own independence day. The day I walked out of there for the last time was amazing, liberating, and joyous.
The next day? Well, reality set in pretty quickly. For what I’d lost in outside control and structure, I now had to develop for myself. I had to make an enormous number of decisions very quickly and it was very challenging. I mean, it was very challenging…for years.
So while this story really isn’t about me, I can empathize with those of you who are moving toward – or may have arrived at – a huge life transition. Whether it’s retirement, a career change, or any number of life-altering events, the day of independence is very exciting while the day after can be downright terrifying. Not recognizing this ahead of time can lead us to become anxious, lost, or even depressed.
If we’re being honest with ourselves about becoming free and independent as retirees, we owe it to ourselves to prepare for it as well as we can. Sure, that means having a formal retirement plan for your finances, but also a support network of friends or family to walk with you, established ahead of time. Maybe seek a counselor or coach. One of the worst things we can do is stigmatize professional help as week or ‘for other people’. In fact, if you’re feeling anything less than confident in your newfound independence, please talk to someone about it. Please don’t let the fireworks on that big day mask the potential loneliness and challenges of the day after and the day after that. It’s very normal and probably inevitable to struggle a bit. For once the structure disappears, chaos can follow if not managed wisely.
So I hope you had a wonderful 4thof July. I hope your 5thof July – and beyond – is just as joyous. If we’re to celebrate our freedom at the highest level, I hope we can see that it’s our job to manage that freedom as best we can; sometimes that means leaning on others to help us structure our independence a bit. Oh, the irony.
All the best,
Adam Cufr, RICP®