Weekend Assorted Links

1. Radical Survival Strategies for Struggling Colleges.

“Moody’s projects that the pace of closings will soon reach 15 per year.”

Sobering. How will my employer, Pacific Lutheran University fare? If it was a stock, I would not buy it because of the larger context, but I am cautiously optimistic about our future because our brand new president is as smart an entrepreneur as I’ve known. He’s quickly learned about the never ending peculiarities of academic culture and faculty-based governance. But the Warriors may not have much success this year even with Steve Kerr as coach.

2. Payne Stewart’s daughter writes him a letter twenty years after his tragic death.

“People say time heals all wounds, but I don’t believe that. Sure, as the years have gone by, I’ve learned how to manage my sadness in losing you. But the pain never really goes away. I think about you every day, miss you every day.”

3. It turns out there are (really) bad questions.

4. How to Travel Like a Local. Thorough.

5. Why Don’t Rich People Just Stop Working?

“Are the wealthy addicted to money, competition, or just feeling important? Yes.”

6. Song of the week. So effortless.

The Beginning of the End

That’s how one pro football coach described the moment to his players right before game 9 of 16 this weekend. Hearing that, I thought it aptly described my present stage of life. Then again, life is fragile, so who knows, I could be a little or a lot closer to the End than I realize.

If it’s hard to figure out how to approach the End, it’s doubly hard when married because everyone thinks about the End a little, or a lot, differently. The Good Wife and I are thinking fairly differently about how to live at the beginning of the end. It would be a lot easier if she would start thinking more like me.

What We Get Wrong About Work and Retirement

A fair number of my friends are in their late 50’s to mid-60’s meaning they’re heading towards the exits at work. Some who’ve recently retired are struggling to adapt to life without work routines. They werent enamored with their work all the time, but it provided a predictable structure for their lives.

Meanwhile, we continually read about how wonderfull everyone’s “Third Act” is, whether traveling the world, volunteering, consulting, or starting new careers which shouldn’t count as retiring at all. Retiring is like investing, we only talk about the most positive examples, thus painting a misleading picture. The truth of the post-work matter is, many people don’t know what to do when they don’t have to do anything.

Yes, you’re right, this is a nice “first world” problem to have. Too many people can never afford to retire, but solving that problem is well beyond the reach of my pea-brain, so here I focus on those fortunate enough to soon pull the work plug.

Maybe the best way to think about the challenge is to consider the experience of a friend of mine in his late 40’s because I think his experience is fairly typical.

“Tom” works 60 hours a week, 49-50 weeks a year. In the limited non-work time he has, he watches reality t.v. and his kids play sports. Despite being friendly, he has few friends because he spends almost all of his time working. He assauges his guilt for working so much by spending all of his non-work time with his family. Consequently, he doesn’t have any independent interests or hobbies. In a few years his kids will be gone and he’ll wonder what to do with that little bit of non-work time. I hope I’m wrong, but I predict that In fifteen years, when he stops working, he’ll be completely lost.

Our typical way of thinking about work and retirement, work too much for several decades and then throw a switch and completely stop working, is seriously flawed. It’s unrealistic to expect anyone to succeed at reshaping their personal identity overnight.

My working friends who make time for their friends right now and love things like cycling, gardening, and traveling, will fair better than my friend who has decided to sacrifice personal interests on the alter of exceedingly long work weeks.

Of course, the closely related challenge is creating a lifestyle that doesn’t require decades of overwork. If Tom’s children decide to live more simply, like many Millenials seem to be, maybe they’ll strike a better work-life balance. One other important “dot” to connect is one’s wages. Obviously, the more specialized and sought after one’s skills are, they better they are compensated, meaning the fewer hours they HAVE to work.

Instead of throwing a retirement switch, more Baby Boomers are gently turning a dimmer switch, choosing to work half time for example. Gradually transitioning from the world of work to the world of non-obligatory work makes real sense. If you can afford it.

Life After Work

As is often the case, I’m confused. One day last week Ron Lieber, a Times blogger, summarized research from The Journal of Consumer Research that finds older people often draw as much happiness from ordinary experiences—like a library visit or an afternoon spent gardening—as they do from extraordinary ones. Then, on the same day, with stories of extended trips to exotic locations, the Times David Wallis’s published a contradictory article titled, “Increasingly, Retirees Dump Their Possessions and Hit the Road”.

Wallis writes that between 1993 and 2012, the percentage of retirees traveling abroad rose to 13 percent from 9.7 percent and about 360,000 Americans received Social Security benefits at foreign addresses in 2013, about 48 percent more than 10 years earlier. Wallis illustrates this trend through examples of people like Lynne Martin, 73, a retired publicist and the author of “Home Sweet Anywhere: How We Sold Our House, Created a New Life, and Saw the World”:

Three years ago, Martin and her husband sold their three-bedroom house in Paso Robles, Calif., gave away most of their possessions, found a home for their Jack Russell terrier, Sparky, and now live in short-term vacation rentals they usually find through HomeAway.com. The Martins have not tapped their savings during their travels, alternating visits to expensive cities like London with more reasonable destinations like Lisbon. “We simply traded the money we were spending for overhead on a house and garden in California for a life in much smaller but comfortable HomeAway rentals in more interesting places,” Ms. Martin said by email from Paris.

Another couple in the late 60s sold their house, bought a Recreational Vehicle, and started volunteering full time for two nonprofits. So far, they’ve repaired damaged homes in 28 different states.

One of the older vagabonds, or Wallis’s term is better, itinerant baby boomers (IBB), said, “I used to dream about all the places I would go as soon as I was old enough to get away. But then. . . life happened.” That’s probably the key variable, whether older people have pent-up wanderlust.

Wallis explains that many IBB’s are traveling on the cheap, volunteering for nonprofits and organic farms in exchange for room and board or finding free places to stay through Couchsurfing.org which puts its membership of people 50 and older at about 250,000. Given the manner in which most retirees are traveling, maybe the two pieces aren’t completely antithetical after all.

The common thread is that retirees are choosing experiences over material possessions. Listen carefully everyone under 50 and you’ll hear the collective, “Ah shit, why did we accumulate all this crap?!” Personal finance researchers tell us one-third of seniors have nothing saved for retirement. It’s a good thing ordinary experiences prove so fulfilling in later life.

Both pieces were short so an important subtopic was left out, just how similarly retired partners think about how to spend the last chapters of their shared lives. I know many couples think differently about their idealized post-work lives. What to do when one person wants to see the world, and the other, the backyard?

I’m the opposite of the IBB who dreamed about all the places to go. I’ve been very, very fortunate to travel and live all over the U.S. and on three different continents. Don’t tell the Good Wife, but I’m content to walk, swim, run, cycle, and drive throughout our hood, our state, and the Western United States and Canada. She wants to travel to Spanish speaking countries so I should probably renew my passport. I will take one or two or three long distance trips for the team. But I’d be just as content taking the labradude for a walk in the woods.

 

 

 

 

 

Continuous Improvement

A bullshit workplace notion. Midway into artistic or athletic activities, jobs, careers, relationships, life, we plateau. Shortly thereafter, energy ebbs, and our performance erodes.

We improve for a bit, we plateau, we decline.

I observed a good second year math teacher today at the independent middle school. Then we conferenced. After listening to him reflect on the pre-algebra lesson, I listed his many strengths. Then I made a few suggestions. Call on Ben as soon as he puts his head on his desk. Give Robin your marker, take her seat, and have her teach everyone her prime factorization method by illustrating it on the board. Have two more students explain and illustrate their methods and then ask, “Which is most efficient and why?” Let the kite string out a bit and “guide from the side” for awhile. Remember, the educative effect is greater when students do something than when something is done to them.

He told me he likes it when I observe because he’s reminded of effective teaching methods that he has let slip. He’s a good second year teacher who has started to plateau because he’s rarely observed, and rarely gets to observe other, more accomplished teachers.

A small number of the very best teachers, artists, athletes, and people continue improving considerably longer than their peers by seeking out expert, critical feedback; by investing progressively more time and energy; and by surrounding themselves by other positive, hardworking people, who are trending upwards.

And the wisest teachers, artists, athletes, and people have a sixth sense for both when they’ve plateaued and when their performance has begun to decline. And then the wisest, most selfless, most financially secure of them, step aside to provide the next generation opportunities to improve, plateau, and decline.

When to Retire?

Most people retire as soon as they think they can afford to. Every week personal finance periodicals run stories about people delaying retirement due to the housing correction, health insurance inflation, and in the end, insufficient savings.

Look around and you can’t help but see older workers. Prepare to see more and more. A boatload of sixty, lots of seventy, and even some eighty something half or full-time employees.

While tossing the majority of my mom’s office files last week, I came across a remarkable memo my dad wrote on December 3rd, 1990 to the two owners of the major corporation he was running at the time. Here it is:

The three of us should sit down and have a talk. I’m 65 in 1991, and as we have discussed pensions around the office we’ve used 12/31/91 as my retirement date. We should discuss the future leadership of S&E. I find myself ambivalent about retiring or staying on.

He then listed the “PRO’s for staying” including “we are an organization that works and we have good sales and profit growth.” Then he shifted gears:

The CON’s are: I will have been at the helm for 7 years, and a change in leadership could bring fresh ideas, a different approach and faster sales and profit growth.

Age slows one. It’s something none of us avoid. I find myself like the aging ballplayer—I don’t want to stay on when new leadership could take S&E forward more effectively. Others see the slow down before you do.

I feel too strongly about the company and its future to become an impediment. What are your feelings?

The more I reflect on this memo, the more unique I find it that he’s putting the company’s interests before his own. No one enjoyed his work more than my dad and no one out worked him. Yet, he acknowledges “new leadership could take S&E forward more effectively.” That’s like President Obama saying someone else might have a better working relationship with Congress and accomplish more on behalf of the American people. Or an aging college professor saying students might benefit more from an energetic, 30-something academic.

I don’t begrudge any older, moderate income person their decision to work past their prime, but for older, financially secure people, my dad provides a selfless example worth emulating. The question isn’t just what’s best for me, but what’s best for the company or even the community.

Footnote to the story. The owners did sit down with my dad. Shortly afterwards they extended his contract and also named him Chief Executive Officer of a second corporation they owned.

Breakfast With Marvin

Mother Dear just moved into a very nice apartment building for seasoned citizens in Tampa, FL. My Betrothed and I are ensconced in a guest apartment on the third of five floors.

Mother Dear isn’t answering her door and the Gal Pal is on a walk. So I’m recovering from my “hot as Hades” morning run by watching the Olympics in the internet cafe. Next, I head to breakfast with the Tampa Tribune sports page. Dallas Clark, the Bucs new tight end, is healthier than expected.

I eventually glance up, and when I do, there’s a grey haired man staring blankly at me. I set the paper on the floor and chat up Marvin, a former technical writer from New York City. He’s happy to answer my questions, but doesn’t ask any. Come on Marv, work with me.

On one level, Marvin is living large. There’s about four or five women for every man in this joint and he’s more mobile than most. But on the other side of the ledger, his memory is failing him. That, in combination with being surrounded by elderly people, makes me think about getting older.

I ask Marvin how old he is and the wheel in his head spins wildly just like when I asked about his apartment number and what his daughter teaches. He was embarrassed he couldn’t remember either one. He also couldn’t recall his age, but he knew he was born in 1933. I told him he was 79 and that brought a smile of recognition. In hindsight, given all the eligible women he’s constantly surrounded by, I should have written his apartment number down for him.

The end of life isn’t really funny. The body breaks down. And the mind. The past, a source of strength for most people, inevitably blurs. Friends die. Loneliness looms. And there’s no promise of watching future Olympics or seeing grandchildren marry.

But with the support of family and friends, it doesn’t have to be overwhelmingly sad either. My sister has pressed pause on her own life and taken my mom under her wing for the last month. Spending day after day wading through her too many possessions, the move would have been impossible without her. My sister’s daughter, my niece, decided to attend the University of Tampa in part to provide Mother Dear moral and practical support. She’s partnering with my sister to smooth the move.

Sitting here, post-waffle, back in the internet cafe once again watching NBC commercials interspersed with athletic competition, I can’t help but think about my own future. How long will I live? How about my Betrothed? Will I lose my ability to walk unassisted? To drive? To live independently? Will I lose my memory? The answer to the last four questions is most likely yes. The passing of time is the great equalizer.

I don’t want to be a burden, but when the time comes that I can’t remember my age, will my daughters press pause on their lives long enough to help me pass into the final chapter of my life as peacefully as possible? More importantly, will I live this next week, month, and year to the fullest given the limits of time? Will I take risks, teach well, love deeply, live purposely?

A sunny, early August Tampa morning filled with many more questions than answers.