Discover more from Understandably by Bill Murphy Jr.
"When I began to think seriously about these questions, I decided to interview people." Also, 7 other things worth knowing today.
About a year ago I went to a conference where one of the speakers told a cautionary tale. He’d dedicated himself to work with an ultimate goal in mind: retiring early with his wife to a beautiful beach house.
His big advice: Before you spend years working toward a retirement dream, ask your spouse what she thinks of the idea.
I recently interviewed noted Los Angeles Times columnist Steve Lopez, who spent a year becoming an expert on what makes a good retirement, culminating in his book (out earlier this month), Independence Day: What I Learned about Retirement from Some Who've Done It and Some Who Never Will.
Coming into this discussion, I’d thought of this as a topic for people with retirement on the horizon. But most of what we talked about would probably apply to people earlier in their careers, too.
Here's what Steve learned, and what he had to say.
If this is the preview …
by Steve Lopez (as told to Bill Murphy Jr.)
(This is an "as told to" story, edited for clarity/space/style/etc. You can see our entire interview at the YouTube video below.)
I've been a journalist for almost 50 years. I left college one night in 1975 with all my belongings packed into my Ford Falcon. I was so eager to begin that I showed up to my first job hours before the doors opened.
Over the past 50 years I worked for the Oakland Tribune, the San Jose Mercury News, the Philadelphia Inquirer, Time magazine and I've been working for the LA Times for over 20 years now. I'm rapidly approaching 70, and while I love writing, there are other things I'd like to do with my time before age and health concerns make them more difficult.
None of us know how much time we have left.
When I began to think seriously about these questions, I decided to interview people.
I interviewed the happily retired, the miserably retired, and some who will never retire. I gave myself the year to explore different points of view and decide what I was going to do in this next phase of my life.
One thing that became clear is the days of working for one company for 35 years and getting a sendoff with a fountain pen or gold wristwatch appear to be over, especially in this pandemic era. Companies value the experience of older workers during this labor shortage, and some older workers have found they need to go back to work either for financial reasons or for soul/fulfillment reasons.
Three people I interviewed over the year of writing this book really set me on my path:
Mel Brooks of The Producers and a million other hits told me to go to my bosses at the LA Times and ask if I could work part time. "That way," he said, "you get to do the thing that gets you out of bed, but you also get to do the things you never did." That's what I did and it's why I am a part-time writer for the LA Times now.
The next good piece of advice I got from Naomi Levy, who wrote Einstein and the Rabbi. She said, "Before you idealize those things you're going to do in retirement, try and carve out some time in your working life to sample them. You might want to learn to fly an airplane and find that you're afraid of flying. So try to sample things before you take the plunge."
Some of the best advice I got was from Nancy Slossberg. She's written several books on the topic of retirement and how to have a smooth transition into that part of our lives. One thing she told me was that we all want to matter. So it's important to construct a life in retirement where you feel like you matter to someone, the same way you mattered to your boss, clients and customers.
She also said that when we retire our relationship with the world changes, and especially our relationship with our spouses. I found that to be particularly true. During the pandemic my office was shuttered like so many offices. I got to spend a lot more time at home.
My wife Allison is a freelance writer, and I said to her one day, "Hey Allison this is kind of like a preview of retirement for me."
She said, "If this is the preview, I don't want to see the movie. I'm not just gonna be sitting around here waiting to do whatever you want to do, whether it's going for a hike, or hitting the road for the weekend. I'm younger than you and I'm still working."
I think that's pretty typical of having to manage how relationships change when you retire so I'm still working on that.
Who is the book for? I think it should appeal to younger folks who might want to think about the stuff early, or helping their parents navigate this stage of their lives. I hope it also helps older folks trying to figure out what fulfillment in this time of their life means for them.
I discovered in writing this book about retirement, I was actually writing a book about work and what work is and how it identifies us. At least in my case, I discovered that work will probably always be a part of my life.
Call for comments: I know we have more than a few retired readers, and people who are planning on retiring within the next few years. What’s your recommendation for finding fulfillment, and what things surprised you about retiring? Or what questions do you feel like you want to answer? Let us know your thoughts below.
7 other things worth knowing today
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