Posts Tagged ‘Finances’

It’s not time to hang up the bee shoes yet.

26 days ago my company offered an early retirement incentive to those of us who qualify based on age and years of service. Last night at midnight was the deadline to apply for it. I didn’t apply. I thought about it – a LOT. I weighed the pros and cons and sometimes felt like a pinball being thrust back and forth by flippers that changed the direction of my thinking regularly.

In the end, it wasn’t the right decision for me to retire for a variety of reasons. I’m sure it is the right decision for a number of my colleagues across the company, and I wish them well in their next chapter of life. They will be missed in many ways.

The process of thinking through the retirement option was something new for me, so I thought I’d give others a peek into my experience these past 26 days. You’ll likely face the same choices some day if you haven’t already.

First Reactions

When the program was announced, it was the first time for me to be forced into thinking about retirement. My wife and I have both assumed we will work many more years until we are 70 or so. That’s another 9-10 years away for us. Retirement wasn’t on our radar and isn’t an option financially at this time. But I’ve never had a company offer me seven months salary plus benefits to not work for them. (Based on my years of service, it worked out to seven months for me. Others’ packages would be based on their years of service.) Having the offer put in front of me required that I at least consider it.

The Pros

Several things were attractive about the offer:

  • Earning my full salary plus health, dental and vision benefits during the seven-month payout period;
  • The possibility of earning a double salary for that time should I be able to walk immediately into another full-time role elsewhere (especially attractive given the debt we took on buying our home last year and then adding to it the building of a carriage house behind our home this year);
  • The excitement that comes from doing something new and different;
  • The opportunity to reinvent myself again at age 60;
  • The possibility of taking what I’ve learned in 14+ years at my current company and applying it to a company in need, perhaps building an online community from scratch;
  • The possibility that voluntary retirement would save the job of someone else since the company has announced plans for some involuntary layoffs soon. The number of layoffs will be impacted by the number of us voluntarily leaving first.
  • I liked the idea of having input in naming my successor (who I have had selected for years) and in training him for the job, helping him take a nice jump in his career path.
  • Maybe doing this would allow me to work out some arrangement for my dream role – Minister of Education at my beloved Walnut Street Baptist Church.

Occasionally nudging me toward the retirement option was the thought of stepping out on faith. I like the sentiment of a painted rock I have at the house that reads “Leap and the net will appear.” Images of Indiana Jones stepping out on faith in “The Last Crusade” come to mind. I don’t like living life with all answers certain and no risks taken. Where’s the faith in that? Where’s the adventure?

But with every pinball bounce to the pro-retirement line of thought would come equal or greater reasons not to travel that path, so I pondered…

The Cons

  • I love what I do and the people I get to do it with at my company. Why leave a nearly ideal situation?
  • 25 days is too little time for a 60-year-old to secure another equal, full-time opportunity that would guarantee uninterrupted work.
  • Jobs like mine are few and far between. I partially left it briefly in 2015-16 and was miserable, eager to return to it later in 2016. Why take a chance on making the same mistake again?
  • While I got a few nibbles on the bait I publicly and privately cast during the past 25 days, none matched the long-term prospects of continuing exactly where I am.
  • It would be seriously short-sighted to trade what may well be a decade more of work I love for seven months’ salary to not work.
  • In the worst case scenario of not taking the early retirement incentive and then being involuntarily let go, I would still get the same package in a severance package plus career assistance and eligibility for unemployment.
  • One of my basic life principles that has served me well is “When in doubt, don’t.”
  • Another principle I’ve heard for years is “The best retirement plan is to keep on working.”

The Decision

If I was within a year or two of my planned retirement, it would be a no-brainer. I would have taken the incentive and been as happy as a lark. But with retirement 5-10 years away, that wasn’t the case. The final clarifying thought in the closing days came from asking and answering the simple question: “Which offer on the table is best for me and my wife for the longest period into the future?” The clear answer was staying where I am.

It would have been nice to put out feelers and be mobbed with offers from other companies to bring me on board. I did put out feelers. I wasn’t mobbed with offers. I wrote a few key people in my profession to let them know about my situation and interest in making a move. I discussed it with several people at a conference of the top practitioners in my profession. That conference serendipitously fell on the calendar the week after the offer was announced. I posted about it on LinkedIn and had over 12,000 people see that post. However, I didn’t spend an inordinate amount of time pursuing other options these past few weeks. I did my regular 50+ hours of work per week. If no significant offers appeared without taking time away from my work, then that was quite alright by me.

The result of casting that bait for 24 days was the sound of crickets chirping – not exactly the most affirming career experience I’ve had. Insecure thoughts came to mind: “Are my skills not marketable? Am I experiencing ageism that we all know happens but nobody admits to where I’m too old and expensive for companies who can hire someone half my age at half my price (with less than half my knowledge and experience)?” I started understanding really well Henry Kissinger’s quote from the late 1970’s: “The absence of alternatives clears the mind marvelously.” Indeed. Fortunately, I got three nibbles on my bait the day before the deadline – two of which may still come to pass in some form, but none enticing enough to pull the trigger on this retirement offer.

The Assurance

My Christian faith is a defining part of who I am. No big decision happens apart from prayer, discussion with trusted mentors and family members, and seeking the truth of God’s Word. My prayer throughout this process was that God would open the right doors, close the wrong ones, and give me assurance that what comes to pass is exactly what He wants for me. I take this path of continuing where I am as His answer and I am completely content with that. Closed doors are wonderful answers to prayer. We shouldn’t bust through them.

So the bee shoes shown at the top of this post are not being put away any time soon. They’re part of my uniform and identity as “The Buzz Guy” where I work leading our internal social platform called Buzz. I love my job. I love so many awesome people I get to work with daily. I believe in my company, Humana, and its leaders to move us forward in ways that make a positive difference in the lives of the millions of people we serve. There is purpose in that, and personal fulfillment.

Time to get back to work…

image from carrotsncake.com

image from carrotsncake.com

This morning as I walked across the parking lot at my church, I saw a car pull up near the main entrance.  An old man got out and opened the trunk, then pulled out a walker for his wife.  He took it around to her door, helped her out, got her situated safely with the walker, then he headed back to the driver’s side to go park the car while the woman slowly made her way from the pull-in to the outside elevator entrance.  It was a sunny morning, but very cold.  The lady’s steps were short, slow, and deliberate.  It would take her a few minutes to inch her way across that relatively short distance from the car to the elevator – a distance I could sprint in about two seconds.

As I made my way to where I was going, I couldn’t help but admire the determination of the couple to do what they believed to be important at that time on Sunday morning – be at church.  I wondered how many others would stay home today because it was too cold, or because they were too tired from staying up or out late last night, or because it just isn’t important to them.  I wondered how many others – even church members – would think up some excuse for staying in bed or staying inside where it was warm and cozy because they didn’t want the discomfort or inconvenience or time spent doing something else.

I have believed and taught for many years that Sunday morning is not the time for you to decide whether you will be in church that day or not.  That is a decision made when you make your faith commitment, choosing to be a part of a body of believers from that point on, only excusing yourself from participation in the larger community in case of illness or very unusual, temporary circumstances.  I suspect this older couple shares that sentiment.

The takeaway lesson for me from watching the couple was that we find a way to do what is important to us.  I know that many of us have more things on our plate than should be there, and we have to occasionally let some things go in order to do others of greater importance.  Still, when it comes down to deciding what gets done and what doesn’t, we find a way to do what is really important.

If spending time with family isn’t important, we fill our days with other things.  If taking care of our home, car or other personal belongings isn’t important, we let them deteriorate.  If taking care of our bodies doesn’t matter to us, then we abuse them in all kinds of ways without really showing concern for the eventual consequences.  If living for the moment is more important than providing for the future, then we throw caution to the wind and think about tomorrow when tomorrow comes.  If we care mostly or solely about ourselves, then we never take the time to focus on and do what is in the best interests of others.

You want to know how you can find out what is important to me?  Look two places: at my schedule and my bank account.  How do I spend my time and how do I spend my money?  Those two windows into my life will tell you what is really important to me, regardless of what I say is important.  I pray that the view from those windows tells the same story as my words.

What is important to you, and does your schedule and your bank account reflect that?