"I want to retire in thirteen years." the physician declared plainly.
"Tell me, Judy, what will you do after you retire from medicine? What will make the next chapter of your life important, meaningful and satisfying?" I asked.
That all too familiar look appeared on her face. I knew what was coming next.
"Wow, I have no idea. I love what I do, I love my patients, my staff; going to work is like a family." she answered with a hint of despair creeping in along the edges of her voice.
"In order to tell you if you have enough to retire, we need and you need to know what retirement might look like first. For example, if you tell us you wish to devote a good amount of time traveling to exotic locations-there is a price tag that needs to be included. If you say you expect to devote a great deal of time to local charities, then your needs would be less than if you rented a villa in Tuscany three months a year."
Tentatively, she nodded in understanding-but I could see that she was deep in thought. She was trying to "know" something that she has not invested the time to even begin to get her arms around. Slowly, she looked up from her thoughts and said, "It feels like a thousand miles away! Kind of overwhelming!"
Interestingly enough, the very next day, I had a conversation with a physician that had done his work. "Michael, I know exactly what I want out of retirement. I have devoted a lot of time considering the factors such as how I wish to spend my time, my health, my interests, financial consideration, where I want to live in retirement. I have a detailed plan written down. What I haven't done is overlay my plan with my financial resources. That's why I wanted to meet."
Two physicians, both wish to plan for a life beyond their work years, but one has done the necessary work to begin the process and the other has not. In the case of the 'thought out' doctor, our planning begins by matching the vision to the projected reality, based on his current status. The other doc requires that the visioning work be done first and that might just begin with the creation of a "Retirement Planning Journal"-a place to collect thoughts and ideas. It also requires a time to imagine, consider and visualize the next phase of life, after the days of seeing patients are past.
The frustration was evident on Judy's face. Her work life consumed her and she could not see what life beyond might contain. She was happy now! Her work family satisfied areas that were lacking in her personal life, so life after work brought on waves of fear and near panic.
"Judy, planning for retirement is like eating an elephant-it must be taken one bite at a time. For now, begin your journal. Be brave, be bold and have the courage to capture ideas that might seem crazy and unattainable. The key is to capture your thoughts, we will refine them over time."
As Lao Tsu says, "A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step."