I’m back!

Moosehead Lake, Maine

Moosehead Lake, Maine

September is my sabbatical month, an entire month set aside to do the traveling and exploring that doesn’t fit in to my lifestyle the remaining 11 months of the year. Awesome, isn’t it? By the time summer arrives, I’m longing for the break, imagining how good it’ll feel to put the pressures of daily life (and baseball season!) on hold. But come September 1, I’m still surprised, though I’ve done this before, that time off doesn’t sweep in to my life with a huge sigh of relief. Guess I need a reminder—change, even good, longed for, sought after change, is hard! Seriously, I am saying that there’s a period of adjustment even to a change as wonderful as a month of travel. Despite the pressure and stress of daily life, I lead a life that I’ve chosen and procured to fit me just right, a life I really love. So, when my entire routine is disrupted, come September travel, I’m out of sorts…just when I should be ecstatic! And that discombobulated feeling is compounded by my own expectations—that I’ll transition fluidly and seamlessly from my “at home” daily routine to my “travel” daily routine, that I’ll only feel exhilaration at the new found freedom and joy at having time to see the world and spend uninterrupted hours with Ron. It’s a double-whammy, all brought on by…yours, truly!

Now I’m relaxed—after a delicious meal on the Cafe Lafayette Dinner Train in Lincoln, NH!

Now I’m relaxed—after a delicious meal on the Cafe Lafayette Dinner Train in Lincoln, NH!

It’s all about expectations

Expectations are everything—I’m adding a calendar reminder to this effect on next August 31st. Need to remember it so I can be prepared. Maybe I should add it for August 1st, instead, so I have a whole month to get into the right mindset for my transition. A wiser, more realistic version of myself will expect that abandoning my daily routine will unsettle me. She’ll consider in advance some small, comforting, self-care measures to build in to those first sabbatical days to ease the transition. She’ll also temper those expectations of bliss. That exalted state of freedom may or may not come, but probably won’t in the first few days. The change of focus and activities will, on the whole, be a good thing, even a very good thing, but it won’t be heralded in by fireworks, fanfare, or even a sudden relief from the stress of daily life. One kind of stress—getting things done so I can pick up Dad for dinner, remaining patient and kind when he is confused and asks me the same question for the 17th time…will be replaced by another. When you’re traveling with another person, decisions about how the day is spent are suddenly joint…a big adjustment for the two very independent souls in my household who are accustomed to going our own ways with no explanation and just a wave of the hand.

Just do it anyway

Happy hikers in New Hampshire’s White Mountains.

Happy hikers in New Hampshire’s White Mountains.

Change is good! Big and small, mixing things up makes life better…or shows us that what we’ve got right now is pretty darned good! I remind myself that I’ve made the greatest gains in life satisfaction when I’ve taken the leap and made scary changes—career changes, moving across the country or to another country altogether, committing to a relationship, caring for my parents. The key to navigating the transitions with the least amount of psychic wear and tear is to manage my own expectations of the process and my reactions to it.

Here I sit, a month after returning from my September sabbatical. I expected (that word, again!) re-entry into daily life to be bumpy…and it has been! My daily routine was not re-established overnight. In fact, the process of restarting my at home daily routine has been an opportunity to examine each piece with fresh eyes, to see how the pieces work and fit together. Some parts reverted to their pre-September sabbatical form and some have morphed, been moved to a new time slot, or been abandoned completely. I aspire to regular blog posts, but they haven’t returned quickly. I’ve still got plenty of room for calibrating my expectations, but it does feel good to be back in my groove!

I love partnering with people who are in transition! Give me a call (336-701-2612) or send me a message if you would like help working through yours.

Investment advisor representative of and investment advisory services offered through Garrett Investment Advisors, LLC, a fee-only SEC registered investment advisor. Tel: (910) FEE-ONLY. Fair Winds Financial Advice may offer investment advisory services in the States of North Carolina and Texas and in other jurisdictions where exempted.

Sad endings and new beginnings

At the final game of the season, I’m rewarded for being a faithful Winston-Salem Dash fan with a ball signed by the players.

At the final game of the season, I’m rewarded for being a faithful Winston-Salem Dash fan with a ball signed by the players.

Tonight is Winston-Salem Dash game #70, the end of our Minor League Baseball home season. If you haven’t been following on my Facebook page, my dad will achieve his 70 game streak tonight. Pretty impressive for a 97 year old fan! I teased the team president because Dad will be at more home games this season than he will. I haven’t been to every game—Ron covered for me in a few and my sister’s family took Dad to a couple. But I’ve been there enough to have lots of friends at that ballpark, people I look forward to seeing and exchanging a few words with (hey, I’m busy calling plays for Dad, whenever he isn’t getting hugs and kisses from one of his women friends). So as much as it’s a relief (sorry, Dad) to know that I’ll have a seven month break from being at the ballpark most nights of the week, I’m sad to say “see you next season” to my friends.

The Circle of Life

I’ve never been comfortable with goodbyes. When I leave a long time job, my strategy is to carry on my daily business right up until the last hour, then walk out the door as if I were coming back the next morning. Cowardly of me, right? I’m not in denial. In fact, I’m acutely aware that things will never be the same, that folks who have been a cherished, integral, part of my daily life no longer will be, that many friendships won’t survive the severing of daily proximity. I’ve done this enough times to know that saying goodbyes and pledging to keep in touch and keep things going isn’t going to make that happen. Nope, the old, however much we love parts or all of it, will fall away. And it has to, for the next phase to begin. This exact case is made by Sherwin B. Nuland in How We Die: Reflections on Life’s Final Chapter—that we age and deteriorate precisely so we can die and make way for the younger, stronger, more capable to have their time in the sun.

Hanging on, letting go

Dad’s 70 game streak is recognized with a team jersey, presented by Clubhouse Manager Marlon Quattlebaum (left) and ballpark manager Kit Edwards (right). What doesn’t show in the photo is that the jersey has been signed by all of the Winston-Salem Dash players.

Dad’s 70 game streak is recognized with a team jersey, presented by Clubhouse Manager Marlon Quattlebaum (left) and ballpark manager Kit Edwards (right). What doesn’t show in the photo is that the jersey has been signed by all of the Winston-Salem Dash players.

Many years ago, we left New York in our small sailboat, headed for the Virgin Islands via Bermuda. I had been in New York long enough to consider myself a New Yorker—it was my chosen adopted home. I loved the city, being in the investment world, my good friends and extended network that included my fellow swimmers and staff at my Y, the lady who sold me my Wall Street Journal in the morning, and the security guards in my office building. Excited as I was to sail off into the sunset and start a new life, it tore a hole in my heart to give up my entire support system, other than Ron and Phoebe Alice, our boat.

Sailing long distances double-handed is taxing. You’re either on watch or resting up for your next watch. I didn’t have a lot of time on my hands to ponder my loss…except when I was trying to sleep during my time off-watch, down below in my sea berth, getting tossed around by what turned out to be the nastiest weather we would ever experience on a sailing passage. Lying in my berth, I would dream that my office phone was ringing and, try as I might, I couldn’t quite get to it. Of all of the things, longingly remembering a ringing phone was unexpected! Maybe this was my brain’s symbolic shorthand for a severed connection? After all these years, I still remember dreaming of that ringing phone.

I’m pretty excited about the baseball with the team’s signatures that Marlon gave me!

I’m pretty excited about the baseball with the team’s signatures that Marlon gave me!

We have to give up something, or sometimes everything, for a new uncertain start. The process is similar whether it’s a big, transformative change, like starting a new career or moving to a new home, or a smaller change, like those we experience with the seasons (for those of us who live where there are seasons!). Do you feel a bit wistful when you pack away the shorts and flip-flops and bring out the wool sweaters? That’s the feeling I have, at the end of the baseball season. It’s exciting to contemplate my September sabbatical, time to disconnect, travel, spend time seeing new places. But the new adventure doesn’t come without a bit of sadness at finishing the current phase—baseball, summer—and leaving it behind.

During life’s transitions, we’re faced with new options and choices. Send me a message or give me a call at (336) 701-2612 if you would like a partner to help you navigate your next chapter.

Investment advisor representative of and investment advisory services offered through Garrett Investment Advisors, LLC, a fee-only SEC registered investment advisor. Tel: (910) FEE-ONLY. Fair Winds Financial Advice may offer investment advisory services in the States of North Carolina and Texas and in other jurisdictions where exempted.

Find your tribe

Some of us got the memo early in life: Pay yourself first, make it automatic. Some of us (see my hand waving?) didn’t. If you are trying to build new financial habits, draw on some conventional wisdom and put together a support network. Assuming the famous Jim Rohn quote “You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with” is true, you better strive to surround yourself with a tribe of people who embody the changes you’re trying to make!

Saying “yes” to life

David Bach’s excellent story The Latte Factor reveals his “three secrets to financial freedom”, simple truths we can all live by. {Spoiler alert: I’m going to tell you what the third secret is, so skip this paragraph if that’ll ruin the book for you. I think it’ll be a great quick read, even knowing the final secret, but you can make that decision yourself.} Secret number three is to live rich now. Sometimes when I’m working with a client who is wrestling with overspending, I can see that they’re thinking that the alternative is a life of deprivation. I’m the last person on this planet who would recommend that! As Bach’s book beautifully illustrates, we can say “yes” to life today without mortgaging our lives (my definition of overspending). This is not, however, the path that most Americans choose. Which means you’ll need to carefully cultivate a tribe, a new one, to support you in changing your habits.

It’s important to find your tribe.
— RuPaul

We’re human, we’re all about belonging (even you loners, I’ll venture to guess). Diversity is a wonderful thing, makes the world go round, sparks the best solutions and most creative innovations. But knowing that we fit in to a group, where our idiosyncrasies as well as our values and beliefs, are cherished and not just tolerated, well that makes life worth living.

Part of growing up is learning that not everyone will like us…and being okay with it. Life improves measurably when we learn to draw close to us those who really do get us, who are on our wavelength, who delight (yes, friends, delight!) in the things we say and do. It’s not just your mom! Find these people, get to know them, spend time with them, love them—they’ll feed your soul and keep you strong so you can go out into the world and do the work you’re meant to do, starting with changing your relationship with money and spending.

Think you don’t have experience finding a tribe? Think again! You’re probably already a member of a number of tribes in your personal and professional life.

Tribes at work

When I started my financial planning business, I got the most encouragement from Dennis Mosely-Williams, a guy who didn’t even know I existed until I started commenting on his blogcasts. Dennis helps financial advisors create transformational experiences for their clients. You see, Dennis’ videos felt like they were created with me in mind. How did this guy in Ottawa know exactly what I was struggling with in Winston-Salem and then have the words to help me see my path forward? Because his insights made a difference in my life, I had to reach out and tell him…and he’s kind enough to respond. Why? Cause he recognizes that I’m his tribe, just like I know that he’s mine.

Earlier this month I spent four very intense days at the Garrett Planning Network retreat. This annual gathering, my first, of GPN members is an opportunity for us to commune with our fellow unicorn planners—the folks who offer financial advice without minimum requirements, who have built their practices around making financial planning accessible to everyone, not only the very wealthy. (I’m fully aware that there are planners using different delivery models who share this goal, but in GPN, it’s our raison d'être, we’re united around this goal.) What a rush to be surrounded by people who devote their careers, often their lives, to serving others, who are fiduciaries by nature and by choice! I became a planner because of a long-standing desire to help others, to make clear and understandable what hadn’t been previously. And these are people who share this value—they’re my tribe!

Who ya gonna call? Ghostbusters (NOT)

In the most difficult times, I turn to my sister-in-law. Laurie has known me for 40+ years. Though our approaches to life look very different, she has always shown me that she sees me. What a wonderful gift it is to be seen! Because of this, I look to her for comfort and advice when I’m struggling. And, because she knows me, deep down, she’s always able to give me comfort and advice that speaks to my soul (no pressure, Laurie, dear!). Who are the people who really see you? They’re your tribe.

We may meet kindred spirits anywhere in our travels through daily life. Just yesterday, I had a conversation with a potential companion for my dad. Keeping a 97 year old active and entertained is a job for a team! Rachel was referred to me by another member of my tribe, so not surprisingly, we hit it off during our very first phone call. As Rachel described her passion for working with aging adults, I knew that we were on the same page—part of the same tribe. It can be that easy.

Choosing change

Changing our financial habits, replacing the old ones that no longer serve us with new habits that do, is tough. To be successful, we have to find a new tribe to support our new choices, model the behaviors, and encourage us on our way. The hero in Bach’s story, Zoey, does exactly this—as her world view changes, she meets new people who support her transformation. And she recognizes kindred spirits in her current circle, like her boss, that she hadn’t noticed before. Who are the people already in your life who would support you in changing your habits? And where might you meet new tribe members? The growing financial independence community is hard at work creating useful resources—check out www.ChooseFI.com . Financial independence is for all of us, not only those working towards an early retirement (i.e., the FIRE movement). Reading a book, joining a group, using social media to make introductions, pick one and get started. It’s like counting yellow VWs on the highway—once you start looking, you’ll see them everywhere!

If you’re looking for a partner on your path to financial independence, we just might be members of the same tribe! Send me a note or give me a call at (336) 701-2612.

Investment advisor representative of and investment advisory services offered through Garrett Investment Advisors, LLC, a fee-only SEC registered investment advisor. Tel: (910) FEE-ONLY. Fair Winds Financial Advice may offer investment advisory services in the States of North Carolina and Texas and in other jurisdictions where exempted.

What do you want from life?

As a financial planner, I query people about their goals—what’s important to you, what makes you happy, what do you want to accomplish? If it sounds straightforward, it isn’t. Most of us aren’t sure what we want, much less what will make us happy. We were never trained to do this, so how do we decide?

Fitting In

We experience a lot of pressure to “want” what everyone else does in order to fit in. Not many kids choose to be different for fear of ostracism…and we don’t tend to outgrow this fear! How often do you (or anyone you know) let your freak flag fly? The desire to fit in and not be left behind is strong. It’s ingrained into our ancient reptile brains and has kept us humans safe from the saber-toothed tigers from time immemorial.

Today we have many forms of media and social media so that both advertisers and friends can show us what “everyone” has. We’re trained to be willing consumers of the goods and services that the advertisers want to sell us. Where does freewill or our freedom of choice factor in? It’s more theoretical than practical.

How do we sort out what we really want, given this challenging context? Our first response to “what do you want from life” may turn out to be a guess, and an uninformed one at that! For years I believed that I would be “happy” when I had the security of a large salary. High income would free me from money anxiety. What a surprise, after many years of college and career-related striving, to discover that the high salary didn’t feel so freeing! In my case, it came paired with a high cost-of-living lifestyle: expensive location and work wardrobe and student loan repayment. There was lots of cash flow, both in and out, but it didn’t quiet my money anxiety. All of those years when I equated high income with security and focused on the prize, I had no way of knowing if it would actually make me happy or even anxiety free—I’d never been there before.

Ask a different question

I’m not that different than most people (a little weirder, maybe)—we aren’t very good at predicting what will make us happy. Doubt me? What’s the current divorce rate? Happy Money: The Science of Happier Spending author Elizabeth Dunn reports that our intuition about what type of spending will make us happy is often wrong. Lots of us think that retiring to sit on a beach sipping a drink with an umbrella in it will do the trick. And we’re the same people who, weeks or months after achieving said nirvana, are feeling restless and depressed and are looking for a little job.

Instead of asking yourself “what will make me happy”, ask “what will give my life meaning”. This almost certainly short-circuits our consumer culture and most outside expectations. We can draw on our experiences to date and then, fairly reliably, extrapolate into our futures. I still remember the day more than 20 years ago we were in a supermarket line behind an older woman whose credit card was denied. We slipped the cashier our card and the grateful lady was on her way with her groceries. Why do I remember those two minutes? I’ve given larger sums and probably in more dire circumstances. But there was something so satisfying about seeing a human need and, in the moment, being able to respond to satisfy it. These are the moments that give my life meaning. As soon as I stopped trying to find happiness, which I had mistakenly identified as a large income, and started seeking meaning, life got dramatically better.

Many persons have a wrong idea of what constitutes true happiness. It is not attained through self-gratification but through fidelity to a worthy purpose.
— Helen Keller

Meaning for you might come from relationships with family and friends, contributing through career or volunteer work, devotion to a cause, some combination of the above, or something entirely different. But you’ll know it when you feel it. Not sure? Take the time to experiment! Rescue a kitten, really listen to your partner’s rehash of the day, show up to stand up for a cause you believe in, volunteer for trail maintenance at a local park, whatever. Does it light you up? If so, you’re getting warmer. If not, try, try again. These can be small stakes experiments. I’m not suggesting you quit your day job to save the world…yet.

I don’t care if you’re 20 or 90, meaning matters! We can find it in our lives, if we’re willing to pay attention. At 97, despite cognitive, hearing and visual impairments, my dad still strives to have a purposeful life. He’s all about giving and encouraging others. He stops to say hello and smiles at some of the nastiest old ladies you can imagine. Sometimes they smile back, but he keeps at it even when they don’t. He’s interested in the lives of his family and friends and offers support and encouragement daily. His wonderful attitude inspires those in his church community who are decades younger.

Mike and Reggie with Dad and me. The valet staff kindly “reserve” a parking space for Dad at every game.

Mike and Reggie with Dad and me. The valet staff kindly “reserve” a parking space for Dad at every game.

At the other end of the age spectrum is the daughter of a former colleague of mine. We ran in to him at a recent baseball game and he brought his kids over to introduce them. I told them that Dad would attend all 70 of the Winston-Salem Dash home games this season and had only missed one last year (it was a conflict with a Glenn Miller Orchestra concert and big band music won out). Eight year old Emma was so touched by Dad’s story, she told her own father that she needed to buy him a gift. She returned a bit later with a Dash foam finger, her gift to Dad in honor of his streak. Why would an eight year old spend her allowance on a gift for a 97 year old virtual stranger? The act of giving was meaningful to her.

 

Meaning shows us the way

As you identify the keys to your meaningful life, you’ll be better able to articulate what you want out of life. Getting on track to our purpose gets us most of the way there. Working backwards from your image of a meaningful life will show you the steps to take. Some deliberate planning can get you on your way to those goals. Meaning may not be the same as happiness (check out these two fascinating articles on the subject: Scientific American: The Differences Between Happiness and Meaning in Life and The Atlantic: There's More to Life than Being Happy), but it’s in the neighborhood, and it’s attainable for all of us, whatever our circumstances.

What gives your life meaning? Does having a purpose make you happy? Let me know what you think. I love helping people navigate to their best lives! Give me a call if you’re looking for a partner to help you reach your potential (336) 701-2612.

Investment advisor representative of and investment advisory services offered through Garrett Investment Advisors, LLC, a fee-only SEC registered investment advisor. Tel: (910) FEE-ONLY. Fair Winds Financial Advice may offer investment advisory services in the States of North Carolina and Texas and in other jurisdictions where exempted.

Asking for help

This week’s post will be uncharacteristically short because I know little about the subject, other than that it’s important. I want to make the case for asking for help—early and often. I was at a retreat last week, spending time meeting or catching up with my fellow Garrett Planning Network members. What a fantastic group of people: knowledgeable, kind, generous, dedicated to helping people and making this a better world. I noticed that my peers are very like me in their desire to figure their way out of things. We wait until we’ve gotten really frustrated before we ask for help. We want to be self-sufficient, we don’t want to burden others or waste their time, we think that we should be able to figure it out ourselves or that asking for help is a sign of weakness. I bet you can add another couple of dozen reasons, if you’ve ever been reluctant to ask for help.

When it really hit me that asking sooner rather than later is essential was in talking with another planner who has recently started his business. It can be overwhelming to get a new start-up off of the ground. It’s hard to ignore financial concerns when you’ve got a family to provide for. Start-up stress is fertile ground for self-doubt which funnels into a downward spiral and a crisis of confidence. Not the best state of mind for presenting yourself to potential clients! I encouraged my colleague to pick up the phone and call me or another Garrett member for encouragement at the first sign of start-up stress. The anxiety he’s been feeling isn’t unique to him, or to those of us in financial planning practices. It’s the norm, not the exception. By reaching out to a peer sooner rather than later, we’ll be reminded that much of our angst is just from being a human trying to do a new thing. We can save ourselves a lot of anxiety and short-circuit the downward spiral by asking for help earlier.

Try this at home

We can improve our lives by asking for help earlier on a variety of fronts, both professional and personal. The beauty of asking early is that it saves us from hours or days of mental churning and we’re more likely to ask for help in a calm, open way before we get frustrated and throw up our hands. Here are my tips for asking for help:

  • Ask for help, even when you’re not sure what kind of help you need or what the other person can offer. Ron and I have been taking care of my dad in North Carolina, with no family nearby, for almost five years. It has often been overwhelming, the pressure of knowing that we’re the only ones who can be here for Dad. It isn’t much of a day off when you only get it because your partner is taking over! I can see now that I’ve been slow to ask my siblings to pitch in because I haven’t been sure what they can do from a distance to help. Because I wasn’t asking for help, they didn’t know that we needed it and were headed directly in to burn out territory. Only many years down the road does it occur to me that I can ask for help without knowing what the answer is. My siblings may very well have their own ideas on how they can pitch in to take care of Dad and relieve the pressure on Ron and me. If I don’t ask, I’ll never know. Isn’t it better to have more people considering the problem and solutions than just Ron and me going over and over the same ground?

  • While you may not know exactly what the help needs to look like, make sure to clearly communicate your need. Two years ago we decided that, to relieve some of the pressure of constant caregiving and re-energize ourselves for the task, we would take the entire month of September off to make a camping trip out west. I gave my siblings a year’s notice and asked if they would come to North Carolina to spend time with Dad so he wouldn’t be lonely and worried during our absence. My vision was that I would be completely relieved of caregiving tasks—that someone would be here while we were gone and, even if no one was, someone else would remotely manage all of the details of Dad’s life (making sure that his necessary supplies were stocked, replacing lost or missing items, arranging rides to church on Sunday, being available to take phone calls from Dad’s assisted living, in case he falls or needs something). Instead my siblings came to be with Dad during two of the weeks we were gone and I did all of the managing remotely. It wasn’t the best break. So we decided to try again this year by again taking September off. Despite many months of notice, it looks like only one of my siblings will come this year…and again no one is offering to take over all of the care management. Looking back, I don’t think I clearly enough told my family, “Ron and I are getting burned out by the physical and emotional demands of taking care of Dad. In order to be able to continue to provide care for 11 months of the year, we’re going to need to be completely free of responsibility for Dad during one month. We need your help—please organize yourselves to cover this month.” The message still might not have been received and the outcome might have been the same, but I would feel better if I knew I had been clear and direct enough. What seemed obvious to me—that we are burned out and need help, may not be at all obvious to them.

  • Ask lots of people, you never know who will be willing or offer the most creative solution. In my current quest to make sure Dad isn’t lonely or bored while we’re out of town, I’ve decided to ask everyone and every organization I can think of. So, in addition to asking my Facebook friends, I’ll be contacting Senior Services and the hospice and palliative care organizations in two counties. Maybe, if I ask enough people, I’ll get connected to the right person or people who would love to engage with my awesome Dad. If you have other suggestions on people or organizations I should reach out to, please let me know .

  • If you don’t ask, the answer will always be no. I was nervous about asking my siblings to step up because I was afraid they would say no. This is always the risk. Sometimes we may feel that we would rather not ask than have to hear the answer. But it’s hard for me to imagine a time when that really is the best strategy. Life is full of risks. Let’s face them head-on, with our eyes wide open. Better to have an answer, even if it’s no, so we can learn and move on.

  • Be open to offers that are not what you expected. I have no idea what resources my social media network and local caregiving organizations may suggest to meet Dad’s needs. I hope that there’ll be people in my community who would love to brighten Dad’s day by taking him out for lunch or to the farmer’s market. But I really don’t know who might respond or what they might offer. I’m going to try to remain open to different solutions than those I’ve come up with myself. Check with me in a month or so to see how well I’ve managed that!

  • Remember that asking for help gives others an opportunity to be of service. Little in life makes us feel better than knowing that we have been of service to a friend, loved one, or complete stranger. My parents were the ultimate servants. They devoted their lives to raising their four kids, to teaching, and to serving their church community in a variety of ways. As they got older, it was hard for them to ask for or accept help themselves. The transition from servant to being served is not an easy one. When I would ask them to consider help, I would remind them of what a gift it had been in their own lives to be of service to others—the satisfaction they had gotten, the meaning it had given their lives. And I asked them to give that gift to others—to let someone else feel good because she had been of service to them. It didn’t make it much easier, but it helped them be willing to accept help. They still found ways to be of service, but they also learned to accept help and even ask for it. I’m trying to apply this lesson in my own life, which is of course much harder than trying to teach someone else to use it!

I believe that churning less and reaching out to ask for help earlier can improve my own life and strengthen my connections with my loved ones and community. Do you? Share your thoughts on the subject and your experience asking for help with me.

Investment advisor representative of and investment advisory services offered through Garrett Investment Advisors, LLC, a fee-only SEC registered investment advisor. Tel: (910) FEE-ONLY. Fair Winds Financial Advice may offer investment advisory services in the State of North Carolina and in other jurisdictions where exempted.

Don’t let perfect be the enemy of good--long story and two life hacks

This is a pinball machine, for those born too recently to have experienced one.

This is a pinball machine, for those born too recently to have experienced one.

A recent death in my extended family has my focus shifted back to organizing information. I’m reminded of my tendency to bounce from one concern to another, just like a pinball careening around corners, hitting bumpers, flippers and walls, each time sent off on a new and different trajectory. Almost six months ago, I wrote about the need to get our financial and household information organized and shared. And I talked about my intent to do so. Intentions are one thing, results another. I didn’t take the necessary actions in the moment when I was motivated. Soon I was banging into another bumper and headed off on a new trajectory with a new priority. Well, I’m back to thinking about organizing my information and I have a new strategy for accomplishing this particular task. Maybe you’ll find it useful in your own life to move forward on a task that has been hanging around for too long. Or maybe you’ll just get another reminder that you, too, should get your financial and household information in order! If you don’t have the patience for my long story, scroll down to the end for the actionable tips--you won’t hurt my feelings.

Wake up call

Late last Thursday evening, I got a text from my younger brother. His family was in Arizona on a snake hunting vacation. I figured he was probably sending yet another photo of a bucket list rattlesnake find…maybe that sidewinder or Arizona blacktailed. Instead, he was letting us know that they were packing up and heading back to California, having just received word that his father-in-law had died. Quite unexpectedly.

My heart goes out to my sister-in-law and her whole family. What a shock! I can’t help but think of my sister-in-law’s mom who just lost her life companion. How do you prepare to have everything you’re accustomed to in your daily life tossed into life’s big blender? Emotionally, you probably can’t be ready for a sudden death. But maybe we can do a little prep work to ease the logistics of managing a death or incapacitation. This way we can conserve our energy for the grieving and adjusting we’ll need to do without being overwhelmed by the tasks of stepping in to take over all of those things someone else had done, possibly for years or decades.

Late last Thursday evening, I got a text from my younger brother. His family was in Arizona on a snake hunting vacation. I figured he was probably sending yet another photo of a bucket list rattlesnake find…maybe that sidewinder or Arizona blacktailed. Instead, he was letting us know that they were packing up and heading back to California, having just received word that his father-in-law had died. Quite unexpectedly.

My heart goes out to my sister-in-law and her whole family. What a shock! I can’t help but think of my sister-in-law’s mom who just lost her life companion. How do you prepare to have everything you’re accustomed to in your daily life tossed into life’s big blender? Emotionally, you probably can’t be ready for a sudden death. But maybe we can do a little prep work to ease the logistics of managing a death or incapacitation. This way we can conserve our energy for the grieving and adjusting we’ll need to do without being overwhelmed by the tasks of stepping in to take over all of those things someone else had done, possibly for years or decades.

Life choices and being a good Scout

I think about preparing for an uncertain future (yes, this control freak just wrote the words “uncertain future”!) in two different ways. First, we make choices about how we live right now that have an impact on how much flexibility we’ll have in our uncertain futures. Then we’ve got the more one dimensional, logistical tasks of leaving records for those who will follow us.

What does a sudden death mean for the surviving partner? Of course, she has lost her companion and life partner, so daily life won’t be the same. Will the life they built and planned together fit for her on her own? Did they just buy an RV and truck, planning to take camping trips? Does the widow have any desire to use it now? Will she be capable? What about the house, where they raised their kids, that they’ve recently renovated? Will she be able to maintain a five bedroom house with a swimming pool? Will it be a comfort or an albatross?

Does it help to have tried to imagine, in advance, what life would look like without our partner? Are we better off to make the best plans we can to live our dreams as a couple, then deal with death or disability when (death) and if (disability) it comes? Like everything in life, it’s a balance. A little bit of prep goes a long ways—disability insurance is a good thing to have when the primary breadwinner is unexpectedly unable to work during her prime earning years.

Insurance isn’t the only form of preparation. We may need to learn new things and acquire skills to be prepared. Part of the reason I’ve always insisted on participating fully in sailing our boats and driving our big rigs is my desire to be self-sufficient…cause I may unexpectedly need to be. Whether my sister-in-law’s mom can manage the RV and rig on her own or not, I’m glad that didn’t keep them from moving towards their dreams. They did buy the rig for the camping trips they hoped to take and they took at least one of those. Even though it won’t have been the best move financially if the rig now needs to be sold at a loss, how do you compare that dollar loss to the pleasure and excitement that comes from taking steps to realize a dream or those precious memories of shared adventures? I’ll never forget the excitement I felt as we drove from NYC to Long Island to spend our first weekend on Phoebe Alice, our sailboat, when we completed her purchase. Oh the pride of owning our own boat, the possibilities she held! For us, it was a dream come true. I’ve never regretted taking that step.

There is no right or wrong. Life is full of both risks (known and unknown) and rewards. Each of us will find our own balance. We have friends who, in their mid-60s, while still healthy and active, chose to move to a home with no stairs in a town where they could walk to all necessary services (grocery store, post office, bank—who knew that in the future you would be able to do all of this stuff on-line without needing to leave the house) and where medical care was available in close proximity. We made the opposite choice and bought a retirement home that is more than 30 minutes from a town and a tiny hospital of questionable quality but on the side of a mountain with miles of hiking trails right outside our back door—different priorities. The particular choice you make is personal. There is no one size fits all solution. It’s not the path you choose that’s important, but the fact that you thought to choose a particular path. As Jean Chatzky recently said of lattes on the HerMoney podcast “I do not care if you spend your money on coffee, I care that you know that you’re spending your money on coffee.” It doesn’t matter what the decision is, only that you’ve made it consciously.

Whatever lifestyle choices you make, the need to share key information remains. Even before a death sent a wake-up call, Ron and I were reminded of the need to better share information earlier in the week. He was out of town when our internet service went out. Since I work out of my home office, internet service is an absolute necessity. But Ron’s our resident techy and the service is in his name. I didn’t even know how to troubleshoot the problem. While he was contactable, our back and forth, trying to figure out where things were (account info, log-in and password) and who to call (info that turned out to be available on a hard copy of our initial bill in one of his file drawers), delayed our getting scheduled for a service call by more than a day. I wrote about compiling and sharing our financial and household information last February. We pledged then that we would share all of our information in a safe and secure way, so we would both have it and so our executors could find it if both of us were to die. And yet, it isn’t done. We made a small start in buying a tool to help us record everything…but haven’t used it yet.

Does this experience resonate with you? It’s a common experience. We have the best of intentions in the moment but somehow fail to take the necessary steps. The project languishes and we feel guilty. Some of the items on our “to do” list that don’t get done turn out not to really matter…and some will have us wishing we had made different choices and gotten them done. To move forward, we need motivation (which waxes and wanes a la pinball machine) and time. Spoiler alert: don’t be disappointed, I don’t have the key to finding an extra 12 hours in your 24 hour day.

  • Motivation: we need to get something done while we’re feeling fired up, something more than just adding the project to our “to do” list. Remember the popular Voltaire quote “The best is the enemy of the good”? Keep that in mind as you look for your first step forward. I’m invoking Jordan Lee Dooley’s rule of thumb, to do something “incremental, imperfect, implementable”. [Check out Ruth Soukup’s interview with Jordan on her “Do it Scared” podcast.] For right now, Ron and I are going to print out the information we have in our respective password managers and put it in our safe deposit box.  That way, there’ll at least be most of our information, mostly correct and pretty much current, in one place while we try to come up with a better system. And it meets Jordan’s criteria!

  • Time: If I need to add something, like organizing information, to my schedule, I have to omit something else. What will I cut? Work could be a good candidate for the workaholics among us, but I’m pretty satisfied with my work schedule. I don’t watch TV, so that’s out. I can’t in good conscience cut either stretching or walking…they keep me somewhat sane and functional. Reading? Do I need to cut back on the amount of time I spend reading? I hate that thought, but it’s the only other significant use of my time each day. I don’t think there’s a way to eliminate minor uses of time like personal grooming, housework and meal prep. I spend many hours each week with my Dad. Realistically, with his being only about a dozen games away from a perfect 70 home game streak cheering on our minor league baseball team, I can’t cut back on the Dad front, either. So I’ve failed at eliminating something in order to have time to organize information.

    If I can’t come up with a straightforward solution to cut something, I’m going to try a backdoor solution instead. Even before Voltaire, Confucius said “Better a diamond with a flaw than a pebble without.” Calling on the wisdom of the ages, here’s my good enough work around: I’ll schedule time for organizing info by blocking it out on my calendar. It’s a bit of a dodge—I’m not picking something to cut, instead I’m picking something to schedule, knowing that other stuff will be displaced, come what may. Full disclosure—this is my plan, but I’m not putting it in action today. I’m headed off to a conference, it’s baseball season, and I have a number of client projects to wrap up before leaving for a camping trip in September. However, I’m committed to doing this on my return.

I’m putting a stake in the ground today, though. When I put down my pen (yes, I’m writing this pen on paper), I’m going to walk over to my computer and print out the contents of my password management program. Later today, I’ll take that print-out to my safe deposit box at the credit union. I’m not going to update the program first, check that it is complete or anything else—that would merely be a cause for procrastination. Nope. I’m just gonna print out what’s there and it’ll be good enough, certainly better than nothing.

Note while editing: I really did it and it feels GREAT to have something done on the information sharing front. It turns out that Ron had completely independently done the same thing, prompted by our experiences in the last week. Tremendous progress in our household on a thorny issue, no nagging required!

Just give me the short story

Try these two life hacks to move forward on a project where you’re stuck:

  1. Do something, anything, today. Follow Jordan Lee Dooley’s rule of thumb and do something “incremental, imperfect, implementable”. Progress will keep you motivated.

  2. If, like me, you can’t find anything to take off of your “to do” list, schedule time for your high priority task first thing in the day (assuming you can be productive in the morning) before the day gets away from you. Accept that something won’t get done, but be happy you’re making progress on your top priority. Maybe we’ll learn by NOT doing which things we can cut!

If you need help resolving an issue that’s keeping you awake at night, give me a call at (336) 701-2612 or send me a message.

Investment advisor representative of and investment advisory services offered through Garrett Investment Advisors, LLC, a fee-only SEC registered investment advisor. Tel: (910) FEE-ONLY. Fair Winds Financial Advice may offer investment advisory services in the State of North Carolina and in other jurisdictions where exempted.

Unsung Heroes

Nick Hilscher and the Glenn Miller Orchestra

Nick Hilscher and the Glenn Miller Orchestra

Monday night Ron and I took Dad to hear the Glenn Miller Orchestra perform in the fabulous Meymandi Concert Hall in Raleigh. Big Band Swing is my dad’s music. He grew up in New Jersey, just over the Hudson River from New York City. As a teenager in the 30’s, living so close to the Big Apple, he not only heard Big Band on the radio (WNEW, he says), he saw it live. Growing up, I remember digging through his collection of Big Band 78s, but only in recent years have I come to understand what this music of his youth means to him. It literally transports him back to a time when his life had yet to unfold and there was so much more ahead than behind.

A few months after Dad moved to North Carolina, in early 2015, we learned that the Glenn Miller Orchestra would be performing in Greensboro. Who knew the Glenn Miller Orchestra even still existed? We got tickets. We weren’t sure how it would all work out, the 40 minute drive to the theatre on a cold winter night when Dad would otherwise have been fast asleep. But from the first strains of “Moonlight Serenade”, my father was transformed into a much younger, happier, more engaged version of himself. Through the entire show, he smiled, sang along (of course he knew all of the words—this was his music!), clapped and cheered. To relive this happiness, for the last couple of years, we’ve traveled around the southeast to see the Glenn Miller Orchestra perform four or five times each year.

In the course of becoming big fans, we’ve gotten to know the band leader, Nick Hilscher. We keep him posted on which shows we’ll be attending and Dad loves saying hello to Nick at the end of each show. Monday evening was the third of a three show streak for us—Saturday evening in Fayetteville, Sunday afternoon in Winston-Salem, then the Raleigh show. Dad was in Big Band heaven! Nick dedicated “The White Cliffs of Dover” to Dad and another World War II veteran who was attending. This lovely gesture got me thinking about heroes.

Heroes all around us

The veteran with whom Dad shared a dedication had been a pilot in the Army Air Corps. He flew 71 missions in the European Theatre and lived to tell the tale! Wow! What a hero! I’m humbled by his courage and tremendous service.

Pilots aboard a U.S. Navy aircraft carrier receive last minute instructions before taking off to attack industrial and military installations in Tokyo. February 17, 1945. National Archives.

Pilots aboard a U.S. Navy aircraft carrier receive last minute instructions before taking off to attack industrial and military installations in Tokyo. February 17, 1945. National Archives.

Dad’s story is less dramatic, especially when he tells it. He says he was just doing what needed to be done…it didn’t seem extraordinary to him. He is always a bit surprised when people thank him for serving. He was in the Navy in the South Pacific, an aviation mechanic on the USS Wasp, an aircraft carrier, from 1942 until just before the war ended. Dad says that his job consisted of crawling out to each plane, carefully avoiding spinning propellers in the dark, to check with the pilot that everything was in order for takeoff. He has never told a single story about his ship being under attack, or of the pilots who didn’t return, or of the battles they were in, though the Wasp was in almost every major battle in the Pacific Theatre. Dad is a hero, too—one of the many who served because it was what needed to be done.

But there are more heroes in my life. For example:

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  • The Glenn Miller Orchestra—16 musicians, a female vocalist and the bandleader—tour 45 to 48 weeks per year, year in and year out, performing four or five shows each week. Let that sink in. I like to travel, but on a bus with 17 colleagues most weeks of the year? That’s a big price to pay in personal life to be able to play music you love. (I sure hope that every one of the people in that band loves that music and doesn’t do this just to have a job!) Now some members of the orchestra may be happiest to be constantly on the move. Maybe some like to be on the road to get away from something/someone at home. But I’m betting that most of them view the relentless travel as the price of admission to make a living playing jazz. And I’m forever in their debt for keeping this music alive for people like my dad…and because it’s a genre worth preserving. GMO road warriors—you are my unsung heroes!

  • Nick has been the band leader for eight and a half years, the entire lives of his two youngest kids. He and his wife, Sarah, have four kids, from ages 3 to 12 years. Most evenings of the year, Nick isn’t helping the kids with their homework or reading bedtime stories, he’s conducting and singing for audiences in Richland, Washington or Shipshewana, Indiana. During summer vacation, the family usually travels with him—the older kids have been to all 50 states and even the baby has seen more of the U.S. than most of us who are 10 to 20 times her age. Nothing in life is free—for Nick to pursue his musical career and love of Big Band music, he gives up daily life at home in Georgia with his wife and kids for most of the year. Not only the music, but the friendship and care Nick has extended to my dad and me, has an outsized impact on Dad’s quality of life. Thanks for what you do, Nick!

Behind the scenes heroes

The real unsung hero is Nick’s wife, Sarah. She makes things work back at home, parenting four kids real-time on her own many days of the year. After the kids are in bed at night, maybe she and Nick talk or Skype, but he isn’t there in person to talk over the day. Sarah is the support that keeps things going at home and allows Nick to stand on stage in front of us, many miles away. Nick will be the first to tell you, as he told me Monday night, Sarah’s support is the only reason he can do what he does. What a gift of love that is! Sarah, you’re my hero!

Nick, Dad and Ron after the show at the Crowne Theatre in Fayetteville, NC on July 13, 2019.

Nick, Dad and Ron after the show at the Crowne Theatre in Fayetteville, NC on July 13, 2019.

I have my own unsung hero. We devote lots of time and energy on a daily basis to making my dad’s life as interesting, full, and active as possible. I’m usually the one out front on this and I get lots of (embarrassing) praise from family, friends, acquaintances, and even strangers, for caring for Dad. People marvel at the things I do with Dad while most of his living peers are stuck at home…or in a nursing home. Make no mistake, going anywhere with a person with limited mobility is an undertaking. But Dad’s care is a team effort. The reason I’ve been able to devote many hours each week to my dad’s care and happiness is because of Ron’s unflagging support. Not only is he the one doing lots of the hands on care, especially the dirty work (and that’s no pun), his love shows in his every interaction with Dad. While I’m getting the praise, he’s putting up with the ugly underbelly of caregiving—the fact that I have little time and energy left for him, that our options for how and where we spend our time are limited by proximity to Dad and his needs. Caregiving is stressful enough, I would never be able to manage it without Ron’s all-in support. Sacrificing in the service of others is my definition of heroism…and Ron’s picture is right there, in my dictionary. Thank you, a thousand times over, Ron—you’re my hero!

Are there unsung heroes in your life? I bet there are…and today would be a good day to say thank you.

Investment advisor representative of and investment advisory services offered through Garrett Investment Advisors, LLC, a fee-only SEC registered investment advisor. Tel: (910) FEE-ONLY. Fair Winds Financial Advice may offer investment advisory services in the State of North Carolina and in other jurisdictions where exempted.

Train Wreck Ahead!

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Periodically AARP surveys Americans on a number of subjects, including whether they want to “age in place”—that is, stay in their own homes as they age. While it varies a bit over time, the vast majority of Americans say they want to age in place. I find this vaguely disturbing for reasons that became clear to me last week. I was listening to Krista Tippett’s interview with Atul Gawande (physician and author of the phenomenal book Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End) on her “On Being” podcast (What Matters in the End). Dr. Gawande described how his paternal grandfather had lived in the family home in India, continuing to participate in family and community life, until his death at 108. Wow! Who wouldn’t want that? Then he goes on to explain that this was only possible because younger family members, particularly women, “were more or less enslaved to his needs”. This resonated deeply with me. Aging in place requires tremendous resources, usually in the form of sacrifices of women caregivers.

Blinders On

As Americans live longer, baby boomers are discovering the joys and burdens of caring for their declining parents. And, as Jane Gross points out in her excellent book A Bittersweet Season: Caring for Our Aging Parents—and Ourselves, even as we experience our own parents in decline, we continue to believe we ourselves will remain vital and then suddenly one night die in our sleep. This belief goes hand in hand with our desire to age in place. Why would I give up my home and independence to live in an institutional setting when I don’t need to? I’ll continue to be able to maintain the house, do my grocery shopping, mow the lawn, and get out to visit friends, see movies, go for hikes, eat in restaurants, just like I do right now, I’ll just have more time to do it once I retire. I will ignore the fact that it isn’t working that way for my parents and pretend that it’ll work this way for me. This is magical thinking! It’s like smokers believing that they won’t get lung cancer! Yes, there are people who can happily live alone in their own homes at very advanced ages…but there are more people who can’t. The San Francisco Bay Area Institute on Aging reports that, for people who live to be over 80:

  • 29% will need assistance, and

  • 56% will report being severely disabled

 It isn’t just the very old. Between 65 and 74, 13% of men and 19% of women say they are unable to perform at least one activity of daily living: eating, bathing, dressing, toileting, transferring (getting in and out of bed or a chair without assistance) and maintaining continence.  The data indicates that the majority of us will NOT be able to age in place without a very extensive care team.

Promise me

Explicitly or implicitly, we are asked to keep a loved one “out of a nursing home”. We’ve heard the horror stories of inadequate care and low standards, maybe even spent a depressing hour visiting a resident (inmate?). No one wants to end up in one of these! But have you also witnessed the life toll that making such a promise takes?

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My friend Jeanine’s mom never asked her to promise that she would keep her in her own home, but Mom’s wishes were clear. They both just assumed that Mom would continue to live alone in her own home. At the start, Jeanine would do the grocery shopping and heavier weekly cleaning and leave a meal or two in the freezer each week so Mom didn’t have to cook all of the time.  Then she organized meals on wheels and prepared all of the other meals Mom would need, plus stopping by daily to see that Mom got her medications. She also did all of the house-cleaning, paid someone to take care of the yard, and started paying all of Mom’s bills. As Mom declined, both physically and mentally, she needed medication twice a day and to be bathed and dressed. She could still undress at night and remembered to go to bed, but she would call Jeanine many times during the day and night, confused and sometimes frightened. At this point, Mom hadn’t participated in anything social in years and was basically a shut-in. And Jeanine, with the support of her husband but no meaningful assistance from her siblings, was on the verge of a breakdown. She never had a day off cause there was no one else to take care of Mom. She hadn’t been out of town or on a vacation in close to a decade. The stress of an unrelenting list of caregiving tasks paired with watching her beloved Mom’s decline, with no light at the end of the tunnel, left Jeanine feeling suicidal. Yup, it’s a gift to have time with an elderly parent (or whomever it is you’re caring for)…but it is also the enslavement mentioned by Dr. Gawande.

Plan B

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Almost two decades ago, my own parents sold their small home (they had downsized 15 years earlier) and moved into a retirement community. They had modest means—Dad was a high school teacher and guidance counselor and Mom stayed home with us kids. Still, they were able to find a place they could afford in the area that was their home. Their apartment was small but had a great balcony and beautiful views. The common areas were attractive and the activities were frequent and varied.

My recollection is that this move was unprompted, but Ron has reminded me that I suggested that we together take a look at some of the retirement communities in their area. I do have distinct memories of their home falling into disrepair, needing cleaning and maintenance beyond their abilities as they aged. More and more days of the week they were eating fast food so they didn’t have to shop, cook, or clean-up. My siblings who lived closer were engrossed in their own growing families and careers and couldn’t take up the slack. When Ron and I made our annual visit from the Virgin Islands, we tried to check off as many tasks as we could. I’ll never forget taking my folks out to shop while Ron stayed behind to scrub the mold off of their windows and shower stall. They couldn’t see it and he didn’t want to humiliate my mom, who always kept her house immaculate, by making her aware of it.

Maybe I see the positives because it was my idea, but I do believe that my parents’ quality of life improved when they moved into a community setting. Mom still had her privacy to read and study undisturbed but enjoyed lunches and dinners in the communal dining room. They continued to have a quiet breakfast in their apartment while reading the morning newspaper. Dad loved all of the activities and played cards and pool and anything else the activities director dreamed up. He was part of the residents’ counsel and the welcome committee. Mom started a Bible Study in that first community that continues to this day. They still got out to church, to visit friends and family, and to see movies or shop. They ate better because they didn’t have to prepare meals to do so.

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The fact, by the time they needed assisted living, they were already living in a retirement community that offered it, made the transition much, much easier! Several assisted livings later, my 97 year young widowed father continues to live as independently as possible because of the care available in his assisted living. Because it is the assisted living’s job to provide help with activities of daily living, Ron and I are freed to devote our caregiving energy to providing love, companionship and stimulating activities. We couldn’t do it all. If we were spending our days bathing, dressing, feeding, and keeping Dad clean, that’s all we would do and we’d struggle to get it done.

Do it for your loved ones, if not for yourself

By definition, you love your loved ones, right? Whether they are children, a spouse, a dear friend, do your loved ones a favor and come up with an acceptable alternate plan in case you do actually have a decline. A significant loss of cognitive function (dementia) or physical disability will preclude you from living independently. Have a plan for it, just in case. Your first step is to go out and learn about the care options in your current community. If they seem limited, consider care available anywhere you might happily live out your life. Whatever your financial circumstances, there will be options:

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  • Home care

    • Help with activities of daily living

    • Meal preparation, light housekeeping and chores

  • Senior living communities

  • Co-housing/shared housing

  • Continuing Care Retirement Communities (CCRCs)

  • Independent living facilities

  • Assisted Living

  • Skilled nursing (aka long-term care or nursing homes)

 

Imagining our own decline doesn’t come close to making the list for our top 10 favorite activities. But some forethought and preparation increase the odds of greater happiness later on for ourselves and our loved ones. If we don’t prepare, care for baby boomers in the US is a train wreck in the making. Give me a call if you need some help planning for yourself or a family member (336-701-2612).

Investment advisor representative of and investment advisory services offered through Garrett Investment Advisors, LLC, a fee-only SEC registered investment advisor. Tel: (910) FEE-ONLY. Fair Winds Financial Advice may offer investment advisory services in the State of North Carolina and in other jurisdictions where exempted.

Where there’s hope, there’s life

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What defines quality of life for you? It’s a moving target and very personal. An IESE Business School articles elaborates:

"Quality of life" is subjective and multidimensional, encompassing positive and negative features of life. It's a dynamic condition that responds to life events: A job loss, illness or other upheavals can change one's definition of "quality of life" rather quickly and dramatically.

Have you taken the time to think about what makes life worth living? And, if you have, have you shared your thoughts with the people close to you? They’re the ones who will have to make decisions on your behalf, if you are unable. By definition, these will be stressful times. Operating without enough information only exacerbates the stressfulness.

My mini survey

While struggling to define quality of life for myself, I quizzed several friends on the subject. (Note: this is not a random sample, nor is it statistically significant…only interesting!) I vaguely recall Ron telling me, when we were decades younger, that he wouldn’t want to live in a wheelchair. How does he feel about that now? Being able to walk is no longer a deciding factor in his quality of life. Even if he couldn’t walk, he could still read, listen to music, operate his ham radio. His definition has changed.

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My dear friend Cecile is a sociologist with a professional interest in gerontology, the scientific study of old age. She has given this subject a lot of thought, done research on it, and published papers in academic journals. When I asked her what quality of life meant for her, she quickly responded “Waking up in the morning with something to look forward to.” That might mean a visit from a friend, a cuddle from her pups, working in her garden, teaching a class at the Y. The important ingredient is hope. As Anne Frank wrote “Where there’s hope, there’s life.”

Rachel’s factors were similar to Ron and Cecile’s:

  • to experience nature, feel the sun and the wind on her face;

  • pets to cuddle and love

  • a hug

  • the taste and smell of wonderful food

  • the ability to communicate

  • music…of her favorite genres, please (no elevator tunes!)

  • access to book based on her abilities to read, whether print, audio, or braille

  • companions who like to smile and laugh

 

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I found myself nodding my head and agreeing with everything my friends shared (ok, maybe not the ham radio part). From years of observing my dad, I would add

  • Being loved, continuing to have friends and family

  • Making a difference

At 97, my father has lost more loved ones than many of us have even had! He treasures his children, grandchildren, great grandchildren, nieces and nephews, and his friends, old and new. His life has been devoted to others as a teacher, coach, father, husband, and friend. Dad lives to do for others. He continues to encourage and support me in all aspects of my life, professional and personal. Ron and I make an effort to point out and remind him of his ongoing positive influence on other people’s lives—family, friends, his church family. Being loved and making a contribution are essential to my father’s will to live.

Who will speak for me?

The dynamic nature of quality of life makes it all the more important that we talk about what matters most to us with our friends and family regularly. The better they understand what we care about today, the better equipped they’ll be to make decisions if we’re suddenly incapacitated. You don’t want a decision maker who doesn’t really understand your wishes!

Most of us haven’t been trained to make tough medical decisions under trying circumstances. We’re likely to:

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  • Question the patient’s stated wishes, uncertain the person had this specific situation in mind. If there are multiple family members with different views, this is even more likely. This lack of confidence can lead to making choices that aren’t consistent with the person’s stated preferences. My friend Gwen told me the story of her good friend who had a massive heart attack. Even though she had a do not resuscitate order in place and did not want extraordinary measures taken, in this moment of stress, her son agreed to have her resuscitated and airlifted to the hospital. Gwen was thankful that her friend died en route to the hospital and was spared further “treatment”.

  • Mistakenly substituting our own wishes for the patient’s. We tend to do this subconsciously, without realizing that our own preferences aren’t identical to those of the person for whom we’re deciding. In caring for my parents over the years, I have had to frequently remind myself not to impose my wishes on them. I felt for years that they needed help managing their medications—there were many, with lots of different requirements on when, how and how often they were taken…and I saw my folks make obvious mistakes during my visits. However, they were still cognitively able to choose. And their choice was to take the risk of taking their medications incorrectly and maintain complete independence.

Your local hospice can help you and your designee understand what kinds of decisions may need to be made. Preparation through education and dialog is the best route.

Thinking about what is most important to you, sharing that information with those close to you, learning more about situations that you may face are all important steps. But unless you’ve executed advanced directives, your chosen advocate won’t have the legal ability to stand in for you. When it comes to preserving your quality of life, both healthcare and financial decisions play major roles. You need to a healthcare power of attorney to name someone to make medical decisions. With a durable power of attorney, you’ll appoint a representative to make financial decisions. These are documents an estate or eldercare attorney can help you put in place, or contact your local hospice for education and referrals. If, like me, you’re eligible for membership in the North Carolina State Employees Credit Union, check out their very affordable estate planning service utilizing attorneys in your area. And while you’re preparing these documents, make sure to name at least one alternate, in case your designee is unavailable or unwilling to act on your behalf at a critical moment. I know, I’m the only person on the face of the earth who gets charged up about estate planning documents…but you need these! You can thank me later.

This should scare you

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I hate to close on a somber note…but do you want a random ER doctor or hospitalist making life decisions for you? If you’re very cynical, you believe they’ll be making decisions based on what will squeeze the most money out of your insurance company. If you’re not, you’ll expect them to do what they are trained to do—preserve any type of life at virtually any cost. Keeping you alive and “safe” will be top priority, even if that equates to spending your remaining days lying in a hospital or nursing home bed. Take steps today to talk with your loved ones about what matters most to you and get your legal documentation in order!

I’m passionate about living my best life. I want to help my friends, family, and clients identify and find ways to live theirs! Please share your thoughts with me at beth@fairwindsadvice.com. For assistance in planning for your best life, give me a call at (336) 701-2612.

Investment advisor representative of and investment advisory services offered through Garrett Investment Advisors, LLC, a fee-only SEC registered investment advisor. Tel: (910) FEE-ONLY. Fair Winds Financial Advice may offer investment advisory services in the State of North Carolina and in other jurisdictions where exempted.

Advice for my younger self

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My youngest niece just graduated from high school. Achieving this rite of passage is a turning point in our family—the last of her generation to move in to adulthood. And while 17 may not seem like an adult, this young woman has already shipped out for basic training in the Air Force. She’ll be a grown-up very soon, ready or not! Jordan hasn’t asked her wise old aunt for any advice (yet!) but I’ve offered to give her some tips about money. Makes me nostalgic about my own youth. What do I know now that I wish I had known then?

Just do it!

I knew money was tight when I was a kid. My dad loved to shop and did all of the grocery shopping. He would tear the corner off of the check he gave the cashier at the supermarket when it was getting close to payday. He explained to me that this would keep the check from being automatically processed. Manual processing would result, he hoped, in enough of a delay that his paycheck would be in the bank before the check was presented to clear. Though I was aware my parents didn’t have a lot, I always felt like I had everything I needed. Geez, we lived in the suburbs and I had my very own horse when I was 12—was I living a charmed life or what?

Dad helped me open my first checking account (at the credit union where he was member #7) and my first department store credit card. He taught me how to balance said checking account and pay my credit card bill. But the rest of what I learned I absorbed from my family home—living from paycheck to paycheck. We never talked about savings. I don’t think my parents ever had a savings account until they sold the family home and downsized to a small place when they were in their 60s. They taught me what they knew about money, but their perspective was limited. What shall I tell my niece that I wish my parents had known to tell me? Easy!

Pay yourself first

From your very first paycheck, automatically save a chunk first. I hope she’ll start out at 10%, but even if it’s just 5% that’s a start to the habit. And if done every paycheck and automatically, it will become a habit, just like brushing your teeth. Habits, good or bad, just happen, we don’t question them. A savings habit established at an early age sets us up for financial independence—the ability to spend our time in the ways that are most meaningful for us. This is what life is all about.

The alternative is a much harder road, and I speak from experience. Not trained to save at an early age, I believed that I would start saving when…I started earning more money, paid off my student loan debt, bought a boat, you name it. We fall into the trap of procrastinating. Want to know how I started saving money? It was when I was living on a sailboat in the Virgin Islands where I neither had nor needed much of anything. There was no easy way to spend the money we made taking people on sailing vacations. No easy way cause we were occupied with our business during the winter season and off exploring cool places on our boat during hurricane season. Spending money, particularly on things we had no room for, didn’t make it onto the fun activity list.

Later, when we moved back on land, we quickly fell out of the savings habit. Once we made the transfers to savings automatic, we didn’t even miss the money and the savings account grew steadily. That financial buffer—savings—gives us the freedom to shape our destiny. All of that, just from paying ourselves first!

Stuff won’t make you happy, but experiences will!

I wish I had heard these very words, repeatedly, from the time I was a kid. I’ve had it easier than many. While not a born saver, I was also not enamored with stuff. Even as a child, I loved books. My allowance went for inexpensive paperbacks. I spent hours pouring over the Scholastic catalog to make my choices. I wasn’t that particular about clothes or accessories or toys.

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Having a horse was expensive and there was lots of gear that you could use. Like any young horse owner, I loved spending money at the tack shop! But when my friends decided to get in to the really big money pit—showing their horses Western Pleasure with all of the attendant clothes, silver adorned saddles and bridles, professional trainers, horse trailers, I went my own way. I spent many an afternoon riding miles alone on the trails in the surrounding undeveloped hills while my friends rode circles in the arena back at the stable. (I’ll save the stories of all of the miles I walked after my horse threw me and took off in said hills—fortunately she couldn’t open gates!) While still an adolescent, I was learning both to value experiences and to make my own decisions instead of following the crowd. Both are necessary to escape the materialism of our culture.

Too much stuff—to buy, sell, store, maintain—keeps us from the very experiences that make us happy and give our lives meaning. When we told people in NYC that we were getting rid of everything and moving on to our 31 foot sailboat to sail away, one acquaintance said, "I'd love to do that, but I just bought a couch." That happened 25 years ago, and while I've forgotten who said it, the comment has stuck with me. Don’t let things keep you from moving towards your dreams, whatever they are! 

But will she ask?

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I’ve got my two tidbits of advice ready…but will Jordan ask? Two simple ideas can change a life’s trajectory. Advice, however, is only useful if it is sought after. I can wait.

Do you have a story about paying yourself first or prioritizing experiences? Or, what do you wish that you could tell your younger self? Let me know at beth@fairwindsadvice.com. If you’re ready to enlist a partner to get you on track to your goals, give me a call at (336) 701-2612.

Investment advisor representative of and investment advisory services offered through Garrett Investment Advisors, LLC, a fee-only SEC registered investment advisor. Tel: (910) FEE-ONLY. Fair Winds Financial Advice may offer investment advisory services in the State of North Carolina and in other jurisdictions where exempted.