This book is part of what we call The Parachute Library
. Like all books in that Library, it is not intended as a substitute or replacement for its best-selling centerpiece, What Color Is Your Parachute? A Practical Guide for Job-Hunters and Career-Changers
(ten million copies in print), but as a supplement to it.
Why do we need a supplement? Well, each time
of Life has special issues and special challenges, where we all could use a little extra guidance. The time
of Life from age fifty, on, is one of those times. I have a friend named John Nelson, who is an expert on that time
of Life, and therefore I have asked him to write this book.
My contribution to this book is twofold: (1) To frame some of the questions and challenges during this period, as I have done in my earlier work The Three Boxes of Life, and How to Get Out of Them: An Introduction to Life/Work Planning
(1978). (2) To write this introduction and overview, to get us going.
The time of Life that we are talking about here is traditionally called “Retirement.” Some people love that word. I’m not one of them. For me, it implies “being put out to pasture”—to borrow an image from a cow. It implies a kind of parole from a thing called work
, which is assumed to be onerous, and tedious. It implies “disengagement” from both work
, as one patiently—or impatiently—waits to die. It thinks of Life in terms of work.
I prefer instead to think of Life in terms of music. My favorite metaphor is that of a symphony. A symphony, traditionally, has four parts to it—four movements, as they’re called. So does Life. There is infancy, then the time of learning, then the time of working, and finally, this time that we are talking about, often called “retirement.” But if we discourage the use of the word “retirement,” then this might better be called the Fourth Movement.
The Fourth Movement, in the symphonic world, is a kind of blank slate. It was and is up to the composer to decide what to write upon it. Traditionally, the composer writes of triumph, victory, and joy—as in Beethoven’s Symphony #3, the Eroica
. But it may, alternatively, be a kind of anticlimactic, meandering piece of music—as in Tchaikovsky’s Symphony #6, the Pathetique
. There the Third Movement ends with a bombastic, stirring march. The Fourth Movement, immediately following, is subdued, meditative, meandering, and sounds almost like an afterthought.
Well, there are our choices about our own lives: Shall the Fourth Movement, the final movement, of our lives be pathetique or eroica
—pathetic or heroic? Your call!
I like this defining of our lives in terms of music, rather than in terms of work.
To carry the metaphor onward, in this Fourth Movement of our lives, we have instruments, which we must treat with care. They are: our body
, our mind
, our spirit
, and what we poetically speak of as our heart
, which Chinese medicine calls “the Emperor.”1 Body, mind, spirit, heart. Some of these instruments are in shiny, splendid condition. Others are slightly dented. Or greatly dented. But these are the instruments that play the musical notes and themes of this time of our lives.
The traditional notes are: sleep, water, eating, faith, love, loneliness, survival
(financial and spiritual), health care, dreams
(fulfilled or unfulfilled), and triumph
—over all adversities—and even death
Traditionally, the themes for this period of our lives also include planning. But I believe the outstanding characteristic of the Fourth Movement in our lives is the increased number of things we call unexpected
. And that can knock all our plans into a cocked hat. So I prefer to say that one of the notes we strike, is how to handle interruptions. Martin Luther King, Jr., perhaps put it best, just before his death:
“The major problem of life is learning how to handle the costly interruptions—the door that slams shut, the plan that got sidetracked, the marriage that failed, or that lovely poem that didn’t get written because someone knocked on the door.”
Interruptions, in music, are the pauses between the notes; they are, in fact, what keep the notes from just becoming a jumble. Just listen to the first few bars of Beethoven’s Fifth. Thank God for the interruptions, the spaces between the notes.
So, where have we come thus far? Well, I suggested that it is useful to think of Life after fifty as the Fourth Movement in the symphony of our lives—the movement that comes after the first three: Infancy, then The Time of Learning, and then The Time of Working. And it is useful to think that we have instruments, which play certain themes in this movement, as we have seen. That brings us to the $64,000 question: “Toward what end? What is the point of all these notes, all these themes, in the Fourth Movement? What are they intended to produce?”
Ahhh, when I think of the overall impression left with me after I hear the Fourth Movement of any great symphony, such as Schubert’s Ninth, one impression sticks out, above all others. And that impression is one of energy
. I am left with an impression of great energy. And the more the better, say I. Energy is lovely to behold, and even lovelier to possess. That energy belongs in the Fourth Movement because it brings the whole symphony to triumphant resolution.
This, it seems to me, is how people evaluate the Fourth Movement of our lives, as well. Not: Did we live triumphantly and die victoriously; but: Do we manifest energy
? Do we manifest enthusiasm? Do we manifest excitement, still?
Ask any employer what they are looking for, when they interview a job candidate who is fifty years or older, and they will tell you: energy. They ask themselves, “Does the candidate (that’s us
) slouch in the chair? Does the candidate look like they’re just marking time in Life? Or does the candidate lean slightly forward in the chair as we talk? Does the candidate seem excited about the prospect of working here?”
Energy in people past fifty is exciting to an employer. And to those around us. It suggests the candidate will come in early, and stay late. It suggests that whatever task is given, the task will be done thoroughly and completely, and not just barely or perfunctorily.
All right, then, energy. Where shall we find energy, after fifty? When we were young, energy resided in the physical side of our nature. We were “feeling our oats.” We could go all day, and go all night. “My, where do you get all your energy,” our grandmother would ask us. We were a dynamo of physical energy.
Can’t say the same when we reach fifty, and beyond. Oh, some of us still have it. But as we get older the rest of us start to slow down. Physical energy is often harder to come by, despite workouts and exercise and marathons. Increasingly, our energy must more and more come from within
. It must spring not from our muscles but from our excitement about Life and about what we are doing in this Fourth and final Movement of our Life.
That is why, past fifty, we need to spend more time on the homework of inventorying what in Life we are (still) passionate about. The questions of our youth—what are your favorite skills? where do you most enjoy using them? and how do you find such a place and such a job or endeavor?
—become critical when we are past fifty.2 The nicest compliment any of us can hear as we grow older, is: “What a passion for life she still has! Or, he has! It’s thrilling to be around them.”
And so, it is time to turn to the body of this book. All of the frame
that John Nelson proposes, for our looking at this time of our Life, all the questions
he suggests we must ask ourselves, and all of the inventory
that he suggests we should do, are essential to finding our energy
in this Fourth and final Movement of the symphony of our Life. Come with me, as we enter the main body of the book. And we shall make beautiful music, together.
—Richard N. BollesWhat to Expect from This New Edition
You may be wondering what’s new in this edition of What Color Is Your Parachute? for Retirement
First, you’ll notice that this edition captures the continuing evolution of retirement as a life stage. Chapter by chapter, it shows how society is irrevocably remaking the old retirement into a new retirement. But because we’re still in the process of creating it, no one knows yet, for sure, what that will mean. This book helps you prepare for that shift.
Second, you’ll notice that this edition provides you with additional planning tools and techniques. Even with all the uncertainty, you’ll still have more freedom in retirement than in any other stage of life. This book helps you design, and take concrete steps toward, the life of your dreams.
The universal dream is prosperity, health, and happiness—otherwise known as well-being. But many feel that economic uncertainty threatens their dreams. How do all these evolving forces affect you and your plans for retirement?Financially
, we’ve seen our retirement accounts and home values take the roller-coaster ride of a lifetime. Traditional pensions, which offer a guaranteed monthly benefit, have increasingly shown signs of inadequate employer funding. Social Security is facing a similar problem on a larger scale. The ballooning federal debt complicates long-term fixes for Social Security and Medicare funding problems. At all levels, governments will be forced to rethink the assistance they provide to a rapidly growing number of older citizens. Uncertainty has prompted many to keep working as long as possible. Have we now come to view continued employment as an expected part of retirement? Geographically
, we’ve begun to think more deeply about where we really want to live. Rather than speculating on future home values, we’re viewing our home and community as environments that support the life we want to lead. Medically
, we know retirement is a life stage that brings increased interaction with the medical delivery system. But the system itself will be undergoing significant changes in the coming years—just when we’ll personally need more care. One effect of economic stress is to drain our biological vitality, so it’s even more important for each of us to build that vitality up.Psychologically
, the concept of retirement happiness as carefree decades of leisure is now out of date and out of step. It’s being replaced by our desire for a deeper sense of fulfillment and engagement in life. From now on, we’re more likely to recognize that our happiness is more connected to our sense of community than to our level of consumption.
You can use this book to gain insight and make plans for all
these areas of your life, because it’s unique. It’s not a finance book (although it is about prosperity). It’s not a medical book (although it is about health). And it’s not a psychology book (although it is about happiness). It’s a well-being book.
You might think of this as an introductory course
on all the aspects of designing your retirement life. Or if you’ve already studied retirement, you might think of this as your capstone course, pulling all of your studies together. Either way, you’ll find this book to be both a philosophical and a practical resource.
Finally, here’s a bit of heartfelt advice for you. The best way to use this book is to actually do the exercises, fill in the blanks, and write all over the pages. I provide you with a process
for designing your Ideal Retirement. But you, dear reader, must provide the content
. That’s how you make this your
book, instead of my
After all, it’s your retirement, isn’t it?
—John E. Nelson “I know that someday I will die, but I will never retire.”
—Margaret Mead, renowned anthropologist Chapter ONE
Retirement Is Dead—
Long Live Retirement!
In centuries past, when a king lay dying, there would be great concern among the people. They were sad about losing a ruler they knew. And anxious, too, about getting a new ruler that they didn’t know. The kingdom was changing. What would happen to them? As the old king took his final breath, and his successor became king, a cry would ring out among the people:
“The king is dead—long live the king!”
That is what’s happening to the life stage we call “retirement.” At all levels—individual, organizational, and societal—it’s dying. And it’s dying sooner than we thought. The successor is a new, unknown, and quite different life stage—which will also be called “retirement.” The kingdom is changing. What will happen to you?
While all these changes are going on around you, you’ll be making key decisions about your next stage of life. Because there are no rules for this new version of retirement, you’ll need to design it for yourself. This book will help you make those decisions, and help you design the life you want to live.
Where do you stand now? If you’ve been working steadily toward the old-fashioned version of retirement
, you can probably still get there, if you really want to. If you’re anxious about the uncertainties of the new retirement
, you can take concrete steps to protect yourself. If you’re curious about the new possibilities that are opening up, you can explore those. And if you don’t think you’ll ever have a retirement (new or old), you can identify what might keep you going. Whatever your situation, you’ll discover something useful here.
You’ll also discover that this book isn’t about just one aspect of retirement. It’s about you, and all the parts of your life. For example, most retirement books focus on finances, and come from the narrow perspective of money and managing the affairs of the world. Other books focus on health, and come from the narrow perspective of medicine and managing your physical body. Still others focus on happiness, and come from the narrow perspective of your relationship with yourself and others. This book is unusual because it integrates all those aspects of your life
. So instead of coming from one of those narrow perspectives, this book takes your perspective. It’s you-centered, rather than topic-centered!Why You Won’t Find Everything You Need within This Book
To design the life you want to live, you’ll need to do some real research and make some important decisions. However, you won’t find all
the information you need within these humble pages. The world—and the world of retirement—is now simply too big and too complicated. It wasn’t so long ago that there was a shortage of information out in the world, and the purpose of a book like this was to collect and preserve that scarce resource. To obtain in-depth information on a specific topic like retirement, you traveled to a repository in the physical world—a library or bookstore. There were only a few designated places where in-depth information was indexed, catalogued, and stored, so that you could obtain it when you needed it. The world was almost like a knowledge desert, and a book was like an oasis of knowledge. In that bygone era (just a few years ago), most people valued books mostly for the content
that they offered.
But now it’s the opposite! There’s a surplus
of information in the world. There’s more floating around than we know what to do with. From television to magazines to advertising to bloggers to Google searches, it’s simply endless. It keeps pouring in, more and more of it, every day. We are awash in information. And it’s not just of a general nature. Anyone with an internet connection can drill down to find and retrieve the most specific, technical, and obscure tidbits that you can imagine. Although some of what we access is simply data, much of it is actual knowledge. That is, it’s well-considered advice from people who truly know what they’re talking about, within their own area of expertise. The world isn’t an information desert anymore.
Excerpted from What Color Is Your Parachute? for Retirement, Second Edition by John E. Nelson and Richard N. Bolles. Copyright © 2010 by John E. Nelson and Richard N. Bolles. Excerpted by permission of Ten Speed Press, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.