Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Do You Want the Ideal or Reality?

One of the exercises I do in my retirement seminars is to ask couples to play a game similar to the TV show many of us remember from the early 1970s, “The Newlywed Game.” I call it “The Newly Retired Game.”

In the game I give each partner a few questions to answer according to how they believe their partner will respond. What usually happens is that the exercise illustrates that most couples have no idea how their spouses or partners view retirement and the changes it will bring to their relationship. One person’s responses often do not match up with their partner’s responses.

I gave Tom (not his real name) the following question to ponder:

“What are your spouse or partner’s housing plans for the future in retirement? Scale down, stay where you are, or build a dream house?”

Tom’s initial response to me caused me to stop and think. He asked, “Do you want the ideal or reality?” No one had ever asked this question in my previous workshops.

Tom ended up answering the question both ways—his idea of his wife Janice’s ideal choice and what he thought would be her realistic choice. It turned out that Tom’s answer did match Janice’s response. It was evident that Tom and Janice (not her real name) had been discussing this decision as they were preparing for retirement.

Still, I couldn’t help but observe how noticeably the energy in Tom’s voice changed when he shifted from ideally what he knew Janice would want and realistically what she would be able to reasonably expect for their future.

I try not to be too much of a Pollyanna. I do believe in optimism but within reason. Yet, as I drove home from the seminar, I kept thinking: What would be ideal versus what would be realistic? Which kind of expectation would make me want to jump out of bed in the morning—pursuing an ideal vision of how I’d like to live out my retirement or settling for a realistic version of what I could easily expect?

I know that I get more excited about aiming for the ideal. The ideal is what I’m willing to make sacrifices for. The great homerun hitter Babe Ruth is credited with saying, “We only hit what we aim for.” When I “get up to bat,” I’m one who still wants to “swing for the fence.”

Tom’s wife had always dreamed of living in a large home. This is Janice’s “ideal.” If there is any way to make this happen, I’d say, “Go for it—aim for the ideal!”

But if Tom and Janice find that realizing this dream would be impossible at a time when their income is fixed, I’d say, “Look for another approach.” That is, if the “ideal” is only a Pollyanna daydream, consider the more realistic approach: Get to the heart of what the ideal represents. 

For Tom and Janice, the question is, “If the larger home is out of reach, what could you aim for that represents this dream?”

Perhaps the answer is to create a more open floor plan in their existing home. Or perhaps Janice and Tom could convert three bedrooms into two bedrooms and make them more spacious, along with adding a master bath. Representing the “ideal” of what they’d most like to have will allow this husband and wife to go after what energizes them; they won’t have to just “settle” for what’s realistic.

Have you thought about how you’d like to approach your retirement? What is your ideal lifestyle? Describe it in detail—in writing. If your wishes seem too Pollyannaish, then ask yourself, “What is at the heart of this ideal?” Then create a plan that speaks to this longing.

Once you have a plan that makes you want to jump out of bed each morning, then you know what you’re aiming for. Now it’s time to swing for the fence!

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