Have you HEARD? Build a Retirement Plan That Take Care of You

When you Google “retirement planning.” In .7 seconds, you will have over 180 million results you can choose from.  You will find a great deal of insight, resources, tips, and tools to help you prepare for and plan your retirement.

However, with all of those results, you will be hard pressed to find guidance and support for what it really takes to prepare personally for retirement, unless of course you’re willing to scroll for lots and lots of pages.

Everyone talks about retirement planning from the angle of financial readiness, which is important.  However, retiring happily requires much more than money.  It’s more complex.  The size of the bank account certainly plays a role, but it is one of many factors that feed into a successful next chapter of one’s life.  And, just like building your savings for retirement should occur over a long period of time, preparing yourself for this next adventure takes preparation and discipline.

As a family business consultant and exit planning advisor, I talk with many clients about how they are preparing for the change that comes along with retirement or potentially no longer owning their business.  They may be ready financially, but more than not, they have not given thought to what comes next.  After those daily responsibilities and connections leave their plate, what replaces them?  Busy professionals are similar.  In fact, the thought of retiring and “having nothing to do” scares the living bejeezers out of them.  Admittedly, I share this fear myself.

That, right there – the fear of the unknown and uncertainty, can become a paralyzing factor that keeps the person from moving forward.  Retirement readiness, from this perspective, has nothing to do with the size of the bank account.  It has everything to do with the ability to see the future and what will bring you fulfillment and purpose to daily life.

And like retirement savings, you really are never too young to start planning and preparing for that next chapter or adventure in life.  Yet we put it off in the calamity of daily living-while-working.  Nonetheless, we reap what we sow.  If we ignore taking care of ourselves now, we will pay the price in the future. 

The best way to avoid this fear and gaping hole is to design and start living your own Happily Ever-After Retirement Days (HEARD) plan.  To understand what a HEARD plan looks like, it’s helpful to consider what factors contribute the most to satisfaction in retirement. 

Your Health:  Having your strength, mobility, energy, and wellbeing are the cornerstones of happiness and satisfaction.  If your health goes sideways and you don’t have those things, it won’t matter if you have wealth like Jeff Bezos. You won’t be in a happy place.

In our earlier years, we took those things for granted.  When the muscles groan a little faster than they used to or you feel like the Tin Man from The Wizard of Oz just getting up from your desk, it becomes more apparent. Or when a major health crisis occurs, whether your own or a loved one’s.  Reality strikes.  It’s time to get serious.

It’s never too late to start changing and enhancing your health habits.  Three to five hours moderate-intensity activity a week has a direct impact on heart health and longevity, such as taking brisk walks around the neighborhood, riding a bike, pushing the lawn mower around, cleaning, and dancing all count. 

Your Purpose:  We all need a reason to get up in the morning.  Something to look forward to that engages our mind, energy, and sense of having an impact.  During our heavy working years, this may have come from our jobs.  A well-constructed HEARD plan anticipates how you will replace what you derived from work.

It’s interesting to think about “our purpose.”  At its core, our purpose in working was to earn a living.  For many it’s far more than that as their work may have an impact on other people, their community, or other elements.  When we stop working, we need to be prepared to derive a sense of purpose and positive impact in other ways.  This may be through volunteering, hobbies, caregiving, and other activities. 

To redefine your purpose:

  • Consider the things you care about, are good at, and can bring together to have an impact
  • Go deeper, reviewing the list of things you care about with what your core values are. Prioritize the best matches
  • Think creatively about your best skills and how you could apply them in the areas you care the most about and align with your values
  • Connect with others that are already active in those areas to explore your opportunities

Your Curiosity:  There is tremendous satisfaction that comes with a curious approach to life.  Life-long learners tend to be more active, motivated, and energetic.  It stimulates the brain, which strengthens cognitive health.  This may buoy confidence and optimism, as well as social connections.  Build in ways that you can bring new ideas and learning into your life on a regular basis.

Your Social Circle:  When we leave a work situation, we disrupt our social circle.  Our work “friends” fade because the common bonds of the relationship – seeing each other and having a shared focus - are gone.  We have to turn to other places to find opportunities to connect with others.

It’s easy enough to come up with ideas as to where to do this – volunteering, clubs, church, neighborhood centers, sports, and others.  What’s hard is getting started, especially if you have sacrificed outside relationships as you built a career and/or raised a family.  So, like saving for retirement, we are best served by building strong relationships with others outside of work early and often. 


To devise your HEARD plan, you first and foremost need to listen to yourself.  This requires taking time to reflect on the factors above and where you are at, currently, and where you would like to be.  Steps may include:

  • Start a journal dedicated to collecting your thoughts
  • Design your ideal day, week, month of what you would like to do in the near, medium, and long-term
  • As ideas come up in little bursts, capture them
  • Set aside longer time periods for this kind of thinking. Write it down, even as a stream of consciousness.  Go back and review it to see what themes emerge
  • Assess your current state
  • Identify steps to take to move closer to the goals identified in the ideal day work

Once you have listened to yourself and identified what is important, share it with those closest to you in your daily life – your partner or spouse, your kids, your best friend.  Be willing to allow them to digest your initial HEARD plan.  Give them space to then be heard as well.  Work together to arrive at a shared understanding and HEARD plan, particularly with your partner/spouse.  (You’re in it together.)

Experience tells me that this takes a couple a long time to accomplish together.  As individuals, we have developed our identity and routines within the framework of a workday.  Upon retirement, a new framework has to be developed.

For example, one couple I know has been talking about where they want to retire.  They know they want to downsize out of the house they are in.  Theoretically, there have been plenty of options on the market they could have gone after, but they realize this is not a minor decision.  They’ve taken the time to recognize what they have enjoyed in their current home, neighborhood, and community.  The husband has one set of priorities while the wife has another, which is to be expected.  These conversations are important, and they require dedication of time, thought, transparency, and vulnerability.  Both partners need to feel heard to ensure that their shared HEARD plans can come together well.

You deserve a retirement plan that takes care of all of you – your financial, social, spiritual, intellectual and health needs and aspirations.  Just like your 401(k) savings, it’s never too soon or too late to start.


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