What Do I Not Know About Planning For Retirement?

2 mn read

What do I not know about planning for retirement? That was the last line of an email I received from a friend of mine. As I prepared to think about the long list of things I wanted to tell him. I realized immediately that the only thing he needed to do was to take time to think.

For most of my career, I have either served in command or operations officer positions. One January I decided to put a fresh notepad on my desk and capture each independent operation, activity, and investment that I was personally involved in that did not directly overlap with another event. While all were collectively supportive of the organizational vision and mission, the list became unmanageable. Yet I was still able to routinely jump from item to item with no concern.

As I reflect on this process, I realize in the military this is not unusual for several leaders who have served in positions with a vast degree of responsibility. Which covered a myriad of events on a daily if not hourly basis. The ability to jump between tactical, operational, and strategic topics while also being decisive about matters involving people, operations and capabilities is completely normal and even exciting at times.

And then there is military transition and the question of what is not known about planning for retirement. Secretary Donald Rumsfeld was the first person I ever read about that used the term referencing something as “unknowable” which is appropriate when planning for retirement.

Military transition has three main lines of effort which I and many others have frequently written about – Administrative – Medical – Passion – everyone may agree on the first two while using a wide choice of words to describe the last one such as job, employment, purpose, calling, etc., although I prefer to use passion.

The first two elements are procedural and anyone, and sometimes it feels like everyone, has an opinion or a checklist on how to be successful with those lines of effort. But the last one is special and truly unknowable without putting in the work. The last one requires self-awareness, faith, trust, vulnerability, relationships, mentorship, coaching, and being willing to bet on yourself. The last one can be scary at times and can also be amazing as doors will open and close, relationships are formed, and emotions are realized.

When do you think back to the capacity that it took to serve, to continuously jump between seemingly unrelated events as a commander or operations officer, day after day, hour after hour, living a life of decisive moments driving operations, activities, and investments, what happens when that all comes to a stop?

There is now space to think and your capacity to think is greater than you can imagine. It may take a scene like a photo I took this weekend at Yokohama Bay on the beautiful western shoreline of Hawaii. Or it may be at your kitchen table with a blank sheet of paper focusing your mind on not the “how” but the “what” and the “why” when it comes to your passion. The time you take to think outside of the checklists, the normalcy of the environment in which you served. As well as, the peace that is possible when you create the space to think. Is what it takes to truly answer the question of what you do not know about when planning for retirement.

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