By Professor Ricardo Ulivi, Ph.D.
Three years ago I started seriously considering retiring from my university teaching—after more than 30 years of doing so–but I was troubled about the implications of this decision. So, I asked members of an Internet forum of financial advisers for some guidance as to what to do with my life. I got some good feedback, but, as in most personal decisions, it was really up to me.
A few days ago I received some requests for an update on my life from members of that forum. I thought I would share with you my original post and its follow up in the hope that my struggle could help you make great decisions when you are faced with retirement anxiety.
Below is a copy of my original post:
What’s more important: Money, Time or Passion?
I need some guidance and maybe I can find it here; this is my problem. I can’t decide what is more important at this stage of my life: money, time or passion? I am 61 and in excellent health.
I have a day job that pays me very well, and I am good at it, but at the same time, I have no passion for it. However, every year I stay, I accumulate more money–like $55,000 extra in savings, plus my living expenses. Yet, I realize that, at 61, time is running short. I can see the light at the end of the tunnel, so I wonder, why continue to accumulate? I have enough . . . but I seem to need the proverbial one dollar more than I have! Yes, I realize you can’t take it with you, but . . .
My passion is practicing as a financial advisor, yet I find it difficult to make and save the same amount of money as I do with my day job–even if I worked at it full time. Plus, advising is much more stressful.
So, do I quit my day job and give up even greater financial security than I presently enjoy to pursue my passion in these last few years of productive life? Or, do I continue to supplement my wealth for a few more years and delay pursuing my passion full time? How do I strike that balance between money, time and passion?
My wife says, “Continue doing both. You have the best of both worlds–some passion and some money”. But my male impulse, or maybe it’s my lack of impulse control, wants all the passion I can get, even if it may be more stressful. However, my wife is wise, and she is my number one advisor. What is the right answer?
Three Years Later: Did You Resolve Your Dilemma?
Here is the update I wrote this week for the forum:
Here I am today. Three years have gone by, and I still have not completely solved my dilemma! Some decisions have been made, some tradeoffs accepted, all one step at a time. The result? I think I am happier now than I have ever been in my life.
I was surprised to read some time ago that one of the distinguished members of our forum had retired. He had made major contributions to our profession, and therefore, I assumed he would NEVER retire. He was famous, highly regarded, etc. Why did he retire, I wondered? So I sent him an email. His response? My priorities changed. Wow, what a wise statement, I thought.
During these three years, my own priorities have changed, and I have taken actions to support those priorities. For example, I did quit teaching over a year and a half ago. It was a tough decision. Three times I walked to the personnel office with my retirement letter in hand, only to turn back at the door. Finally, I found the courage to go ahead and retire. As a result, my net worth is not growing as fast as it was, but I am very happy with my decision. Time was more important than money for me at 63.
Did I Pursue My Passion?
Did I use all this extra time to pursue my passion as a full time financial advisor? Yes and no. What I discovered, when I had more time on my hands, was that I had other passions that were hidden and I had not recognized earlier. For example, ten years ago we bought a condo in Argentina, thinking that at some point in our lives we would like to spend more time down there. During all this time we had it rented out. A year ago, my wife came to me and asked, “What are we waiting for?” She had a point, so we decided to completely remodel the condo. This took an entire year to accomplish, and I loved the experience and the joy it brought. It was not easy.
Doing a complete remodel to a condo in Argentina, while living in California, is not a simple task, and it takes loads of time–time that took away from what I thought was my first passion: practicing full time as a financial advisor. But I am very happy I did so. Doing the remodel was exciting; I would wait eagerly every day for an email from our architect with the latest update. It reminded me of when I was dating my wife, 40 years ago, and I would impatiently wait for the mailman to see if there was a letter from her!!!
What Other Changes Took Place in My Life?
There are other little changes that have taken place in my life in these last three years. Whereas before I would leave the house promptly at 7:30 am, I do so now at 8:30 or later. What’s the rush? I also take a nap most afternoons in my office. I throw a blanket on the floor, take out my pillow and doze off for 15 minutes or until I wake up. I love it. Other changes? I have four grandkids now, so I take time to visit them and do childish things, like playing Little Red Riding Hood and the Big Bad Wolf with them. I chase the kids around the house as if I were a 5 year old myself. So much fun and it does not require any money.
All in all, after I quit my day job, I became much more relaxed and less stressed out. One immediate and unplanned result of this change is that my relationship with my wife of 40 years has become more loving. I don’t know why, but I appreciate her so much more now, and I let her know it much more often than I did before. In other words, quitting my day job, and giving up more financial security, also greatly improved the relationship with the most important person in my life. A nice tradeoff for me!
In sum, I believe that, when confronted with important decisions in our lives, we should focus on our priorities. What is really important for us? Once that is identified, proceed accordingly. And, as I personally discovered, having more time on your hands may awaken passions that you had not recognized earlier, and that may greatly increase your joy in life. I am 64 today, and I chose more time over more money. For me, it was an excellent decision. It has paid me great dividends, including some that I never imagined.
P.S. I am still actively running my retirement planning practice and I plan to continue at least until I’m 70, but in a relaxed manner! So, if you need help with your investments or financial planning, call me at 714-771-6000 or reply to this email. My goal is to help you achieve your ideal vision for retirement.