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Senior Correspondent

Dreaming of Retirement, or Ten Little Letters

Financial Freedom

I was sitting in the bank yesterday, as the bank officer prepared a wire transfer I was making to Malaysia for a piece of business. She had my driver’s license in front of her.

“You don’t have a middle name?”

“No,” I said. “Just those ten little letters.”

While she finished typing SWIFT numbers and bank account numbers into her computer, I thought about the fact that those same ten letters had followed me throughout my life. No middle name. No giving up my “maiden name” in marriage. In fact, suddenly I remembered the first time I could write my whole name, all ten letters…I must have been four or five…and I could feel the pride in my chest as I let my imagination go wild…

Still waiting for the bank officer to finish, my mind then wandered to what I was going to write about this week. I knew it would have something to do with retirement…r-e-t-i-r-e-m-e-n-t. Ten letters!

So where was the link?

Surely I could find a link between those two sets of letters. And I did. Here goes:

Once we get into our 40s or 50s, whenever we actually start thinking seriously about retirement, we are so fixed in the present. We’re constantly juggling the demands of the day and, maybe, of the week ahead. Often even of the dreaded end of the month. But rarely much further.

As we try to envision what those later years will look like, we naturally extrapolate from where we are today. We see the future through the filter of what’s going on in our lives. The good, the bad, and the ugly. And sometimes that filter is real cloudy.

On top of that, many of us set our dreams aside once married and dealing with the responsibilities of little ones. Decades of putting other people’s priorities above our own have dulled our “dream muscle.” Like any muscle that’s not used, it goes soft.

But if you’re going to come up with a vision of your retirement that’s strong enough to motivate you to do what you need to do…you’ve got to be able to dream (in Technicolor®, as we used to say).

If the film running through your head is a bit faded, or lacks sharpness, you’ve just got a case of today-itis. The cumulative weight of the years is making it difficult to identify the emotions, the dreams, and the visions that will give you the willpower and the discipline to stop…analyze where you are…see where you want to go…see what you need to change and do to get there…and actually do it.

So I’m going to suggest something.

Sit quietly somewhere. Find your stillness, however you do that. Let your mind drift back to where you are five, or six, or seven. Wherever you feel a strong emotional connection and can visualize yourself clearly.

Slip into the power of the innocent excitement and enthusiasm you woke up with every day at that age. Feel the faith in the goodness of life: The friends you’d play with at recess today. Whether you were taller or shorter than your best friend Valerie. Whether you’d be able to answer the teacher’s question.

Pure. Trusting. Alive.

As you focus on your vision for your future, realize that you’re fulfilling the future of that same trusting ‘you.’ That future is in your hands. Not the tired, slightly jaded ‘adult you’ who has weathered the little disappointments that life brings to all of us. But, instead, that boundlessly optimistic you.

If that doesn’t motivate you to take care of yourself…and to do what’s needed to be sure you’ll be okay for the rest of your life…I don’t know what will.

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