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My Perfect Daze

Edward Giltenan

WHAT THE HELL WAS I doing all those years?

That’s the riddle that confounded me when I retired eight months ago. Much to my surprise, I didn’t find myself wandering in the desert of despair, missing my crowded email in-box. I was not bereft without staff meetings, diversity training, team-building exercises, cupcake Fridays. I felt not the slightest urge to lean in, stand up or spend any more time with management consultants.

I had a wonderful career as a financial journalist and public relations professional, traveling the world, working with talented and interesting people, and learning tons about investing, the arts, and the world’s great cities and cultures. And by saving diligently and investing wisely, my wife and I retired with an ample nest egg to carry us through what we hope will be a long and fruitful retirement. We are fortunate.

I was just surprised by how quickly and completely we transformed from hare to tortoise. My wife, also a hard-driving, globe-trotting executive, experienced a similar descent toward seeming indolence. Simply put, we have been more than busy with reading, streaming, theater, cooking, hiking, friends and traveling. There’s also the rapture of idleness, tuning out the mostly bad news of the world and just letting the mind wander. These are wonderful interludes.

It reminds me of the new film, Perfect Days, about the insanely happy and simple life of a Japanese toilet cleaner who achieves fulfillment through his job, taking photos of trees, riding his bike, reading, and listening to American soul music. And not much else. 

But what about the quest for purpose? I read about former corporate leaders seeking to make a difference. The inclination is certainly understandable, given many were kings and queens in their former lives. But I’m reminded of how a former colleague came to think of herself in the corporate afterlife as a PIP: a previously important person. I’m still in retirement infancy and things might change. But for now, at least, I have zero interest in changing the world, scaling new heights, breaking any sound barriers. I did my bit during the working years and my Superman days are over.

As for money and investing, our approach has remained mostly the same. During our careers, after prioritizing mortgages and our three sons, we kept it pretty simple, keeping our assets diversified in low-cost mutual funds, not looking at our account balances all that often, and saving as much as possible. As a wise fund manager once told me, the amount you save is the one part of the investing equation that you can control.

Retirement is different. The gods, in their infinite wisdom, decided to make finances more complicated just as we enter the stage of declining mental faculties. Now, we deal with challenges such as tax efficiency, Social Security, Medicare and estate planning. At long last, we signed up with a good financial advisor, both to validate our investment decisions and to tell us when we’re being stupid.

There are plenty of good, honest financial advisors. Choose one that you trust and like, and make sure you’re getting value for your money. We picked one that charges 1% total, including both the advisor’s advice and the fees incurred by our investment portfolio.

Finally, don’t wait too long to retire. With any luck, you’ll remain vigorous, engaged and active for many years to come, but you never know for sure. You saved all that dough for a reason. Make the most of it.

Of course, some of you may still long for the working life. I admit, nothing can match that moment of pure ecstasy during organizational development when I finally grasped the difference between an objective and a goal. But the supermarket’s two-for-one special on my favorite dark pretzels comes pretty close.

Ed Giltenan is a retired journalist and public relations executive. He lives in New Mexico and New York City, and enjoys hiking, cooking, reading, traveling, and being with family and friends.

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