ERNA: Fear Retirement, But Do It Anyway


Fearsome Retirement

Erna Morgan McReynolds, raised in Gilbertsville, is retired managing director/financial adviser at Morgan Stanley’s Oneonta Office, and an inductee in the Barron’s magazine National Adviser Hall of Fame.  She lives in Franklin.

Mom told me that they promised her the “Golden Years,” but she got the “Rust Years.”

She dreamed of retiring. Yet after a couple of weeks into retirement her litany changed from “can’t wait to retire” to telling me – “don’t do it.”

My Mom was born when women were supposed to stay home, while their husbands supported the family.

But my Dad, Mom’s husband, lost their farm and his health. He became too ill to work. With three girls under the age of 5 at home, my Mom had to go to work. She got lucky and landed a good-paying job at a factory. After a string of horrible jobs.

Not her Ozzie and Harriet dream. But good money to feed her family.

Mom was careful and saved from every paycheck. She belonged to a union and got a good pension. She planned golden years of traveling.

After a couple months staying at home, she wanted to go back to work. A week or two on a bus tour was okay but she didn’t want “vacation” all of the time.

Any point here? Sure.

You have probably already figured out that I did what most of us do – I didn’t follow Mom’s advice.
I retired.

Afraid as always. Maybe this time I was right.

Did you know 10,000 baby boomers retire every day?

You don’t need any statistics. You know. You live it every day.

Your long-time doctor and your lawyer have retired. Your plumber. Electrician. A year or so ago it seemed that all of the local CEOs, college and hospital presidents retired the same week.

Are they like Mom? Regretting every day that they retired?

Baby Boomers do retire a few years later than the Great Generation. They are healthier and more active.

But many work. Some because they can’t afford not to, but many are just like my Mom.

She really wanted a longer vacation. When she wanted to take it. Not a permanent vacation.

Recently I commiserated with a 36-year-old. He went from a structured job — which he loved — to self-employed when his wife took a job on a remote Caribbean island.

A sort of retirement. Hard to do, he said. No structure. No people coming at you making you react. No co-workers. He likes some of the freedom but he misses having a regular job.

A week earlier I had coffee with a 67-year-old who had retired almost two years ago. He has nightmares about his job. He loved his job. Didn’t really want to retire, but it was time.

Intellectually he was at the top of his game. But he had great successors from the next generation. He did the right thing, he believes. But why the nightmares? Does he have a mental illness? Is this normal? he worried?

For me, I retired at the right time, for the right reasons. I had plans. Spend more time with some
terrific non-profits with which I work. Mentor? Take up those old passions like gardening, go out for coffee or lunch.

I knew how I should prepare to retire. I coached clients for 30 years. “You’ll have a black pit
ahead of you. Plan,” I told them.

Frightening. Retirement — terrified me. Fear drove a planning frenzy for the next third of my life.

My French teacher was right — I am a perfectionist. I intended to corral my fears and do this perfectly.
But even with all of that planning I spent my first year in mourning. I missed my colleagues. I missed my clients. I missed feeling useful.

At a conference with my Adviser Hall of Fame colleagues — many of whom are my age — they applauded my courage. Said they envied me. They’re afraid to retire.

Some know they’re staying too long. Missing the chance to spend time with their spouse, children, grandchildren. To do charitable work. Give back. Pick up those old hobbies abandoned to climb to the top.

Like the 77-year-old with whom I had dinner at that conference? She told me she was afraid to retire?
Her husband is sliding into dementia. He retired 17 years ago. Now she wonders where her courage was.

Too scared to have enjoyed those great years.

“Be Afraid but Do it Anyway” still seems to be working.

Now a couple of years later, retirement seems less scary, not so heart-breaking.

Eventually I plunged into my plans and some unexpected projects too. COVID has upended life, but also has bestowed its blessings.

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