A 5-Minute Thanksgiving Homework Assignment

About 12 years ago, Lee Eisenberg came out with a book called The Number—A Completely Different way to Think About the Rest of Your Life. I loved the book so much, that when I used to give the 401k and retirement seminars at the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, I dedicated an entire series of seminars to the book. In some ways it’s about retirement planning. But The Number goes past retirement planning and gets into the nitty gritty of life planning. We all have a different number… some people think they need a couple hundred grand to retire on. Some are aiming higher at seven figures. Whatever your number may be, there has got to be more. Because one day you will draw your last paycheck, you will clean out your desk and say goodbye to office politics forever. Maybe this will be when you turn 55 or 65 (although Suzie Orman is now on the bandwagon preaching that we should all work until 70 or later!). Sorry Ms. Orman, I know you have a zillion followers and are rich beyond imagination, but I beat you by 15 years on that topic. I long ago preached that many people will be forced to work well beyond 70 and that there is nothing wrong with that – it will help keep you active and healthy and you can pass down your knowledge to future generations. The whole notion of retirement is a contrived idea that makes little sense. Who wants to sit around being unproductive if you are healthy enough pursue worthwhile goals?

Anyways, back to The Number. Toward the end of the book, Eisenberg describes a gentleman named George Kinder. Kinder is more than a financial planner; in fact, he is a life planner. He travels around talking to rich people and financial planners about life planning. During a portion of his seminars he asks people three questions and requests that they write down their answers. I found the first two pretty plain and simple. But the 3rd question is the one you really need to think about the most…

Take a stab at the three questions below. It will take you five minutes and give you some great perspective.

  • Assume you have all the money you need. Not Warren Buffett wealth, but you are good for the rest of your life. What would you do? How would you live your life?
  • You go to the doctor, and the doctor tells you that you have a rare illness. You will feel perfectly fine, but the illness is fatal and in 5-10 years you will die. The question is: now that you know you have only a few years left, what would you do differently? How would you live? What would you do?
  • This is the best one. It starts like question 2… you go to the doctor, but then he says you have 24 hours to live. What Kinder wanted to know was…. what did you miss? Who did you not get to be and what did you not get to do?

I believe that’s what the number SHOULD be about. Great, you turn 68 and you have amassed $2.9 million bucks. Now what? Between now and retirement, what do you really want to be? What do you really want to do? What are you afraid of missing? Don’t wait until your seventh decade of life. Do it now. Or at least, do a little of what you are passionate about now.

What are you going to do with your one and only life that will make a lasting difference? Kinder again tells a story… ”Say you retire early, move to an incredibly beautiful home in Kiawah Island. You have the means, certainly the time, and most certainly the desire to play golf every day at one of the resort’s great courses. But you don’t. You plan golf only six days a week. On the seventh day you leave your clubs in the trunk of your Lexus and drive to Charleston, where instead of shopping on King Street or Munching a salad at the Planters Inn, you go to a hospital or hospice. There you hold hands with a patient and listen quietly as she tells you the details of a life she remembers, maybe her own, maybe a loved one’s, maybe the life of a stranger who just crossed her path one day and vanished again. As she tells you the story, you notice how her eyes light up.”

You have worked hard, planned right and have it all: the beach house, the nice car, the titanium sticks, but best of all, the blessing you passed along when you took that woman’s hand and gave her a chance to remember.

Make your life extraordinary.

David Lerman and Jodie Warner

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