Retirement planning may be your best friend in some distant future. But at great cost. Why? Because retirement planning may also be your worst enemy today, even killing your soul. Everyone has a dream. And at least once in your life you will get one big opportunity, one challenge to throw caution to the wind, take the big risk, break free—and follow your dream. Or you can play it safe, anchored with your feet on the ground, doing all the right things, yet living a life of “quiet desperation,” wondering if maybe you gave up the only thing that really matters: Your soul, your dream, the very reason you came here this lifetime. As my mentor Joseph Campbell put it: “If you follow your bliss, you will always have your bliss, money or not. If you follow the money, you may lose it, and you will have nothing.
Is your retirement plan the enemy of your soul?
Sound familiar? I’ll bet this agonizing dialogue has run through your head sometime in your life: Should you follow your bliss now? Or play it safe, build a long-term nest egg, in hopes of finally enjoying your life—when you retire? I’ve been down this road a few times. I also know from researching the midlife crisis, the topic of my doctoral dissertation in psychology, and from my work as career counselor, that this is a decision most people face at some point, some even agonize over the decision throughout our lives. So be forewarned, all retirement planners, all retirement plans and your obsession with retirement is likely to be your worst enemy in making these kinds of decisions … Why? Because they make us “play it safe,” they program us against taking risks. Their ‘voices’ will argue you out of following your dreams today. Their mantra: Wait until retirement, then you’ll be free. Instead of offering you freedom today, the high priests of the retirement gods represent a way of life and a mindset that actually traps you into a safe path. They act like scolding parents wagging their bony fingers at you if you ever hint at failing to plan for the future, at sacrificing today for tomorrow.
Follow your dreams … or follow Wall Street’s illusions
So let’s question that assumption for a minute, let’s challenge America’s obsession with retirement and planning for the future. Because that obsession should never, never be a substitute for living your dreams today. Never! Let me be more specific: Every broker and financial planner on Wall Street, every mutual fund company, and indeed, the entire $10 trillion financial services industry are your biggest enemies when you’re finally facing the big decision. They are too myopic, too obsessively focused on that distant thing called “the future,” and too greedy about having clients piling up assets. In other words, if you stop saving for tomorrow and start living off your assets today in order to follow your dreams, you won’t be able pay their high fees and commissions!
Harvard lawyer choses to wait on tables in “Paradise!”
The dilemma came into sharp focus one weekend a few years ago while relaxing in Carmel, California, one of my favorite weekend getaway retreats. We were browsing in the Pilgrim Bookstore when my wife handed me a book, casually noting that it reminded her of a major life change I went through when I left Morgan Stanley and Wall Street. The chapter on investing stood out: “Should I tuck $2,000 away in my IRA as I had done in my responsible and respectable past that would make my banker proud?” asked Tama Kieves, a Harvard lawyer who quit her job with one of Denver’s top law firms to wait tables at the Paradise Cafe. Or should I strut out on the edge and wing that money into the promise and the pandemonium of my freedom?” she added. She chucked it all.
As you might expect, money was tight after a while. Kieves was preparing her first income tax return after leaving a high-paid position that had given her much status, material luxuries, perks, insurance, and the promise of a secure retirement in the distant future: “The IRA decision raised a question I would have to answer again and again on this path: My future or now?”
Virginia lawyer leaves Morgan Stanley for Hollywood
My wife was right, reading Tama Kieves book, This Time I Dance did remind me of a similar decision I made. Years earlier, after five long years of agonizing about it, I left a guaranteed lifetime position with Morgan Stanley, the world’s leading investment banking firm, and headed to Hollywood. I had no job prospects, nothing but a vague dream of making it in motion pictures.
Yes, I was following my bliss. That had become my sustaining mantra for those five years after taking a Joseph Campbell seminar on “Mythical Meditation.” Campbell was the world’s leading expert on mythology, the man George Lucas credited with his inspiration for StarWars, and the man Bill Moyers memorialized in his PBS series, The Power of Myth. Then, after three years in Hollywood, I was still chasing my bliss, broke, unemployed and without a film deal, but with no thoughts of going back to Morgan Stanley and Wall Street.
Do what you love and the money will follow, at the “right time!”
Eventually things turned around. However, I’d be a liar if I didn’t admit there were a lot of doubts and fears along the way, even panic and moments of desperation when my little nest egg was finally gone and I was living on credit cards. And later I had to make an even bigger decision : When I decided at age fifty-seven to become a full-time professional writer—and make a living at it, something I loved doing since high school—I made an even bigger commitment and had to fund my wild venture out of eleven credit cards and seventy-five thousand dollars of debt, until things turned around. Yes it was a risky move, not recommended by Wall Street insiders—but one I had to do. And like Kieves, I’ve never regretted any of my decisions to “follow my bliss,” as corny as that sounds. Today I even thank God that everything happened exactly the way it happened—the good, the bad and the ugly—even though it was a very expensive and risky for many years.
Risking everything on one spin of the roulette wheel
Kieves reminded me of this fundamental decision that I am convinced we all face at some point in live … a decision so fundamental that most financial professionals are more likely to talk you out of, if they’ll advise you at all: When do you risk everything on a spin of the roulette table of life? When do you risk your entire retirement savings now, today … to chase your dreams? Anyone who’s had this experience knows exactly what I am talking about. And if you haven’t, you don’t know what you’re missing—go for it.
When you’re going through it your brain seems filled with voices telling you its too risky, a very bad move: Who would be so foolish to throw away a Harvard law degree and wait on tables, deliver onion rings and wear glitzy earrings for five dollar tips? And who would be so foolish as to leave the prestigious House of Morgan for a vague dream of making it in Hollywood? How stupid, how risky, how utterly childish!
Don’t listen to them—trust the still small voice within
Remember, when the urge to follow your bliss starts eating at you, don’t expect much advice from the keepers of the golden handcuffs, all those professional retirement planners and brokers on Wall Street and in the fund industry. In fact, expect just the opposite. They’ll be chasing their bliss, and by that I mean other “stable” clients who can pay their fees and commissions. So folks, you’re on your own. Trust the still small voice within. And when the doubts overwhelm you, remember Campbell’s gentle message: “If you follow your bliss, you will always have your bliss, money or not. If you follow money, you may lose it … and you will have nothing.” What’ll be?