Posting a blog from the Editor-In-Chief Emeritus of Fortune Magazine of China…Tom Gorman

Tom Gorman is the brother of my editor, Bob Gorman.  For decades, Tom lived in (still does) China and operated Fortune China magazine.  He knows China better than almost any American alive.  He now has a blog on the Fortune China website titled Sibuxiang…in both Chinese and English.  He recently blogged about my new book, Smells Like Retirement.  His blog follows below…

Is It Too Late to Plan Your Retirement?

If you don’t already have a plan, then the answer to this question is probably “yes.” This could be true whether you are in your 30s or even if you are already retired. The fact is, most people don’t start thinking about it and planning for it until too late in the game.

I recently read a thought-provoking book called “Smells Like Retirement”, written by Donald Hurzeler, a former high-flying corporate executive. He is an American, now retired with his wife in Hawaii. They sound like they are enjoying life to the fullest.

Retirement, like a lot of things, is rooted in one’s culture and society. It’s hard to generalize about it in a way which applies from country to country.

What a useful book can do, however, is put forward some of the key questions we should be considering, whether we are in Tucson, Tianjin or Timbuktu. These questions are somewhat universal, even though the answers will differ.

“Smells Like Retirement” does a good job of this, while sharing the author’s experience in planning and then executing his retirement plan.

One message which comes across emphatically is that retirement involves a series of fairly complex issues which need plenty of time to consider, if you’re going to end up happy in this new chapter of life. In other words, it’s not something you should leave to the last minute or underestimate the complexity and challenge of.

After all, how many years and how much effort went into preparing for your career? Retirement is the chapter of life which follows education and career. It should be a rewarding and enjoyable chapter – one which we are proud of rather than embarrassed about.

The attitude that retirement is where you go after no one needs you at work anymore may well lead to a sad and unhappy retirement. Why not look at it as a chance to do things you’ve long wanted to, to learn new things, travel, and enjoy more time with family and friends?

As the sub-heading of Hurzeler’s book suggests: “How to create a rock-solid plan for the best years of your life.” In his forward, he states as one of 5 purposes of the book: “To get you thinking about a retirement that is extraordinary and that becomes the best part of your life.”

I can imagine a certain percentage of readers of this blog are thinking to themselves “That’s a very foreign attitude, different from how we Chinese see retirement.” My response to that is: it’s your retirement we’re talking about, so why not make the best of it, even if that breaks with some musty old traditions.

When FORTUNE China began doing an annual cover story on retirement more than ten years ago, we found that finding senior Chinese executives willing to be interviewed about retirement was difficult. It seemed to be a somewhat sensitive and awkward subject. Perhaps this was partly because talking about your retirement plan is conceding you are getting older and about to relinquish corporate power and privilege. Not something you want your rivals to focus on.

The less we think about retirement in advance, the more potentially scary and unpleasant it can seem when the day suddenly arrives. We’ve all heard stories about previously healthy men and women (particularly men) who crossed the retirement bridge and soon began experiencing serious illnesses.

Major life-changing transitions like retirement can create great uncertainty, anxiety and stress. That of course can exacerbate mental and physical health issues.

Careful planning is not necessarily an antidote to these problems, but it can certainly help ease the transition.

As Hurzeler relates, he was smart about getting an early start towards saving money for retirement. As he says, money is the biggest issue for most people facing retirement. This is another reason that retirement is not something young people should postpone thinking about until gray hairs appear.

One of the planning exercises Hurzeler recommends is considering two simple but important questions: 1) what 10 things do we want from retirement; and 2) what 10 things do we want to avoid in retirement?

Obviously, the answers will be different for each individual, and couples will not usually have identical ideas. That’s to be expected.

Issues dealt with in other chapters in the book include the pros and cons of a second (or third) career, deciding where you want to live in retirement, and some potential pitfalls of retirement, namely gambling addiction and substance abuse.

If you haven’t given retirement much thought, perhaps it’s time to do so, even if it’s a long way off.