Sobering Thoughts

August 31, 2004

My wife is older than I. This is not something that has ever disturbed me or mattered in my love for her or my appreciation of our live together. However, it is likely, probably even, that she will die before I do, leaving me alone for the final portion of this lifetime. I am not looking forward to being alone once again. We talked about this yesterday as an outgrowth of a discussion about my career. At 43 I need to start seriously planning for retirement. Since my career is lucrative we both feel that as long as I am working Michele can semi-retire or completely stop working when she wants. However, without a retirement plan that starts very soon, I will not be able to stop working.

I am not blaming anyone but myself for this situation. I have made choices that best navigated the chaotic employment landscape of the past few years in the technology industry. And I am content to live with the results of those choices. However in a powerful and emotional discussion yesterday, Michele helped me to see that continuing to pursue the "right" job may not be in my best interest anymore. I have pursued jobs with an ever-increasing set of skills or ability for several years now. While these have improved my resume considerably, none of the employment situations have aided my ability to retire someday. In fact given the financial disaster that was working on contract for the State of Illinois, you could make a strong argument that I have actually lessoned my ability to retire.

So I need a new set of criteria for evaluating my job. No long can it be solely about the latest technology, or staying current with new trends. It must also include a strong potential for longevity. I need to stop thinking in terms of 6 or 12 or even 24 months, and start thinking in terms of 10 or 15 or 20 years. In twenty years I will be 63 years old. Given that three out of four grandparents lived to see 90 or greater, and that both my parents are easily going to see 80, I have a better than even chance of seeing 80 or 90 myself. Without a retirement income I could be forced to spend the waning years of my life working or living well below the level to which I am accustomed.

Looking at the present employment iteration here in Kansas City I see a potential for long-term employment with the client. Becoming a federal employee may not be sexy, especially in the technology field, but it does offer long-term employment. The opportunity I am considering in Springfield also has a potential for long-term employment. In the initial phone interview they were adamant about wanting a resource that was willing to make a 5 or 10 or 15-year commitment to the company. The company has been in business for over 60 years, which is encouraging. However, never have made a career choice based on retirement criteria I am somewhat at a loss as to how to make an honest evaluation. And following close on the heels of three months of unemployment, where I started to question my ability and I lost faith in myself to some degree, it is very hard to face a choice that may very well determine what my life will look like in 20 or 25 years time.

And larger than the career choice I am facing is the need to build community for myself so that I am not alone at the end of my life. I do not regret my choice to not have children, but that coupled with geographic distance from my brother and his family, and an overall lack of personal friends, leaves me facing a future that could be very lonely indeed. As I look at my employment choices I need to consider the location in terms of our ability today to make friends today that will continue to be present in my life, as I grow old. To put it very bleakly, there is a strong possibility that by the time I am 70, I will still need to work and Michele will be dead or dying. Facing that future without a community of friends and family to support me would be impossibly daunting.

I have reached the mid-point in my life without every really planning it or placing expectations on the future. However, looking ahead now I see that I need to step up to a new level or responsibility so that the final years of my life are comfortable and filled with meaningful fellowship and love.

Author's profile picture

Mark H. Nichols

I am a husband, cellist, code prole, nerd, technologist, and all around good guy living and working in fly-over country. You should follow me on Twitter.