When I was in college, I jumped out of an airplane.
It wasn’t my idea.
A friend talked me into it. He gave me the courage to jump, and I’ve never regretted the experience.
Be it a jump from an airplane or (more applicable to this audience) a jump into retirement, sometimes you need a friendly push to get the courage to jump.
If you’ve been lacking the courage to jump into retirement, consider today’s post your “friendly push”.Sometimes, it takes a friendly push to get the courage to make a big jump. Like the jump out of an airplane. Or, the jump into retirement. Consider this your push... Click To Tweet
Getting The Courage To Jump
Creative Writing 101 was my first “serious” introduction to writing.
It was September 1981, my first semester in college. I was 18 years old and out on my own for the first time, able to live my own life, to make my own mistakes,
To take my own risks.
Bob and I were in the class together. We’d just met, and soon became close friends (years later, he was the Best Man at my wedding). The professor introduced our “major” project early in the semester, giving us time to prepare and finalize our ultimate semester-ending project: “The I-Search Project”. 30% of the grade. A real doozie.
Unlike Research, he explained, I-Search required you to EXPERIENCE something. To find something that interested you, and go out and DO IT. Then, write about what you learned. What a great concept (and one I encouraged my readers to do near the end of my book. Kind of ironic, now that I reflect on it).
The hardest part was thinking about what you were going to DO. Again, not unlike retirement. Interesting, the parallels of a good metaphor. By now, you’ve guessed what Bob came up with.
“Let’s jump out of an airplane,” he suggested, and the course was set.
As you read the following story, you’ll find parallels in the world of retirement scattered throughout in italics. I hope you enjoy the approach. I guess that Creative Writing class may have made an impact on me…
Getting The Courage To Jump From An Airplane
I’ll spare all of the details of “ground school”, other than state that I can still remember the mantra that was drilled into our head 179 times in less than 3 hours:
“Arch…Look…Reach…Pull…5 Thousand…6 Thousand…7 Thousand…Look…Pull…Punch”
Even 40 years later, that mantra is stuck in my mind. We recited it over and over and over again. First in the classroom, then as we jumped off an 8′ platform as we learned how to “tuck and roll” (that training may have saved my life when I fell off our roof, btw). Finally, we were to repeat that mantra when we jumped out of the plane.
Develop your “mantra” for retirement. For me, it’s Manage The Buckets, Maintain Your Safe Withdrawal Rate, Rebalance Your Assets, Monitor Annually, Give Back, Enjoy Life.
We were “jumping solo”, with a static line connected to the airplane to automatically deploy our chutes. The most important step was the “Arch” when we jumped out of the plane, which would ensure we fell “stomach first” toward the ground to avoid the static line getting tangled around any valuable body parts. “If you remember nothing else,” said the instructor, “remember to arch.”
The “Look…Reach…Pull” were purely simulations of a “real” jump when we’d actually pull our own rip chords. The “Look…Pull..Punch” mattered, however. In the event our chutes didn’t open after 7 seconds, we were to “Look” at our emergency chute, “Pull” the emergency rip chord, and “Punch” the emergency chute out of its bag.
You don’t find many “solo jumps” at parachute schools anymore. Someone died at the school we attended a few years after we took the class, and today they only offer “instructor jumps”, where you’re strapped in with a professional.
Yes, jumping involves risks.
Just like retirement.
Fortunately, in retirement, you have the choice of jumping “solo” or doing an “instructor jump” with a trained professional. If you’re uncertain about jumping alone, there’s nothing wrong with hiring a professional to build your courage to jump. Regardless of how you go about it, you shouldn’t retire until you’ve “completed your schooling” and made sure you’re prepared for the jump. To be adequately prepared for your jump, make sure your schooling includes both the financial and non-financial aspects of retirement.
Jumping Out Of The Plane
The class completed, the five students all suited up and climbed into the airplane. I remember the adrenaline as the revs increased and we took off down the runway. Bob had agreed to jump first, and I was behind him as the plane climbed into the sky. The other three students would jump behind me.
Recognize there are always others who will be jumping into retirement behind you. Be generous, and try to find ways to teach them what you’re learning on your journey. There’s a reason the byline for this blog is “Helping People Achieve A Great Retirement.”
When we got to the correct altitude (when you’ve saved enough money), the instructor opened the door.
It Was Time.
I was scared to death. We could barely hear the instructor’s voice over the scream of the wind. I watched as Bob slid toward the door and let his feet drop over the edge, his jumpsuit flapping in the wind. As we were trained to do, he reached out for the wing strut and, a moment later…he was gone.
Prior to retirement, I enjoyed watching people “jump out of the plane” before me. I liked to talk with them in their final few months of work to discover what they were thinking. How they’d planned for retirement. How it felt. Ultimately, it gave me more courage when it was my turn to jump.
The instructor gave me the signal. It was my turn to jump. I double-checked my static line connection (make sure you have sufficient liquid assets set aside before you jump into retirement) and slid toward the door. As I hung my legs over the edge and reached for the wing strut, I was amazed at the force of the wind. Imagine sticking your arm out your car window at ~100 MPH and you’ll get a sense of the sensation.
The instructor tapped my shoulder – my signal to go.
Almost everyone I’ve talked to prior to retirement said, “You’ll know when it’s time.”
I stared down at the ground some 2,500 feet below me, took a final deep breath, and…
I still remember my first day of retirement and suspect I always will.
I nearly panicked as my body tilted 45 degrees, a result of the wind from the plane’s forward momentum pushing hard against my body.Retirement isn't normal. It takes some time for your body to adjust. Maintain your position and enjoy the ride. Click To Tweet
Three seconds in, I suddenly realized I’d forgotten to say the rest of my mantra. I was supposed to do the “Arch…Look…Reach…Pull”, but I was stuck on Arch. Panic set in as I lost complete sense of time. “Have 7 seconds passed yet? Is my chute going to open? Should I Look…Pull…Punch? How long should I wait before pulling my emergency chute?
Take a breath when you first retire. You’ve got years to sort things out, don’t panic. Just focus on “your arch” (the most important thing) and enjoy the ride.
Suddenly, my body was jerked into a wonderful, powerful swing as the chute opened. Within seconds, all was calm. There is, perhaps, no better feeling in the world than the moment your parachute opens during your first-ever parachute jump. I smiled, then reached up for my toggle handles and glanced up at my chute to make sure the dreaded “Mae West” hadn’t happened to me.
All was good.
Very, very, very good.
What had been panic just moments before became one of the most exciting moments of my life. The reality hit me: I was hanging beneath a parachute, free to enjoy the scenery around me. Turn left. Turn right. Look around. Oh, that view.
I was flying.
The first few months of retirement are pure bliss. No more work, no more alarm clock. You may be flying, but realize your flight will evolve with time. You’ll be doing this for a long time, so settle in and enjoy the ride.
I located the landing zone and enjoyed leisurely turns as I floated toward my destination. I watched Bob descending below me and soon saw his chute collapse as he hit the ground. It felt like I would be in the air forever, but I knew it would only be a matter of minutes until my ride was over.
Take the time to set up your legacy plans. You won’t be here forever. Savor the time you’re given, but also be prepared for your ultimate landing.
Lost in the marvel of the experience, I was shocked to see how soon the ground was approaching. It was getting closer, and it was coming at me much faster than I expected. As instructed, I turned into the wind and prepared for impact.
The landing was harder than I thought it would be. I instinctively did the “tuck and roll” we’d practiced, but still had the wind knocked out of me by the impact. I quickly regained my composure and started jogging toward the chute, making sure it collapsed before it could drag me across the ground. Bob and I met up, the huge smile on his face telling me his experience was as magical as mine. We high-fived then headed back toward the hangar, carrying our wadded-up chutes in our arms.
Enjoy your retirement with friends. It’s better that way.
Fifteen minutes later we were getting our “jump debrief” by the instructor. He said we’d all done great, but only one member in our class had followed all of the instructions. I’ll never forget the “Jump Card” he handed me at the end of our session.
“Nice Arch,” he’d written, “But No Pull.”
Getting the courage to jump into retirement takes time. Don’t be worried if you have concerns, it’s a normal part of the process. Focus on how amazing that journey can be after you cross The Starting Line, and spend time thinking about the life you’d like to design for your retired years. No one really knows what life is going to be like in retirement until they live it, but most say they wish they’d have retired sooner.
The jump is scary, but the ride is worth it.
As I write these words, I’m living the best years of my life. I know they won’t last forever, but I’m enjoying the ride for as long as it lasts. I’m glad I left that airplane, and I’m enjoying the time that I’m floating under this parachute. I’m present in the moment, and I’m embracing the experience to the fullest.
By the way, I got an A on that paper, and it was the best assignment I was ever given in college. I was able to experience something that I’d have never experienced, and it’s one of the best memories of my life. And to think, it never would have happened without a little push. A push from the professor, and a push from a friend.
Sometimes life is better with a push.
Worried about retirement?
Consider yourself pushed.
Get out of that airplane.
It’s Time To Jump.
PS – today’s post was inspired by the following comment that Ben left on Retirement Is Like A Game of Poker. Thanks to all of you who interact in the comments. I read every one of your comments, and they often inspire new posts…
Your Turn: Are you scared to jump into retirement? What’s holding you back? If you’ve overcome those fears and made the jump, what recommendations would you make to those jumping behind you?