I am the proud father of two boys. The first went to his due date and had to be encouraged to make his birthdate. Our second decided he didn’t want his birthday to be close to Christmas, but rather Halloween. His coming almost eight weeks before his due date made his mother and me very aware that, while we had anticipated his birth, we had not done the prep work early for his delivery. We had planned to use the month of November to finish setting up his room, getting all of his clothes together, and all the other things that go along with bringing a newborn home. Even though we had anticipated his birth and thought through what it would be like to bring him home, the actual prep work was put off, and we had to transition quickly from we have eight weeks to he is here. We had nine months to prepare for his arrival and still put it off until it was too late—and then had to scramble. Luckily, we have family and friends who rallied around, to help us. The need to stay in the NICU for a few weeks allowed us to finish some of the bare minimums to bring him home, like getting the car seat, clothes, and blankets cleaned and together for him, for when he could come home.
When our timelines get stretched out, we tend to let our prep work slide closer and closer to the due date, or the date that everything is supposed to go active. Even with things that we are looking forward to or have positive anticipation for, we still get bogged down in the present, and our everyday life overwhelms things that are further down the road.
We see this delay to action even more significantly when we stretch the timeline out further than nine months—let’s say 30 years—to a retirement date. If we are prone to put off our prep until closer to the actual due date, what does that look like in retirement? First, let me say that over 50% of Americans fall into this situation. Most people look at retirement as a positive thing, but the prep work for it is viewed as something that can be done later.
When my second son showed up eight weeks early, we weren’t unprepared, but we weren’t ready. When you are getting close to retirement and something unexpected causes you to need or be forced to retire earlier, how much will that affect your retirement? With a newborn, we were able to catch up on the things we didn’t have finished, with the help of family and friends. But, with retirement, the ask may be much more challenging than “could you do a load of laundry for us?” In an unplanned retirement, our ask may become “can I live with you for the rest of my life?” We were looking forward to retirement, but if we didn’t put in the prep work, that positive anticipation could change to dread or fear over the same event.
The best and easiest path for any anticipated event is to start the prep work as soon as possible. Set shorter-term goals to ensure you don’t end up putting off the prep until closer to the due date. This will allow you to be much closer to your destination, whether your child decides to come eight weeks early, or your employer decides to downsize two years before your retirement date.