Review: The Good Retirement Guide 2018

the good retirement guide 2018

The Good Retirement Guide 2018, Allan Esler Smith, ed. London: Kogan Page, 2018.

Summary: A wide-ranging guide exploring everything from financial planning to housing to health to business and personal pursuits for residents of the UK approaching retirement.

Reading and reviewing this guide is the result of a well-intentioned mistake. Retirement is an approaching reality in my own life, and when I saw this available for review on Netgalley, I requested it, failing to read the second paragraph of the book description noting that it “offers clear and concise suggestions on a broad range of subjects for UK retirees.”

Now there may be some of you who follow this blog for whom this is just what you need. You live in the UK, and much of this will already make sense. You will find the first four chapters on financial planning, pensions and investment instruments, taxes, and a number of the websites and resources in all of the chapter quite useful. Mainly for me, it made me aware that there are parallel issues of planning, retirement savings, investment advisors, and dealing with tax issues. It was also apparent that scammers are not limited to this side of the Atlantic, and that they use many of the same ploys. The most helpful advice is that if it sounds too good to be true, it likely is, and that if it doesn’t “smell” right, it probably isn’t. Oh, and don’t be careless about taxes because it sounds like enforcement is more rigorous and there are steep fines and penalties!

Chapters 5-11 covered issues that had broader general applicability, although resources and public and private agencies recommended are UK-based, as one would expect.  There were helpful tips on determining whether to age in place or downsize and the various options, The chapter on healthcare included practical discussions of caring for eyes, feet, hearing, teeth, and health issues like insomnia and depression as well as country specific information about health insurance and the National Health Service. There were a number of encouraging ideas about starting businesses, working for other and volunteering, as well as leisure activities.

Having already passed this threshold personally, it had not occurred to me that for many retirees, there are elderly parents and relatives still to be cared for, as well as children or even grandchildren. Finally, the book has important advice about wills, powers of attorney, and estate and funeral planning that none of us like to think about but are vital. The big takeaway here is, have a will and make sure it is up to date.

Each chapter and subsection has “top tips” and generous lists of websites and agencies that offer advice, much of it free. Where provisions are different in Wales and Scotland, this is also noted. All told, this appears to be an accessible and up to date guide for anyone living in the UK. For the rest of us, or at least for me, it suggests the kind of guide I want to look for tailored to the American scene.


Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.


Review: Finishing Our Course with Joy

finishing our course with joy

Finishing Our Course with JoyJ. I. Packer. Wheaton: Crossway, 2014.

Summary: A meditation on aging that combines coming to terms with the physical changes in our bodies while pressing on to complete our course of actively serving the Lord.

J. I. Packer was a middle-aged scholar when his book Knowing God found its way to me as a college student. I had a chance to hear him speak on revival in Ann Arbor in his mid-fifties. Now I have passed that milestone, while Packer is still an active scholar and writer at age 91. I personally can’t think of a person I’d rather listen to teach about aging and finishing well in Christ.

This pithy little book of meditations on aging is worth its weight in gold. It opens with a remarkable tribute, from a Commonwealth citizen to Queen Elizabeth II (who is a few months older than Packer, also 91 at this writing):

” The Queen is a very remarkable person. Tirelessly, it seems, she goes on doing what she has been doing for six decades and more: waving in shy friendliness to the crowds past whom she is transported, and greeting with a smile one and another; children particularly, whom she meets in her walkabouts. It is more than sixty years since she publicly committed herself before God to serve Commonwealth citizens all her life. She has done it devotedly up to now, and will undoubtedly continue doing it as long as she physically can. So we may expect to see more of the porkpie hats and hear more of the clear, easy voice as her reign continues. She is a Christian lady resolved to live out her vow till she drops. She merits unbounded admiration from us all” (p. 12).

This quote should give you a sense of the theme of this book. In his first chapter on “We Grow Old” he discusses facing honestly our physical decline, but also talks about ripeness as a positive image of old age, and commends three ideas:

  • First, live for God one day at a time.
  • Second, live in the present moment.
  • Third, live ready to go when Christ comes for you.

Packer thinks that the wrong way to pursue this is to kick back and take our ease and follow the typical retiree life of leisure activities.

In “Soul and Body” Packer talks about what it means for us to be embodied persons and explores the opposite temptation of aging leaders who refuse to relinquish power, or do so reluctantly and take it out on their families. Pride and insecurity may prevent us to recognizing when our advancing age suggests that it is time to hand off to rising leaders.

“Keeping Going” begins to fill in Packer’s vision of avoiding the perils of leisured retirement, and the stubborn and fearful refusal to let go of formal leadership roles. Packer proposes a life where we continue to be learners rooted in a mentally engaged study of scripture that seeks growth as thoughtful, discerning, and vibrant disciples. And while we may step aside from formal leadership roles, we should be open to the ways we might exercise influence leadership through our relationships, particularly intergenerationally.  He commends Paul’s statement that he has finished his race (2 Timothy 4:6-8), and sees this as a call to clear goals, purposeful planning, resolute concentration, and supreme effort so that we might finish well our own races.

“We Look Forward” builds on this and the future hope toward which we run, beyond the finish line. He reflects on the marvelous “upgrade” that our resurrection bodies represent, the hope of being with the Lord, and the reckoning we will face that determines, not our salvation, but the opportunities we will enjoy in those new bodies, connected to how we’ve lived in these. And so he concludes with the opportunities we have now, even in advancing years. We may have five, ten, or twenty years or more where we will be able to serve in some ways to advance the Lord’s kingdom. Will we do this with a maturity, humility, and zeal that encourages others to press on in their own races, their own life course?

How grateful I am for this word from one three decades ahead of me who is still running his race with joy. I need his warnings against the temptation to take our ease, and finish before we’ve finished in terms of our lives of discipleship and service. He challenges me in my own work of leadership to be diligent in preparing to pass the baton to others while preparing for new roles of service that steward the gifts and lessons of life to bless others in the church. He challenges me to growing and learning in Christ. The followers of Christ who I’ve seen end their lives best have lived like this. By God’s grace, I want to be one of them.


Review: Launch Your Encore

Launch your encoreLaunch Your Encore, Hans Finzel & Rick Hicks. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2015.

Summary: A guide to living purposefully from 60 onward, which many call “retirement” but the authors consider our “encore”.

“When are you planning to retire?” It is a question I get asked more these days. The authors of this book would suggest that this is a definite tip-off that it is time for me to be planning my “encore” — how I want to live in the later years of my life, what they call the “60-80 window” or elderlescence. I agree. I’m in that window and so was curious to see how they would approach this.

They begin by speaking of the challenge of the later years, particularly as we are living longer. Sometimes we just try not to think about it, which is probably the worst strategy. Transitions in work responsibilities, needing to step aside for the rising generation, and changes in our health and life circumstances including the advent of grand-children spell a change that either can be some of the best years of our lives, or a dark and bitter time.

From this they turn in the second part of the book to the choices we must make. This includes a simple but clear set of biblical principles for financial health in later life. They also talk about life-mapping–considering our life journey. We can learn much from who we’ve become over the years that is of worth in discerning who we want to be in the years ahead.

Part three is real-life stories that describe a variety of ways people have planned and lived out their “encores.” We see a couple who plan their encore together, another who practices “rolling retirement” and a retired college administrator who launches a charity providing shoes for children: Shoes That Fit.

The last part begins with a “God perspective” on who we are. Then they describe a number of assessment tools that may give us further insights. The most valuable insight for me was that, like many, I’ve taken these assessments before, but the approach of our “encore” years may bring out different qualities that we ignored in favor of those our jobs demanded. They talk candidly of the need to walk through transition space, what others might call liminal space. And finally they detail what needs to go into a personal encore plan, encapsulated in these nine elements:

  1. Listening to the voices of your past.
  2. Completing the “me at my best” exercise.
  3. Identifying your temperament.
  4. Facing your fears.
  5. Clarifying your dreams.
  6. Defining your finances.
  7. Prioritizing your time commitments.
  8. Brainstorming specific options.
  9. Envisioning the future.

They give helpful exercises for each of these elements and conclude the book with a list of other helpful references and links to resources that may help in planning one’s encore.

I thought this book was a simple and straightforward guidebook to the decisions one must make to navigate the transition from what might be considered “the main act” of our lives to our “encore”. While written from a Christian perspective, there was much of benefit regardless one’s faith.

At concerts, groups save some of their best stuff, their crowd favorites until the encore. The language of encore suggests that far from the show being over when we hit the 60-80 window, it might be the time for some of our best numbers. But it doesn’t happen without thought and planning and these authors provide a good handbook that seems to ask the important questions.


Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

On Liminal Space

One of the ways to impress friends (and maybe gain some sympathy if they understand you) is to say that you are in a “liminal space” in your life right now. I’ve come across this idea more and more in the past few years and particularly this week at the conference I am attending. A liminal space is the undefined boundary between two clearly defined spaces. The threshold to my house (the front stoop and entryway) is a liminal space between outdoors and the indoor living areas of my house.

In many instances, this term is used to describe a life transition. Pregnancy is a liminal space between just being a couple and being parents–between something that was familiar and something that will be totally new. It can be the space between losing a job and getting another one. It can be things like “mid-life”, that odd period somewhere in your forties where you realize you are no longer “young”, where you see changes in your body, and you are asking questions again of what’s it all about?

This is actually a good term for something my wife and I have been experiencing. This is the year we enter our seventh decade, complete with Golden Buckeye cards, courtesy of the State of Ohio. A number of our high school and college friends have already retired. While I’m not there yet, we’ve noticed some interesting changes and new questions we are asking.

For one thing, we are becoming far more ruthless in deaccumulating. I was cleaning out a desk we are preparing to sell and discovered old notebooks from seminary and college that I haven’t looked at in 30 to 40 years. And for the first time, I had the courage to say–I don’t need to keep this. I also recently got rid of several boxes of books I realized I either would never read or never look at again. And I feel like we are just getting started.

In my work I’ve found myself moving from simply thinking about my own goals and career development to nurturing these in younger colleagues. While I still have challenging assignments and great ministry opportunities among the students and faculty with whom I work I am thinking more and more about encouraging and empowering others and handing off to a new generation of people in our organization. I’m really not intimidated by that–I want what we are doing to outlast my working years. I find myself thinking more about not simply ending work at some point but wanting to finish well–something older workers don’t always do. In particular, I don’t want to be the old crank!

I’ve found we’ve begun pursuing more avidly interests we just couldn’t consider during the peak years of work and being parents. And so we go painting, take photographs, write blogs and sing music. We’ve learned you can audit courses for free at Ohio public universities when you are sixty and are thinking about this. Health permitting, we expect to have a life after work and it is interesting to begin cultivating what that might be and asking what that will look like.

One thing about liminal spaces is that one is going from high def to low def. I really don’t know what life after work entirely will be like. One of the things we learned today is that it is very tempting to rush the answers to these questions rather than to spend some time lingering with the questions, which often leads to greater self-understanding and better answers. Low def is uncomfortable yet it can be a place for growth.

One would think we’d have life figured out by this point. Wrong! We’ve never been to this part of life before, other than watching parents and older friends go through it. In my faith, we talk about growing in Christ-likeness, or as I like to speak of it, growing into our “size Jesus” clothes (thank you for that image, Andrea!). I’m so glad I still have opportunities to learn and grow, even if it means new questions and uncertainties. It seems to me the only alternative is stagnation, and to me that would be to die before I’m dead! Liminal space seem far better.



Review: The Third Third of Life: Preparing for Your Future

The Third Third of Life: Preparing for Your Future
The Third Third of Life: Preparing for Your Future by Walter C. Wright
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A while back, we hosted a group discussing Half Time, when it was still realistic to think I had a half a life ahead. Now I’m reviewing a book on the “third third of life” at a time when I am at least on the verge of that fraction of life. Needless to say, I read with interest!

The book is actually fashioned as a workbook that can be used personally, or as couples, or in a small group. Each chapter includes a reflection section with questions, followed by a reflection which is a personal narrative by someone in the “third third”, and concluding with a reading on the section theme.

The book follows a sequence of beginning by looking back upon our experiences and how we mine them for direction in the third third. It helps us think through transition issues and our fears and hopes in approaching the third third. Then the book begins to look forward thinking about our hopes, our renewed sense of calling, family and place questions, the issue of generativity, and our spirituality and closing with asking the question “what now” and a wonderful narrative about Al Erisman, a retired Boeing exec who has launched a publication on business and ethics, presides over a center for business ethics and integrity at Seattle Pacific, and is active with a host of causes around the world.

One objection I have to the book is that most of the profiles are of very successful people in life–top executives or leaders in organizations and it tends to read as a guide for the rich and privileged. Certainly these people may have great impact in the third third and equally face these issues. More material and models for those in the “middle class” would have been helpful. Nevertheless, the questions and readings are helpful and I hope sometime to find a group to work through a book like this.

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