With the onset of winter, I grabbed my heavy coat to take the dog outside. During our walk, I noticed a few threads dangling from the arm of my coat. I didn’t give it much thought, but the next day I found myself wearing the same coat and soon felt my wrist being tickled by the same hanging strings. 

Without any real plan, I pulled at a few of them. As I had hoped, the first one broke right off, but the second and third strings didn’t follow suit. The more I pulled, the longer these strings grew. I tried to remedy the situation with a quick jerk, but things only got worse. Before I knew it, my entire coat cuff was unraveling, with more loose threads than ever.

Not only did my decision to pull and tug frustrate me, remedying the situation would now take a bunch of extra steps.

This is an example of something we’ve all done. We either stopped and cut the strings or rolled the dice and hoped for the best. It’s also a great metaphor for retirement because clients often leave aspects of their personal life exposed and dangling. They aren’t trained to think about all the different life threads that must be knitted together to make a successful transition from work life to home life in retirement. 

We live in a world where things left unattended have a tendency to deteriorate … where a life left unprotected from the harsher elements of retirement can become worn and tattered. The more common loose threads of retirement include aging parents, adult children, long-term care needs, a market crash, rising health care costs and outliving one’s money. While some of these topics do make it into client conversations, there are also threads of retirement that, although less popular, also have the power to unravel the very things clients have spent a lifetime planning for.

Straying Thoughts

Just as a loose thread can wave in the wind, so too can a retired client’s mind. There was a recent story about a guy who had a flat tire on a country road. After realizing he had no jack, he began walking, in search of a local farmer who could help him. 

It was getting dark and, as he walked, his mind began to wander. What if the farmer’s not home? What if he is and won’t let me use his jack? What if he won’t let me use his phone? What if he’s frightened of me? I never did anything to him! Why won’t he just let me use his phone? 

The guy became so obsessed with what could go wrong, by the time he knocked on the farmer’s door and the friendly old man answered, he could only exclaim, “Well, you can just keep your damn jack!”

With fewer obligations to occupy their time, retired clients often find their thoughts wandering. For those not mentally disciplined enough to recognize the dangers, one thought can lead to another and suddenly a new conspiracy is born. 

We’ve all seen examples of this in our practice. We ask the proverbial question, “How are things going?” and suddenly we’re subjected to a full blown soap opera covering everything from a sibling who’s been stealing from the family inheritance since he was 10 to government legislation that’s sure to rob them of their 401(k) and the Social Security they deserve.