An "Aha" or "Eureka" moment is best described as a sudden realization, inspiration or insight into a previously confusing concept or situation. The notion is said to date back to the 16th century, when Archimedes ran home naked from a public bath exclaiming, “Eureka!” after noticing that water in a tub was displaced when his body sank into the bath, offering him a solution to measure density.

While visiting public baths and streaking down the street in the buff are not my typical client recommendations, I like to use my own retirement Aha moments as well as help clients and prospects discover their own to help them make the most of their time and savings in retirement. Advisors who recognize these moments can add personal value in addition to the more traditional, and expected, financial value.

For me, my own epiphany regarding retirement came when I met my first millionaire client. As you can imagine, I was excited for the meeting because I was young, hungry and certain it would reveal some enlightening information that would set me on my own path to riches.
During the course of our conversation, I was finally able to ask the million-dollar question, “What was the best investment you ever made?” I went into the meeting wondering if she got lucky in real estate, knew Sam Walton, or had kids with ties to Microsoft and Bill Gates. I was shocked and extremely disappointed when, without hesitation, she said that the best investment she ever made was “the Craftmatic adjustable bed.”
Her response actually left me more than disappointed. I thought I was going to somehow get rich as a result of this meeting, but instead I was walking away with a product testimonial from a late-night infomercial. At the time, I was so focused on the financial aspects of the business that I didn’t care how her Craftmatic adjustable bed gave her a great night’s sleep. Yet, what I didn’t know then, but do now, is that life, at any stage, isn’t defined by money, investments or a net worth, but rather by the Craftmatics -- the things you see and do every day that keep you happy and fulfilled.

It was a major Aha moment when I realized retirement isn’t just about achieving a certain level of financial freedom and security. But too often that’s not the message people are given. Yes, money and saving are part of the retirement puzzle; however, a retirement without an Aha moment can do more harm than good.

Retirement planning is really about helping people create the correct lens with which to see their future. My second Eureka moment came to me a few years after my Craftmatic experience, when a friend asked if I would help him and his son on a remodeling project. In between the sounds of a saw and hammer, I said to my buddy, “It must be great being retired … to have the time, money and freedom to come and help your son like this.”  He paused for a moment, looked me square in the eye, and said, “Bob, don’t ever retire, because the minute you do, you won’t mean anything to anyone anymore.” Those were his exact words, “You won’t mean anything to anyone anymore!”  
That’s an awfully harsh statement for a retiree to make, especially since retirement is supposed to be the Promised Land, where alarm clocks and busy schedules don’t exist and you’re only accountable for your golf score or being on time for your spa treatment. There was an obvious disconnect between how he thought life in retirement was going to be and what he was actually experiencing.
Too often, retirement is portrayed as the ultimate goal and sign of freedom, but when people get there, it can feel very empty or hollow. In some cases, it causes people to feel isolated or unimportant because they are being sold on only part of retirement’s true meaning and needs. It’s similar to selecting investments based only on returns, without factoring in any of the risks. Not being aware of the full picture threatens a person’s ability to make a successful transition into retirement.
Both situations dramatically changed the way I think about and help people plan for retirement. In addition to sharing my own Aha moments with clients and prospects, I’m constantly on the lookout for material I can include in my marketing efforts and client discussions. Recently, I was struck by an article written by a hospice nurse that included common regrets people shared before they died. The top five regrets were:
•    I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
•    I wish I didn’t work so hard.
•    I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.
•    I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.
•    I wish that I had let myself be happier.

In the article she explains, “People grow a lot when they are faced with their own mortality. I learned never to underestimate someone’s capacity for growth. Each person experienced a variety of emotions, as expected, denial, fear, anger, remorse, more denial and eventually acceptance … Every single patient found their peace before they departed though, every one of them.”

What a powerful list to share with clients and prospects in a newsletter or to use as a topic of discussion in a workshop. For me, it’s an eye-opening reminder of the influence we have as professional advisors and a very simple way for people to realize that it doesn’t matter if their glass is half full or half empty, but rather that they have a glass with something in it.

Another favorite resource of mine to share is a five-minute “Ted” talk by Ric Elias, a survivor of the Hudson River plane crash. As you can see in the video, once the pilot said, “Brace for impact,” his whole world changed in that very moment. He thought about the people he wished he could reach out to, the fences he wished he had mended, and the many experiences he would now miss out on. He regretted allowing his ego to get in the way and the time he wasted on things that didn’t matter, especially with people who mattered to him. Finally, he made a commitment to eliminate negative energy and his ongoing desire to always be right.

He ends the talk by challenging you to figure out what you would do in that situation. To give thought to the things you would miss, to identify the things that would go unaccomplished and how you might change your relationships. Most important, he says, is to make sure you are being the best parent that you can be.

While both examples can help clients and prospects see retirement from a different light, they can also be a valuable resource to advisors. Take a moment and ask yourself, “Are you being the best advisor that you can?” In your personal life, “Are you being the best parent, spouse or friend that you need to be?” It’s a New Year and things can change in an instant, so what are you postponing or holding back that needs to be taken off the back burner? Everywhere in the world, graveyards and cemeteries are full of missed or lost opportunities. Right now, people are being told that they have limited time and need to get their affairs in order. They would give every dime they have for the time and opportunities we have in front of us. It’s time to take regret off the table, to maximize your skills and talents, and most important, be an Aha moment to those around you.   

Archimedes was not the first person to see a bathtub overflowing, nor was Isaac Newton the first to witness an apple falling from a tree. It was the special significance they assigned to these everyday occurrences that turned simple observations into limitless possibilities. It is with that same basic premise and curious attention that both advisors and clients can face and make retirement all that it can be.

P.S. Let me know what you think of the article by leaving a comment or e-mailing me. Also, let me know if you’re interested in a copy of the newsletter I shared with clients on this topic.

Follow Robert Laura on Twitter @robertlaura. He is the president of SYNEGOS Financial group, co-founder of, and author of Naked Retirement. He can be reached at [email protected].