Finding Your Why:  Helping Families Figure Out What To Retire Towards (Not From)

Paul FennerLifestyle, Retirement Planning

beach, retirement

The picture below can look pretty enticing when you are a burned-out parent.

Beach 2 1024x681 - family - Finding Your Why:  Helping Families Figure Out What To Retire Towards (Not From) | Tamma Capital

But what happens after days of sitting on the beach; then what?

We can grind away in our careers, believing everything will be “okay” when we reach retirement.  But what if we don’t have anything to retire to?

Below is a story told by Tony Hixon, a financial advisor, on the Michael Kitces Financial Advisor Success Podcast and his first-hand tragic family experience.  An experience that has helped drive him to help people discover what they’re retiring to and not from.

The Pam Hixon Story

Pam Hixon graduated as a registered nurse in 1971 and quickly climbed through the healthcare system ranks.  She first started as a floor nurse at a local hospital.  But those long hours and swing shifts proved difficult in raising her young family, including me and my older sister.  And soon, she’d find a job in home health, where they offered more regular hours and a steady income, which ultimately led her to find her calling as a hospice nurse.  For all intents and purposes, the healthcare industry has given up on that particular patient and wants to send them home so that loved ones and familiar surroundings can surround them.

And she fell in love with this calling and soon became a director of hospice at a local agency.  And it was during this career in hospice she found her greatest joy, her ultimate calling, and her purpose and significance, and it was this career in hospice that led to the greatest burnout I’ve ever seen.  

She found herself behind a desk more often than at the bedside, and she longed to get back to providing care for the terminally ill as they passed from this life to the next.  But instead, bureaucracy and administrative work became her begrudging focus.  She suffered from emotional, spiritual, relational, and career burnout, and wanted nothing more than to retire, exit the rat race, and enjoy a quiet life on the farm that my dad and she still lived on.

A Greenlight to Retire

We separated family from business, so she had a different financial advisor than me.  And so, she ran the idea past her primary financial advisor, to which this advisor pulled out her credentialing, experience, and software, and won’t you know, she gave her the green light.  She and Dad had enough money to retire.  I was a financial advisor eight years into my career at the time.  And she loved me, right?  It’s my mom.  She wanted to give me the opportunity to give a second opinion.  So, what did I do?  I pulled out my credentialing, experience, and software, and I, too, came up with the same result.  Mom and Dad had enough money, and I also gave her the green light to retire.  And so, she did.

Shortly after retiring in the fall of 2010, something was wrong.  She felt a drift in retirement.  Her care, purpose, and significance in her career were now nowhere to be found.  Dad was still working; he hadn’t retired yet.  Her network of social connections at the office was still at work, unavailable for connecting throughout her day, and she was bored.  She was wandering and faced the question, “Who am I, apart from my career?” She knew exactly what she had retired from but had no idea what she was retiring to.  She had enough money to sleep at night but not enough purpose to get up in the morning, and she fell into a deep depression as her future became bleak and her mental health spiraled downward.


And then, six months after retiring, on the morning of March 22nd, 2011, my mom, Pam Hixon, chose to take her life, and the ripple effects of that decision were staggering.  My dad was now left with no one to spend life with, my sister and I, no mom, and her grandkids would miss the blessing she would be to them as they grew up.  And I was left to pick up the pieces.  

I was one of the financial advisors that gave her the green light to retire, the very thing that drove her to her death.  And I felt an immense amount of guilt and shame, and I could have let that guilt and shame define me, to ruin me.  But by God’s grace, I chose to turn this tragedy into triumph, stumbling blocks into stepping stones.

I now know that money is only part of the equation to a successful transition to retirement.  Meaning, purpose, and legacy carry equal weight in the transition to what’s next.  I discovered the hard way that it’s not nearly as important to define what you’re retiring from; it’s critical that the pre-retiree do the hard work of defining who they are apart from their career and find significance and purpose second half of life to discover what they’re retiring to.  

Closing Thought

Tony wrote a book titled Retirement Stepping Stones: Find Meaning, Live with Purpose, and Leave a Legacy.  All net proceeds from the sale of this book go to the Pam Hixon Memorial Nursing Scholarship Fund.  Ironically, the scholarship is set up at the University of Findlay, where I received my MBA.  The scholarship goes to a nursing student who displays financial need and good grades and will be graduating into the healthcare field just like Tony’s mom.

You may be years away from your so-called retirement.  However, I believe Tony’s story points out something I have been emphasizing for years, no matter your career or when you may retire from it; you will always need to know what your “Why” is first!