How to Successfully Run the Retirement Marathon

Zach Obront
Book Bites
Published in
5 min readSep 30, 2021

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The following is adapted from How to Retire and Not Die by Gary and Max Sirak.

Unfortunately, very few people I’ve worked with are truly prepared for retirement. They assume money is the only thing that matters and stop there. Almost no one has good answers to the questions, “What are you going to do with your time? How are you going to spend the rest of your life?”

Think about it. Let’s say you retire at age 65. I’m no actuary, but most of my personal clients have lived well into their 80s. That means you’re going to be on the hook for filling some serious time.

Retirement isn’t a sprint. Retirement is a marathon. A marathon you climbed a mountain in order to get to. Let me explain.

The Mountain and the Marathon

When I was in my twenties, I had the pleasure of spending a month hiking in Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming. The scenery was spectacular. The stars in the night sky even more so. And the sense of accomplishment that came from getting to the top of those peaks and enjoying the breath-taking vistas was life-changing.

But getting there? That was a very different story. Descriptive words like brutal, daunting, exhausting, and blistering come to mind.

Make no mistake, the views were worth it. I wouldn’t trade them for the world, but they were also earned step by sometimes excruciating step. And that doesn’t even count the way-too-close-for-comfort encounter with a family of bears, or the run-in with the moose that was bigger than the car we drove across the country.

So, how does my time in the Tetons relate? There is a similarity between my experience getting to the top of the mountains and your experience getting to retirement. Both were climbs. Though, hopefully, only one of ours involved bears and a moose.

Neither of us moved in a straight line. For my climb in the mountains, this was due to steepness. For you, getting to retirement, the twists and turns of life, family, and careers had you zigzagging to the top.

We both had to earn it. You through blood, sweat, and tears. Me, mostly through blisters, sweat, and fears. Have I mentioned I don’t much like heights?

And, just like me, you made it. That’s no small feat. Just finishing the climb to retirement is one hell of an accomplishment. I mean it. Congratulations are in order.

Now, here’s where our stories diverge. Because for me, after I made it to the top of my mountain, I had it easy. All I had to do was take a load off, take a breather, take in the view, and take my time getting back down to camp.

You, on the other hand, have it much tougher. All your hard work and effort to make it to the top of your mountain, retirement, has a different reward — a marathon.

That’s right. Your climb to get to retirement was just the first part of your journey. And, as soon as you get there, it’s time to start the second part — your marathon.

It’s not a marathon you have to run. It’s the one you get to live.

Why do I call the rest of your life after you a retire a marathon? Simple math. Say you retire at 65 and live longer than my average client, to age 91. That’s 26 years of life after work, the same number of miles in a marathon.

Your Most Precious Resource

I’m guessing you didn’t climb the mountain to retirement to live out your days in boredom and misery. Call it a hunch. No. You want a successful, happy, and hopefully long retirement, right?

Before going any further, there’s something you need to understand. As I mentioned, a “successful” and “happy” retirement isn’t one-size fits all. Not even close. The retirement of my dreams might sound like a nightmare to you.

This is the point — your retirement doesn’t have to look like your parents’, your neighbors’, your friends’, or mine. All that matters is that it works for you.

Now, that said, if we were painting with watercolors in the broadest strokes here, we could say everyone wants the same things out of their retirement: increased freedom and more enjoyment.

Increasing your freedom is pretty self-explanatory. It’s the ability to do what you want when you want.

Increasing enjoyment means maintaining or elevating your current lifestyle.

Here’s the thing. Retiring produces a huge windfall of your most precious resource: time. But it’s a resource you might not be the best at managing. With more time on your hands, you have the opportunity to spend it in meaningful and fulfilling ways.

Passion, Purpose, Plan

My father was very smart. He knew there were three things everyone needed in retirement: Passion, Purpose, and a Plan. These are the 3 Ps that will keep you young, and help you retire and not die.

You can listen to my father’s advice or ignore it and see what happens.

You probably know someone who didn’t. They retired, ignored the 3 Ps, and well, you know how their story ended. I’m guessing too quickly and with too many tears.

Maybe you’re thinking to yourself, “What? You don’t know me. I’m different. That won’t happen. I’ve been working my whole life, waiting for this moment. I’m going to be fine. I’ll be free to do whatever I want.”

You’re right. I probably don’t know you. But what I do know is you’ve worked very hard your whole life, climbing the mountain to get to this point. And I also know what I’ve seen. People who don’t have a Plan don’t seem to last very long.

Building the right retirement for you means knowing yourself. I say “right for you” because retirement isn’t one-size fits all. It’s more made to order and tailored to fit.

Getting to know yourself is the only shot you have at getting retirement right.

To learn more about the 3 Ps that will keep you young, How to Retire and Not Die is available on Amazon.

Gary Sirak began his career as a homemade potholder salesman — at the age of five. Today, he serves as President of Sirak Financial Services, a third-generation family-owned company in Canton, Ohio. He has spent more than 40 years helping clients build the wealth they need to retire and enjoy their lives.

Max Sirak began his career as a babysitter — a job from which he was soon fired. Today, he is a podcaster, traveler, nature lover, mountain dweller, Dungeons & Dragons enthusiast, grammatical ne’er-do-well, bad speller, concert goer, good listener, and great friend. And, of course, a writer.

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