Mike Drak

Retirement Heaven or Hell focuses on sense rather than dollars

October 21, 2021

One of the nagging questions we had during the countdown to retirement seven years ago was this – what is retirement going to be like?  And while retired friends and neighbours smiled and said cryptic things like “you’ll never know how you found the time for work,” we wondered – still – how the transition from full time work to freelancing would go.

This is the sort of territory covered in Mike Drak’s terrific new book, Retirement Heaven or Hell.

He starts by recalling that, as a child, he really couldn’t answer the question “what do you want to do with the rest of your life.” Retirement provides a second chance to give that response, he writes.

“It’s hard to enjoy retirement when you are not doing what you like to do,” he continues. Living someone else’s retirement dream is your ticket to what Drak calls “Retirement Hell.”

So what does Retirement Heaven look like?  There are “comfort-oriented retirees” who “like to have a safe, ordinary retirement,” he explains. They are content with a “full-stop” retirement, they don’t want to work, and some have accumulated “a great deal of money.”  Then there are “growth-oriented retirees” who Drak sees as “retirement rebels – the people who have a strong inner voice constantly telling them to never be satisfied; to keep stretching, exploring, learning and experiencing.”  Either stream works “as long as you are happy and doing things that are meaningful and fulfilling to you,” Drak explains.

Drak writes about the danger of “the Big Retirement Dip” that can happen after you have enjoyed “the Honeymoon Stage” of retirement, and have travelled, golfed more, visited the grandkids, and ticked off all the boxes of your to-do list.  Retirees “often find that they need to find something else to do, and this is where the trouble starts. Without a bigger plan or a purpose, they start to slide down to Retirement Hell, the lowest point in the Big Retirement Dip,” Drak writes.

This is particularly true of growth-oriented retirees; some comfort-oriented retirees “will be able to remain happily in the Honeymoon Stage for their entire retirement,” despite possibly having less meaning to their lives than the growth-oriented folks, Drak notes.

Drak adds that “significant change is an inevitable fact of retirement. How you choose to prepare for it and respond to it will determine if you will be happy or not.”  He encourages retirees to take up “new routines” such as regular meditation, and journaling, which he sees as the creation of a book “by you, about you” that will help you chart your progress towards your goals.  A daily log helps you determine if your day “was productive… or not,” helps you stay “on track with your goals,” and gives tips on how to improve things “going forward.”

The meat of the book is Drak’s list of “Nine Principles for an Exceptional Retirement.” These include:

  1. Nurture Strong Relationships
  2. Foster Good Health
  3. Achieve Financial Independence
  4. Reignite Your Sense of Adventure
  5. Tap into Your Spirituality
  6. Find Your Tribes
  7. Make the Most of Your Time
  8. Adopt the Right Attitude
  9. Discover Your Purpose

Drak covers each of these ideas in great detail, with “self reflection” questions on each topic as well as “simple truths,” a sort of Coles notes summary of the section.  He warns us, when talking about nurturing strong relationships, that loneliness “is an emotional problem with a physical consequence that could lead to an early death.”  Regarding health, he notes that “exercising and eating right are key anti-aging strategies,” the “magic pill” we look for.

On Financial Independence, he observes that “working longer reduces the risk of market declines and of not having enough money.” Thinking about our sense of adventure, Drak writes that “life is either a daring adventure or boring… playing it safe is a gamble too.”  Spirituality “helps you deal with the ups and downs of everyday life,” and having a “tribe” of like-minded people permits you to be on a “shared mission with people you respect and care about.” He covers all nine principles with similar aplomb.

Near the end of the book, Drak challenges us to “watch the movie of your own life…(to) take you back on your journey since childhood. This will remind you about what made you happy, which in turn will help you to discover your purpose(s) and passions, and ultimately, the person you were meant to be.”

And this is a core message of the book – no one can tell you what your retirement should be except for you, and this decision depends on your values. “Values are who you are even when no one is watching,” Drak explains. “Putting your values first influences your decisions; and how you choose to act and behave will ultimately determine your sense of happiness and fulfilment in life.”

This is a great book, almost a retirement philosophy text, and is well worth a read, whether you are planning your retirement or – even more importantly – if you have reached the end of the honeymoon stage and can’t think of what to do next. The book gives you the tools you need to get there.

The non-philosophical side of the retirement equation – income – plays the important role of helping to fund the retirement you want. If, lacking a workplace retirement program, you are saving on your own for those future challenges and adventures, why not put the Saskatchewan Pension Plan to work for you? They’ve been delivering retirement security since their inception 35 years ago.

Written by Martin Biefer

Martin Biefer is Senior Pension Writer at Avery & Kerr Communications in Nepean, Ontario. A veteran reporter, editor and pension communicator, he’s now a freelancer. Interests include golf, line dancing and classic rock, and playing guitar. Got a story idea? Let Martin know via LinkedIn.


Trade rocking chair for your best life, urge Victory Lap Retirement authors

November 19, 2020

Time was, write the authors of Victory Lap Retirement, that retirement meant “a few years of passive leisure” once you had put in 35 years on the job, a short period of time in the rocking chair since most retirees in the old days “were not in robust enough health to partake in active leisure.”

Now that we are living longer and in better health, authors Mike Drak, Rob Morrison and Jonathan Chevreau think we should create a new stage of life between work and full retirement, which they are calling the “Victory Lap.”

“In your Victory Lap, you continue to work, but you have the luxury of choosing to do only work that gives you what you want. Money and security are no longer the main motivators, because achieving financial independence has finally allowed you to make a change in your priorities,” they write. So the Victory Lap, they explain, is a “period of freedom… living like a kid for as long as possible and squeezing every ounce out of life.”

The three authors say that “instrumental” factors in the quest for the Victory Lap are:

  • Maintaining your physical and mental health
  • Adopting a positive attitude
  • Ensuring that your financial plan is aligned with your life plan

This well-thought-out book challenges some of our long-held beliefs about work and money. Why, the authors ask, do we allow ourselves to become so financially dependent on our jobs and salary? Why are we “driven into complete economic dependency through debt, new family needs and consumerism… salaries and bonuses may keep racing, but lifestyle inflation outpaces them, resulting in more consumption and more debt.” We work on, “unhappy… and suffering,” the book warns.

An escape plan, the authors suggest, is necessary. “A full-stop retirement is not the best way to go… instead, we should be focusing our efforts on making a great life while we still have the time.”

A “Victory Lap” approach frees you from the rat race, “to start over and design a new life for yourself, without being limited by your job or responsibilities to others.” Turn your paycheck “into a playcheck,” the book tells us – that’s the difference when you have financial independence. See purpose in life over money.

“In Victory Lap Retirement the goal is to achieve a simpler, more balanced lifestyle… look for work that combines personal meaning and social purpose,” the authors note.

They see two good approaches to leaving the full-time world of work. The Glidepath Strategy is for those “who like what they do, but just want to do less of it.” By working part time or casually you may be able to continue on into your seventies and eighties, the book suggests.

The other route to go is the Passion/Hobby Strategy, for those who want “to venture outside their comfort zone and take a swing for the fences.” Moving from data analytics to making custom furniture, teaching to captaining a fishing boat, or from finance to selling wine are examples, the book explains.

Save with SPP (unsurprisingly) was interested in the chapters on saving, and the book does not disappoint. Funding the Victory Lap Retirement starts with saving enough “to replace upwards of 70 to 80 per cent of your current income,” and the book recommends a gradual transition to retirement “while continuing to generate some level of active (work) income.”

This active income can be a huge help if you are not fortunate enough to have a pension from work. “The active income you earn in Your Victory Lap can function much like a pension. Even if this income stream covers only 15 to 20 per cent of your overall spending, it is a separate source of income that… lessens your dependence on your other sources.”

Think as well about your “decumulation strategy,” turning your savings into income. The book says you should think about drawing down from non-registered savings before you crack into your registered money, and of delaying the start of Canada Pension Plan and Old Age Security benefits until age 70.

The book concludes by contrasting people who lived the life of their dreams to those who laboured for decades in jobs they didn’t like, adding that few people late in life say “I wish I’d made more money” or owned more things.

This is a great, and “outside the box” way to look at life after work, one that would make a great addition to anyone’s library.

Living your dreams after work is done is a terrific goal. If you don’t have a workplace pension plan, you’ll need to rely on your own savings to fund that future. One option could be the Saskatchewan Pension Plan. You can contribute in many ways – online, through automatic deposit, and even by credit card – and the cash you contribute is carefully invested for the future. There’s even an option for employers to offer the Plan as employee benefit.  When it’s time to do new things, SPP can turn those savings into income that lasts as long as you do. Why not check out SPP today?

Written by Martin Biefer

Martin Biefer is Senior Pension Writer at Avery & Kerr Communications in Nepean, Ontario. A veteran reporter, editor and pension communicator, he’s now a freelancer. Interests include golf, line dancing and classic rock, and playing guitar. Got a story idea? Let Martin know via LinkedIn.