By DeForest Soaries
I have learned so much since I retired from my position of senior pastor of First Baptist Church of Lincoln Gardens in Somerset, New Jersey. All of this learning has been quite profound for me especially because for most of my life, I didn’t actually think I would reach retirement age.
While a sophomore in college, I was kidnapped and almost executed. When you come that close to death at 19 years old, retirement seems an unlikely future prospect. My father died when he was only 47 years old. He had not been sick, and yet he died from an overdose of anesthesia administered when he went to the hospital for minor tests. Ever since I passed age 47, I have had this eerie feeling of living on an extension of time.
But the main reason I had no clear vision of life in retirement was because I didn’t have any funds to support my retirement when I turned 40 years old. When I was in my twenties, I was preoccupied with community work and too busy looking prosperous to start investing in a retirement fund. I was “woke and broke.”
I spent the first half of my thirties paying for the mistakes of my twenties, and the second half starting to take care of my new family. When I turned forty, I realized I was at least fifteen years late to start saving if I wanted to have enough money to retire comfortably and live a normal life. By the time I was fifty, it was clear that I had to increase my savings and investments significantly if I wanted to retire before I turned 120!
So that is what I did. I started using 55% of my income to cover my living expenses and invested the rest. I invested in funds that had proven to grow investments and achieve above average returns. I invested in real estate and re-invested profits when I sold properties. I invested all additional income I earned from working on corporate boards. At least 75% of the assets I have today I accrued after I was 50 years old. So, to all of my AARP members, it is not too late!
But I have learned a few things now that I am officially retired from my fulltime employment:
- Social Security and Medicare administrations are the most difficult bureaucracies to navigate that I have ever encountered. Perhaps if I had started learning how to deal with them when I turned 60, I would have less stress dealing with them today. They are horrible but unavoidable.
- I actually work harder now than I did before I retired. However, that describes my life from Monday through Friday. I now have weekends – and what a marvelous discovery!
- Opportunities abound for me now that I am retired. I receive more invitations to speak, consult, write, and serve on boards than I did before. Perhaps I thought people would not have much use for an old man, but I have found the opposite to be true. To the extent that I have recently had to ask some people, “Do you know how old I am?”
- Young people are much more willing to learn from my experience than I could have ever imagined. When we consider young people from afar, they appear to be distracted by their devices and wallowing in meaninglessness. To the contrary, I am finding young people of all ages (when you get to my age, everyone is young) to be genuinely interested in my experiences. I started an Instagram group called “My Young People”, to which I forward posts that are meaningful to me and, hopefully, to them. And their responses are fascinating!
I thank God every day for the blessing of retirement. It is worth the sacrifices I made and the working years that I was fortunate enough to enjoy.