As I sat quietly in my study thinking about my own retirement planning my mind ended up a meddle of ideas and no clear place where to start. Then I recalled a classic story I heard many years ago and I believe it is one that we can all take lessons from as we work through our retirement plan.
It is so simple, but so wise, and I hope it can help you as much as it has me.
The story is about a professor explaining time management to a group of exceptionally talented and bright young students. And using the adage “show me and I'll understand” he went on to illustrate his point.
He stood in front of the large class and said "Now we are going to have a quiz".
He then bent down behind his desk and picked up a large jar and a larger packet of fist sized stones. He then carefully placed them stone by stone into the jar. When the stones reached the top of the jar he asked this question "Is the jar full?". As it was so obvious everyone immediately shouted out "Yes!"
The professor looked up at them and said "Really?". He then reached down again and pulled out a bucket of coarse gravel. He slowly poured the gravel onto the rocks and it worked its way down through the spaces between the larger rocks. When the jar was filled to the top he again asked "Is the jar full?". It now seemed obvious that it was, but by this time their was some doubters, so the class called out a mixture of “Yes's" and "No's”.
So the professor again reached down under his desk and brought out a packet of sand. He slowly poured the sand into the jar of gravel and rocks and shook the jar gently so the sand now filled the spaces between the gravel and the rocks. Again he asked, "Is the jar full?". By now the class realised the answer was not so obvious and answered "Probably not" to which the professor replied "Now you are getting it!".
Again he reached down under his desk and took out a large jug of water and began to pour it into the jar until the jar was full.
"So what"s the point of this illustration"? Asked the professor. A bright spark jumped up and answered "It doesn't matter how full your schedule is you can still squeeze in something more".
"No" said the professor, there is another important principle which you should always remember. If you don't put the big rocks into the jar first you will never get them into the jar".
So what are the big rocks for your life in retirement and which you must balance in your retirement planning? Being close to your family, continuing to live a meaningful life, just chilling out, having enough money to retire, giving back to society, carry on working, start a new career, doing all the things that you never had time or money to do in the past?
For everyone these will be different and will depend on many factors. These are all the issues that you have to understand and be able to prioritise as you step through your retirement planning.
Retirement planning will be meaningless unless we have the right priorities (remember rocks before gravel, gravel before sand, and sand before water). So, today, as you reflect on this short story, ask yourself this question, "What will be the rocks in my retirement?"