Retirement — 15 years later

By Gary Williams, August 2020

I’ve been retired from work for 15 years, so a friend who is about to retire asked me to name the best book I’ve read about retirement, the best podcast I’ve listened to on the subject and the name of a retirement coach I found helpful.   What follows is my answer.

  1. Best book:  The Bible.  I’m not being pious or dismissive of your question.  This is true not only for retirement planning, but for every aspect of life, as has been proved over and over during the past 70-plus years.
  2. Podcast:  While I am a tenacious researcher on topics that interest me, I don’t listen to podcasts.  I prefer to read.  That said, I don’t recall any particular works about retirement that I found memorable.
  3. Retirement coach:  The retirement experiences of two friends, both close in age to my Dad, greatly influenced me.  Si Miller, a friend met in a long-term Bible study, was one.  Dr. Stan Johnson was the other.  Si retired from a lucrative career in the commercial roofing industry.  Stan retired after decades of serving as a senior pastor, his last stop being Saratoga Federated Church, where we met him.  Both were men of strong faith, regular in prayer and Bible study and both were people-persons. 

Si always developed and cultivated relationships, which is probably why he made so much money selling large commercial roofing projects.  He became a mentor to dozens of younger men and women while volunteering with Young Life in his earlier years and, after retirement, by having two or three coffee or lunch dates with different individuals nearly every day of the week.  He was a generous friend, an informal counselor, a tenacious fundraiser for ministries and, at times, a pain in the butt, but he was always available and he cared for us all.  Si filled his days with many different ministry opportunities, besides taking care of his seriously ill wife. Si was one of the few men I’ve ever known who regularly called people, just to say hello.  And, when he read a book about faith that he liked, he would buy 15 or 20 and give them to people he thought would benefit from them.  These are habits learned from Si that I’ve tried to carry on in my own abbreviated form.

When Stan was our senior pastor we knew him to be a warm, caring man who was a wonderful Bible expositor, but we didn’t get to know him well until he retired.   He used his retirement freedom to volunteer his time coaching younger pastors and in various other helping ministries.  He also got to know people like Raelene and me more deeply than had been possible when serving as senior pastor at a 1200-member church full of Silicon Valley movers and shakers who kept him hopping.  I watched how Stan and Si handled themselves before and after retirement and learned from them … and we discussed what had changed when their work situations changed. 

General thoughts about retirement

•  Everything we plan and do is best undergirded with Bible study, prayer
and meditation.
•  Sometimes our plans work out, sometimes they don’t.  Our job is to create
our best plan and then prepare to roll with the surprises.
•  The absolute best thing we can do with our retirement is learn how to
listen more closely to God.  He will guide us along the correct path if we
let Him.
•  It takes a while to get any work “poison” out of our system and heal
(adapt to our new freedoms).  Dreams about missed deadlines and other
work pressures are not unusual.  Feeling lost is not unusual.  Getting
under a spouse’s feet is not unusual.
•  All retirees are different.  What we want out of retirement is different.
What we think we need financially is different.  What our spouses want
out of us in retirement is different.
•  Some people feel lost when they retire because – whether they realize it
or not — their self worth is based on their job and/or income.  Some feel
lost because they were consumed by work for so long they did not develop
friendships, hobbies, or volunteer activities outside of work.  These are
the people most likely to experience anxiety and/or grief when no longer
working.  Others see retirement as a new phase of life, one in which they
have more freedom to serve God, travel, make new friends, spend more
time with family, learn new skills, etc. 
•  It’s important to plan times when we are not with our spouses and times
when we are.  Raelene and I respect our different approaches to each day;
we don’t ask that one conform to the other.  We go places together and
work on projects together, but we also do things separately.  We’ve
learned that it is good to give one another space on a regular basis.  Once
he stopped working, my Dad, an electrical engineer, almost never left my
Mother’s side.  That wasn’t healthy for him or her.  Lack of “alone time” is
one of the common complaints we’ve heard from wives whose husbands
retired and didn’t know what to do with their time.  Another complaint is
that some men become so involved in new activities that even though
they are retired, they still don’t have time for their wives or families.
•  The Bible doesn’t say anything about retirement — I’ve searched – which
leads me to believe we are not expected to retire from serving God as
long as we’re on this earth.     

Our personal retirement story

Raelene and I met when she babysat for my older sister.  Raelene was in her early teens. We attended the same church and got to know each other a little later, when I was a college student leading the church’s high school youth group.  We’ve been married for more than half a century.  A while after we purchased our company in the 1980’s, I quit the corporate world. Raelene and I then worked together every day for 20+ years.  We ran a busy and successful design and manufacturing business in Silicon Valley using an unconventional – though Biblical — model.  We divided responsibilities based on our expertise and abilities, and always made major decisions together.  One of us never ruled over the other.  If we did not agree, we talked, prayed and waited for a decision we could both live with. 

We began to think about retirement when I was about 50 (1996).  We’d both spent most of our lives in the Santa Clara Valley.  We wondered what it would be like to live where there were seasons, where it was less crowded, where it was less costly and where the pace of life was less frantic.  What followed were about eight years of research that included vacations designed to acquaint us with different areas of California and other states, from west coast to east.

While this was going on, I took a college class on how to prepare for selling a business.  I also began talking to friends who had sold businesses.  Next, I wrote a plan to prepare our company for eventual sale.  It included the specific steps needed to fine-tune our facilities, organizational structure, operating systems and base of major clients.  The objective was to make our business an attractive, turn-key operation for someone with money to cash us out, though not necessarily any expertise in our field.  This plan eventually resulted in finding that very type of buyer in 2005.

We did not list the business for sale, however, until we did something we had never done before.  In late 2000, having recently moved into a large new manufacturing facility that we completely remodeled at our expense, Raelene and I took a day off of work – something we rarely did.  We spent that entire day at home with phones off.  We fasted, prayed, read Scriptures and wrote in journals for hours without speaking.  At the end of the day, we shared where we were at.  As usually happens with us, we arrived at the same conclusion.  It was time to list our business for sale with a mergers and acquisitions consultant we knew. 

Not long after putting our company on the market, 9/11 turned our world upside down.  Business came to a screeching halt in a matter of minutes.  Weeks later, with Silicon Valley still in shock and building projects cancelled or not started, we had to second-mortgage our house to make payroll and keep our business from going under.  At that point, we took the company off the market until we could build it back to what it was before 9/11.  That plan changed too, though.  We were only about two-thirds of the way back to our previous sales volume by 2004 when we realized we were worn out and in need of a major life change.  Our company went back on the market.  Prayer once again undergirded our process.

We didn’t yet have a plan in place for how to retire or where to retire to, but we had been reading everything we could find on the subject, not that much of it seemed relevant to us.  I don’t remember finding any experts on retirement who factored the Author of Life into the equation.  We decided to stick with the plan we had been forming, but remain flexible to God’s will.  Our trust was in His wisdom and timing regarding our next phase of life.   

What happened next is that in the spring of 2005, when our consultant was in the initial stages of working with the eventual buyer of our business, we flew from California to Portland with George and Casey Elliott.  We all were thinking that the Vancouver area might be a good place to retire.  Casey was our guide, having grown up at Fort Vancouver as the daughter of an Army physician who was based there.  Though we didn’t find any properties that interested us, we had an eventful dinner with a couple Casey knew from high school.  They mentioned Sequim, a place we’d never heard of.  It sounded interesting.

A few days later, a California friend offered to let us stay in a huge Victorian house he’d purchased in Port Townsend, which is about 20 miles from Sequim.  What a coincidence.  Ha!  We took another couple to Washington with us and explored the Olympic Peninsula for the first time.  We loved it, especially Sequim.  After arriving at home, we went back to prayer and talking between ourselves.  As a result, we decided to buy property in Sequim in preparation for moving there.  After years of not having a buyer for the company or a clue where we wanted to live, suddenly things were falling into place.

We couldn’t tell anyone what we were doing for fear of employees or clients bailing on us when they found out what we were planning, but a week later we flew back to Sequim, toured properties with a realtor and purchased two buildable parcels on about 7 acres of beautiful land.  Our plan was to build on one parcel, move in and then build on the other.  We would then move to the second house and sell the first.  We thought we’d enjoy serving as our own contractors while continuing to earn a living. This was about a year before the Olympic Peninsula building boom went bust for several years.  Thankfully, though we never got to build on those lots, we did eventually sell them for a profit.

Regarding the sale of our business, God’s timing was perfect.  Neither Raelene nor I had ever been seriously ill or injured before, but on the same October day in 2005, when we were working to conclude the sale of our business to the man who now owns it, she was in an auto accident that injured her badly and I came down with a serious illness that required 13 surgeries and dozens of doctor visits over the next five years.  I had no idea that the weird October day would be the last I would ever work.  Even though Raelene was in a lot of pain, she ran the company until December and I dealt the sale of the business, mostly by phone (I was on heavy doses of prescription drugs. It’s a good thing our consultant was honest and we already had the business ready to sell).   The deal was completed in December of 2005.

Our plan to sell the business, travel for a year and then build houses in Sequim went by the wayside.  Instead, during our first year of retirement we sold our historic home in Santa Clara, bought a house in Sequim and spent most of our time on doctor visits and hospital stays.  Remember, neither of us had ever been ill or injured before.  We drove the 2,000-mile round trip between Sequim and Kaiser Hospital in Santa Clara about every six weeks for the first couple of years.

So, in summary, we had a plan, things happened unexpectedly and our plan changed.  Through it all – over the past 15 years – we’ve tried to focus on how God wants us to live.  It’s an on-going process; a daily process.   Even though our plan is constantly being amended, retirement has been good and we continue to be at least somewhat useful to family, friends, neighbors and various ministries.   

In case you’re wondering, we have never missed the frantic pace we kept when both of us worked 60-80 hours a week to make sure we could satisfy our clients, employees, landlord, suppliers and various government entities … while serving on church and
para-church boards, leading Bibles studies and teaching classes, volunteering in ministries and working on hobbies.  Not for a second.