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Don’t Wait Until It Hits The Fan To Make A Plan

By: Matthew Broom

If you are retiring from the fire service, you paid for it financially but also with countless nights away, missed ballgames and absent birthdays. You paid for it with your life.

Working a house fire with confirmed entrapment is not the time to learn how to vent, enter and search. Likewise, your retirement date is not the time to figure out what’s next?

If you spent the last 20 to 30 years in a fire station, you are probably in a routine — or institutionalized as I like to call it. Transitioning out of the “old” routine into the “new” can be a significant disruption, often leading to a disoriented life. And, if there is anything firefighters struggle with, it’s change. This change is inevitable, though. We can’t ride the rig forever. Ultimately, we all have to hang the helmet up. 

Since you know it’s coming, you might as well plan for it. But, what should you prepare for in your new-found time?

Create a plan for what matters

The hardest part about retirement planning is not dollars and cents or income and expense. Running the numbers is the easy part. Money is only part of the equation.

The hard part about retirement planning is finding purpose in a post-firefighter life. Often our identities — especially as firefighters — are wrapped up in our careers. Without them, we can forget who we are.

Jordan Peterson often says, there is matter — the physical objects that fill our world — and then there is what matters — the intangible aspects of life that bring meaning to it.

A successful retirement will provide meaning to your life, so first, you must determine what matters. 

Ask yourself three questions

If you’ve reached a point where you are financially able to retire, you have accomplished a great goal. Congratulations!

So, what should you be focused on now? Purpose? Happiness? Fulfillment? I don’t think anyone would argue against those things, but how do you find out what will bring those things into being? 

Ask yourself the three questions, popularized by financial life planner and author George Kinder, and take the time to answer them honestly. 

Question one:

You have all the money you need, now and in the future. What will you do with it? How will you live your life?

In “The Seven Stages of Money Maturity,” George says to “Let yourself dream. This part of the exercise has nothing to do with realism. Run loose, without tether or rein. Give yourself the right to have, do, or be anything that comes to mind.”

Once you have completed question one, and only then, move on to question two.

Question two:

You’ve just come back from a doctor’s visit. You have five to 10 years left to live. You won’t feel sick, but you’ll have no warning of impending death. Knowing death is waiting, how will you change your life, and what will you do in the time you have remaining?

Once you’ve answered question two thoughtfully, you can finish with question three. 

Question three:

You’ve been to the doctor again. You learned you have 24 hours left to live. This question isn’t about what you would do with the little time left. Ask yourself, “What feelings am I experiencing? What regrets and unfulfilled dreams come to mind? What do I wish I had done in this life?”

Be honest with yourself and reflect on the answers. These three questions will force you to look inward and reveal some of your deepest desires and dreams. You may even get to the core of what a meaningful retirement means to you. 

Maybe you always wanted to start a business building hand-crafted furniture. Perhaps you wish you had spent more time with your children instead of the guys at the firehouse. Maybe you regret never finishing your bachelor’s degree. 

Now that you better understand what is meaningful to you, what can you do to take action?

Make retirement worth it

Life after the fire service will not be like the life you had during your fire service. Retirement is a new chapter. Take a deep breath and start afresh.

Don’t let one of the most significant life transitions you’ll likely face sneak up on you.

If you are retiring from the fire service, you paid for it financially but also with countless nights away, missed ballgames and absent birthdays. You paid for it with your life. 

Make damn sure it was worth it. 

Matthew Broom is a firefighter/paramedic with Gwinnett County (Georgia) Fire and Emergency Services. He has been a member of the Hazardous Materials Response Team since 2016. Prior to joining the fire service, Matthew graduated with a B.B.A. in Business Economics from Georgia State University. In 2017, he returned to school to complete the Certified Financial Planner™ coursework at the University of Georgia. Since passing the rigorous CFP® exam, he has been focused on increasing financial literacy in the firefighter community. He is also the host of The 24/48 Podcast which is focused on helping firefighters find success on and off the job.

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