Are you preparing for your retirement? Yes, you , at whatever stage of your engineering career you happen to be—not just those of you who are well into your careers and getting closer to that day of reckoning. All of us should be thinking regularly about what to do with the rest of our lives when we reach retirement—whether it’s choosing to put our feet up and become couch potatoes or, we hope, to continue a robust life full of interesting and rewarding activities. Make it happen—don’t just (maybe) let it happen.
The trick, of course, is how to make it happen. To be sure, a great deal of the enjoyment of your postwork days will depend on your finances. This article, however, is not focused on how to analyze the financial aspects of your retirement. There are plenty of places to get information on that all-important subject. See, for example, Retire on Less Than You Think: The New York Times Guide to Planning Your Financial Future , by Fred Brock (Times Books, 2004). Obviously, you need to understand what kind of retirement program your organization offers, as the traditional fixed-pension benefit programs gradually disappear and are replaced by 401(k)s, IRAs, and other offerings, supplemented by future yields of government retirement programs like the U.S. Social Security system. As you move along in your career, make sure you think about your financial future regularly, at least annually. A good time to assess your retirement situation and take action is tax time.
Our focus here is on the many nonfinancial matters regarding retirement that may not be apparent to you. If you’re just starting out in our profession—from entry level to emerging project manager—retirement may be very far from your thoughts, and there’s nothing wrong with that. But talk to anyone with gray hair, and you’ll hear how time just melts away. So even when you’re younger—and because you’re still young—you have a marvelous opportunity to start doing some smart things that will both help your career now and pay real dividends when it does come time to retire.
As your career progresses, perhaps the most important thing you need to focus on is your physical health. It may be more important than your financial health as you get older. You know this—that you need to watch your weight and eat right and get exercise—but, yeah, try doing that when your workload is unending and unrelenting. Hey, don’t complain to me! You are the one who needs to find the time to take care of yourself. Get exercise—even if it means making appointments for workouts and then keeping them. And work on learning how to better set your priorities and manage your time so that you can really accomplish the important things on your plate—not everything that someone throws in front of you to handle.
The other day I met my engineering school classmate Al in his office. Al has become a partner at a small, growing consulting engineering firm, but his responsibilities and workload have been increasing even as he turns 60 years old, and he says he’s very tired. He needs to learn more about delegating and finding more qualified engineers to handle the workload, and he needs to figure out how to manage his firm and his career without harming his health. (I know this is easier said than done.)