Commentary and Opinion

MAURER: 'Three score and ten' but not the end

February 18, 2012

Mickey MaurerHarold Smith and I attended a funeral of a boyhood friend last month. Harold and I grew up together. We were born within a few months of one another. Amid the sadness of the occasion, we relived memories and lore of high school days. At this age, the things we remembered best probably never even happened.

I was daydreaming during part of the ceremony—not paying a lot of attention. I have been to enough of these to know the routine. But then I heard words that snapped me back to reality and a chilling realization. The Rabbi quoted from Psalm 90:10 (King James Version):

“The days of our years are threescore years and ten; and if by reason of strength they be fourscore years, yet is their strength labour and sorrow; for it is soon cut off, and we fly away.”

I glanced down the row at Harold, and he was thinking the same thing. We silently ticked off on our fingers three score—let’s see, that’s 20 years each—plus 10, which totals 70. No words were exchanged but we shared the moment. This is the year we will hit that biblical wall. Psalm 90:10 had all of a sudden become relevant. It’s time to plan for the end game.

Many of my contemporaries are retired. That is not for me. I still look forward to facing the challenge of a full day under the yoke. I made a mistake years ago when after more than 15 years of work in a variety of businesses and in the legal profession, I decided I had created sufficient wealth to cash in on the American Dream. In a period of six months, I retired from my practice and sold all of my business interests. The proceeds from the sale of these businesses were converted into cash and cash equivalents, generally tax-free bonds.

What a fiasco! I missed the psychological satisfaction of seeing opportunities, making deals, creating value—of being in the arena. I do not want to make that mistake again.

Even at this age, retirement is fraught with risk and should not be undertaken without sufficient planning. One needs to maintain intellectual aptitude to avoid the path to senility. Without retirement skills, one can literally die from “vegetation.”

As part of my end game I will re-evaluate the criteria for new business opportunities and investments, particularly those requiring hands-on management skills. I may favor endeavors with shorter return horizons. I could invest to benefit the next generation by planting slow-growing seedlings, but our three children are independent and launched on their careers. They can plant their own trees.

Quality of life criteria (the “Q factor”) will be more prominent in my business-decision screening process. Now is not the time to be gone for days chasing a deal in Des Moines.

In response to the vagaries of old age, I promise to increase the downtime between periods of concentration and challenge—more three-day weekends and longer vacations, more time to mellow out.

Charitable giving issues will be more relevant. Gene Glick often stated that he wanted to donate all of his money before he died but for a few last shillings to pay the undertaker. I have made a significant start toward that goal.

And what about IBJ? What about this column? Those questions are related. Someone wrote last year, “the only reason you are privileged to write a column is because you own the paper.” He may be correct, but I am not ready to give up the privilege—or IBJ.

Harold is figuring out his end game. He continues to practice dentistry with his young partner. He is creating avenues to utilize his 19 years of expertise and experience in dental sleep medicine to fight the epidemic of sleep apnea and its ravages to our community’s health and quality of life.

So yes, we’ve made it to “three score and ten”—not a death sentence but a tolling wake-up call.•

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Maurer is a shareholder in IBJ Media Corp., which owns Indianapolis Business Journal. His column appears every other week. To comment on this column, send e-mail to mmaurer@ibj.com.

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