When I was a kid “Coach Jackson” of the Bellevue Swim Club used to shout this mantra from the side of the pool as we swam our races. Hearing this chant was a reminder to hang in there, and draw on the skills and lessons we got from our training.
One of Coach Jackson’s great lessons was that the 3rd lap is always the hardest.
It didn’t matter if you were swimming a 100-yard race (which requires swimming 4 lengths of the pool) or something much longer. That third lap was always the most difficult.
In the first lap you are excited, pumped up and full of energy. This carries over to the second lap. But by the time the third lap comes you are starting to feel the pain. Your mind is telling you not to work so hard. It’s not worth it. You aren’t going to win anyway.
If the little devil on your shoulder is going to mess with you, it will be in the third lap.
When the 4th lap comes, you can see the end in sight. Your moment of glory is near. You get a surge in energy. You know the pain won’t last forever, and when you touch the wall the pain will end.
So, you pour it on.
“Hup!”, “Hup!”, “Hup!”
Pursuing your long-term financial goals is like a competitive race – a very long one. In the beginning you are excited and pumped up. Towards the end you are motivated and focused. But somewhere in between, usually the third lap, your motivation wanes. You start to doubt yourself. And you are tempted to give up.
For most people I think the “third lap” in their retirement planning occurs between the ages of 45 and 55. This is the time when your kids are in high school or college. You may be taking care of aging parents. The financial challenges you face have never been greater. And retirement is still a decade or two away.
It’s hard to stay focused. But the race to your retirement goals can be won or lost in the third lap.
Below are three ideas that will help you through this challenging time in your retirement planning.
First, revisit your “why”. Having a goal and a plan to reach it isn’t enough. To power through the third lap you will need to remember why your goal is important to you.
For example, maybe you want to retire early so you can travel or explore new opportunities that weren’t possible when your kids were growing up and you had a mortgage to pay for. Or maybe your goal is to be financially secure so that you can be more of a blessing to your family and the community around you.
Knowing your “why” reminds you of your priorities and helps you to make the tough choices needed to reach your goals.
Second, shrug off the naysayers. I am sure you hear this all the time: “The stock market is rigged”. “You’re never going to be able to retire”. “There’s no guarantee you will even live long enough to reach retirement”. “The economy stinks”.
I know I do. But you have to shrug it off. Maybe they are right. Maybe the world will end tomorrow. But what if they are wrong? (And “they” usually are).
When you are in the third lap of your race it’s more important than ever to shrug off the naysayers and remain committed to your goals.
Third, assess your progress. Every now and then it helps to take a look back to see how far you have come. In a real race you would never do this, but in real life it helps to take a moment to assess your progress.
OK, maybe you are still a million dollars off from your ultimate retirement goal. (Who isn’t?) But you are probably hundreds of thousands of dollars farther ahead than you were even just a few years ago.
When your kids were little, $20,000 was a princely sum. Now you add that and more to your retirement plan every year.
You used to have a mortgage, a car payment and some credit card bills. Now you are debt-free – or close to it.
A college education was once a distant (and expensive) dream. Now your kids have graduated and are doing well on their own.
You may be in the third lap as you race towards your financial goals, but don’t forget that you have two laps behind you and only one short lap to go.
“Hup!”, “Hup!”, “Hup!”