Wiser Financial Advisor – Discovering Your Purpose with Guest George Jerjian
Hi, Everyone. Welcome to the Wiser Financial Advisor with Josh Nelson, where we get real, we get honest, and we get clear about the financial world and your money.
This is Josh Nelson, Certified Financial Planner and founder and CEO of Keystone Financial Services.
Let the financial fun begin!
Recently, I had the pleasure of sitting down with George Jerjian, best-selling author of 10 books, Emmy-winning producer and retirement rebel. It’s an interesting conversation because we start right in on what happened with George’s life when he went through a really interesting period where he was semi-retired and trying to figure out what was next. I think you’re going to love this episode. Enjoy and God bless.
Josh: Welcome, George. You’ve got a really interesting story and I’m excited to hear it. I think our listeners are going to get some real takeaways that they can plan their life and career around. So let’s start with age 52 for you, when you find out that you’ve got six months to live, right?
George: Thank you very much for having me. Yeah, that was January 2007. There was a perfect storm in my life when three unrelated events converged. The first was that we were moving homes, downsizing. Second was my wife gets a call from her brother saying that their father had a stroke, and he died within seven days. So, there was all kinds of stuff that boiled over from that. I come back from the funeral and have a doctor’s appointment for a colonoscopy. It turns out my colon is perfectly fine but they discover a bone tumor the size of an eggplant sitting on my right pelvis.
I did not see that coming. The next day I had an emergency meeting with an oncologist and he tells me that in 98% of cases, a bone tumor is secondary cancer, which means it’s spread around your body. So you’re looking at six months, tops. And for three weeks we’ve gotta do some tests to make sure that everything is as correct as we think it is. So for three weeks I went through all kinds of tests–we’re talking about foot long needles to get a biopsy, and the bone tumor has bone material around it so the needle can’t get through. The doctor had to use a hammer. Anyway, long story short, three weeks later, I go back to see the oncologist and he says, “You are one lucky guy. You belong to the 2% club. Wow.
Your tumor is benign but it’s aggressive, and that’s why it’s grown so large. So it isn’t cancerous, but you’re going to need two operations to remove it and it will probably require a hip replacement, and convalescence for about six months learning to walk again.”
Josh: I’ll stop you for a second here. So you were on an emotional roller coaster right up until that point—what was your mindset? We’re going to talk a lot about mindset today because that’s your line of work. What was your mindset before that appointment and after learning the news?
George: Well, before I went in, I was thinking he’s just going to confirm that it’s over. I was dreading that, but kind of expecting it. So when he said what he said, my death sentence had been commuted.
I was punching the air. But I gotta tell you a weird side note: I thought I’d be afraid of death, but I wasn’t. That’s what I found bizarre. What was really causing me anxiety was that my two teenage daughters wouldn’t have me around. That was killing me, the worry of that. So anyway, two operations later, I’m convalescing and I decided to semi-retire, which I did for 10 years. Because that’s what you do, right?
When you have a rendezvous with death.
Josh: So, you go into semi-retirement and this ended up being a miracle, right, a miracle turn-around in your life where you thought you were done. Were you resigned to that before you learned the news that it was benign?
George: Not so much resigned as in a state of shock. You know, up to the age of 52, I thought I was immortal. I know that sounds stupid. I would go to funerals and feel sad and everything else, but I thought it’s not gonna happen to me.
Josh: Right. I think we all think we’re going to live until we’re really old.
George: Yes, we think “I’ve still got a long way to go.” But once you have a rendezvous with death, once you have a cognizance that death can be any time, you suddenly recognize the value of time.
Josh: Yes, and that’s a pretty unique perspective that most of us don’t have.
George: Because what you don’t know, you don’t know. But what’s interesting is that I was brought up a Catholic and I went to a Benedictine school. One of the things I discovered from the monks that lived there was that in their understanding of life, they were always supposed to have the idea of death at the top of their minds. Now, that’s not a morbid thing. What that does is it to make you realize the value of time—and how you don’t want to throw it away by being essentially stupid and not recognizing that having death at the top of the mind makes death your best friend, because it makes you live life much more fully, yeah? You realize how precious your life is.
Josh: There again is that perspective that very few of us have. So, after that did you get better at saying “no” to things and making different choices as far as how you spent your time?
George: Yes, even down to having a cappuccino. I milked that cappuccino. But you know, everything looks more real. I think it’s because you’ve become aware of things that you take for granted. Because we’re all on this hamster wheel. We’re going to get somewhere, and then we’re going to get happy.
We come to retirement and we think, the only thing to do is to have enough money. We don’t have a retirement plan in terms of our life and asking what are we going to do.
There’s a saying that in war, the first casualty is truth—because of propaganda, right? And in retirement, the first casualty is our identity. Who are we now? If you recognize that who you were is predicated on the work that you did, and that was part of your personality, when that work goes, your identity takes a beating. Your sense of self-worth and self-esteem takes a hit which affects your confidence. Then you don’t want to be going out because you feel ashamed.
Josh: Yeah, you feel that when people ask, “What do you do?” We hear that from thousands and thousands of meetings with clients—financial planning meetings. Of course we talk about the dollars and cents, and the strategies in the market and so forth. But that’s in a lot of ways the easy part, right? Because it’s math, it’s strategy. But when it comes to fulfillment and being happy, that’s where some people really struggle. And I think guys do this more than gals sometimes, not always, but I’ve observed over the years that a lot of guys wrap their identity into their business, their career, whatever it is that they’re doing for work. And then when that’s taken away or they retire, almost always there’s some sense of loss. Personally, I’ve never retired before, so I don’t know this firsthand, but what I hear on good authority from other people is that there’s the sense of loss. Did you experience that when you semi-retired?
George: Oh, gosh, yeah. And not just myself, but I’ve seen it around me. Even with my father, who was a very successful businessman. When he retired, everything started going to pot because his identity was compromised. He didn’t feel any sort of desire to jump out of bed in the morning. He ended up having Alzheimer’s, and I’m convinced it’s all connected to this loss of identity and this sort of downward spiral that people experience. In fact, the more successful you are, the worse it can be, because the fall is precipitous. If you weren’t that successful, it’s still bad but it’s nowhere near the same fall into a sort of tiptoeing to quiet death.
There is a grieving process because there is a death of some sort when your work ends. You can retire from your work. You can’t retire from life. And in the last 50 or 60 years there is longer life. And that has, in my view, affected retirement negatively as a whole; it’s made retirement broken. I think it was Charles Schwab that came out saying you need about two million dollars to have a reasonable nest egg for retirement. And this was pre-COVID and pre-Ukraine and pre all this inflation. The reality is that even two million is not going to get you there. And the median retirement savings for pre-retirees in the United States is less than $135,000. You do not have a long way to go with that.
So, the financial part of the equation is broken and as much as financial advisors will tell you that you need to put more money in–it’s like rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. This ship is going down. Your financial savings will not save you. So, 96% of the population will outlive their savings. That’s the first thing.
The second point is that loss of identity and loss of self-esteem and loss of confidence has an impact on people emotionally and mentally. This impacts our health. So a lot of people commence on this downward spiral because they’re carrying this emotional baggage and they don’t know what to do about it, they don’t know how to resolve it. If they knew, they could turn the ship around, create a new identity and a new purpose in their lives, which may be very different from what it was before retirement.
Josh: Yeah, and you experienced that, right? Because you decided to un-retire. You must have recognized: I’ve got another chapter ahead of me.
George: Well, I realized that on three levels. Financially, not-working was not a solution. Second, I realized that my mind was going gooey because I wasn’t engaged. And I was emotionally in turmoil because I was not socially engaged either.
Josh: A lot of connections come through work.
George: Right. And if you’re asking, “When’s the next golf trip? When’s the next vacation?” you’re always waiting and you’re not living your life. There are several ways to spin this story, but it’s a real story. From adolescence we move into adulthood. There’s a process of going through that. We don’t have the same process moving from adulthood to elderhood. We’ve lost that, and so people think they just walk into retirement and everything is going to be like it was before—and it’s not.
You’ve changed. Everything around you has changed. Even your own family dynamics are changing. I know this from my own father who a couple of years into his retirement at a family gathering said to me, “Am I a ghost?” And I didn’t know what to say to him. How sad, because that’s exactly what he was becoming. The reason was that he would be telling the same story over and over again. And how many times can you hear that? People would avoid him and start talking to somebody else. And this is happening across every single family.
Here’s the thing. It’s about recreating yourself in this next chapter of your life because you’re a work in progress. Nothing in nature retires. It’s either growing or dying. And if you’re not growing and learning and moving forward, you’re dying. So you go through this rite of passage. We have it from adolescence to adulthood. We don’t have it from adulthood to elderhood. It’s a little like the caterpillar to butterfly.
You go through this cocoon when you retire, recreating yourself in a new identity, finding a new purpose, something that gives you joy, that makes you jump out of bed. You’ve got to realize it isn’t going to be a walk in the park. You’ve got to do an awful lot of work, internal work. Don’t look for the answers outside you. You won’t find the answers outside. Don’t look at your friends and family. The answer lies within each of us. It’s inside. We need to do some inner work. This is what the cocoon is.
When the caterpillar goes into the cocoon, it turns into caterpillar juice or caterpillar soup. It’s broken down before it’s reconstituted in the fractals or imaginal discs to become a butterfly. And in a sense, we need to go through this process, this inner work in the cocoon, looking at what has my life been about?
I recommend doing an audit on your life, which is what I did. I went on a 30-day silent retreat.
Josh: Wow, where did you go, may I ask? There aren’t many places you can be quiet on this planet anymore.
George: In the US there are quite a few places that do this. I went to a place up in North Wales in the UK. Huge mountains, lots of sheep, very few people, great place. And 30 days of silence is where you switch off all that white noise. Everything else that people say outside is removed. You’re just focusing on you. I did an audit on my life, going through to make some sense out of my life, where I’d been up to now and what is it I wanted to do. But before you can go into what you want to do, you gotta look back on your life and see the thread to see where there was a continuum of things that you love to do.
One of the exercises was to look at the homes you’ve lived in throughout your life and what were the good things that happened to you, and the not-so-good things. I wrote all this down in a notebook.
You have all the time in the world now, right? This is where you’re investing in your future. You’re investing in you, because if you don’t invest in yourself, why should anybody else? So I invested in myself. I spent the time.
I looked at the stories and discovered that none of the opportunities would have come to me in life without a preceding crises. It may sound obvious after I’ve said it, but I wasn’t aware of that, so for me it was recognizing that crises are blessings in disguise. They break us open, and light gets in.
Josh: It’s hard to believe in the moment when you’re having a crisis, but yes, looking back, I absolutely can say that for my life as well.
George: Well, exactly. And I think it’s really helpful for people, which is why in my course, the first exercise is doing an audit on your life. Look back through the threads. The answers lie there. If you dig deep, you can find it. It’s in everyone’s life. It’s there; you just have to do the work. You can’t expect somebody else to do it for you.
Josh: You’re an author of 10 books, so let’s talk about your most recent book, Dare To Discover Your Purpose. I know we’ve probably touched on some of this, but what is it that people would learn from that book?
George: Dare To Discover Your Purpose is the second book in this. The first was called Spirit Of Gratitude, Crises Or Opportunities, which was about my life story but also the lessons I learned through the process. Dare To Discover came on the back of the previous book. I created my program from my own experience and then I wrote the book.
The first thing you need is courage because you need courage to get un-retired. People spend their lives saving money with this idea in their heads, an idea that is an illusion created for us. The advertising world has given us this idea that retirement is three decades worth of vacation, right? Playing golf, playing on the beach, sipping martinis, having a good time with friends. Guys, let me pop that illusion. That’s a vacation. That is not retirement.
So what I’ve done is created D.A.R.E., because you need courage to UNretire. Because if all your friends are retired and they’re not doing anything particularly different, being the first mover, the prime mover takes a lot of guts. Someone needs to do it, and then your friends will follow if they’re smart. So, you need to un-retire, and you need courage to do that because you’re going against the grain. It’s not normal. It’s not with the way we’ve been programmed.
Our parents didn’t have 30 years after retiring. We do, and we may have more. That’s likely for those of us who are taking care of ourselves. That’s part of growth, to take care of our bodies, not just our minds.
So the D.A.R.E method is also an acronym for Discover, Assimilate, Rewire, Expand.
We’ll start with D for Discover. It’s about discovering what retirement is and what it is not. You ask anybody what retirement is to them. They’ll give you their own completely different version. Some may be similar to others, but everybody’s got their own idea of what retirement is. What I choose to focus on are what’s non-negotiable like how 96% of the population will outlive their savings. It’s a numbers game. You can debate it. You can say it’s 93% or 97%, but those are numbers you can’t argue with.
If our minds are not occupied in doing something constructive, our minds will create worries and concerns. I mean, 23,000 people did my survey, and 50% of them said their single biggest challenge in retirement was health. And I can bet your bottom dollar that’s because they’ve got all the time in the world now to worry about their health. If they were busy being engaged in doing what they love to do, they wouldn’t have time to think about, “Oh, I’m not feeling well.” That feeling wouldn’t even exist.
Now, obviously a lot of people have chronic illnesses. There’s nothing you can do about that, but I’m talking about for a large percentage of people, the illnesses are there because they’ve got plenty of time to worry about things. If they were engaged, then not only would they not worry about their health, but also they wouldn’t worry about money because they’re likely to get paid for what they’re doing. Not everybody goes and does volunteer work, although that is commendable and you should do it on top of the other things you’re doing. But doing only volunteer work and golf—that is not a curriculum for later life.
Moving along, the A in D.A.R.E stands for Assimilate. Assimilate new information about how our minds work. 1% of our mind is the conscious mind. It’s the one that we’re all aware of, and it’s the one that our entire educational system, all the way up to the Ivy leagues, is predicated on. The part of our mind that very few people touch is the 99%, which is an ocean—our subconscious. If you have any idea of how to navigate that 99% for one purpose only—to obliterate any programs that are no longer working for you. For example, the program that says, “I’m too old to start again.” Try saying, “I can learn again, and I want to learn. I want to enjoy learning.” See how that’s going to change your life and your perspective?
And this is part of assimilating new information about the mind, how you can re-record over this old inner dialogue that you have which is sabotaging your progress. It’s an old paradigm. It’s probably not even yours. You had somebody else saying it and you picked it up.
Josh: Yeah, that’s what marketing is all about, right? They’re trying to get us to believe a story and act on it.
George: Exactly. I think it was Henry Ford who said thinking is the hardest thing to do, and that’s why so few people engage in it. What I’m saying is that we’ve got to start thinking for ourselves. We are the captain of our soul. We’re the captain of our ship. We can direct ourselves to go where nobody would tell us to go, and it’s about understanding how the mind works. So, that’s what A for Assimilate means.
The R in D.A.R.E stands for rewire. It’s about rewiring those mental programs that are sabotaging us so that we can align with our conscious mind and go in the direction we want to go.
And E is Expand. Why is expansion so important? Because once you rewire your mind, your perception is now different. I think it was Wayne Dyer who said, “If you change the way you see things, what you see changes.” For example, you may think that with your skill set, there really isn’t an awful lot of work available to you. If you’re looking at a mountain and that’s all you see in front of you, I’m asking you to take 10 degrees or 100 paces to the right. Suddenly you see the side of the mountain. You see a whole village. That changes the whole dynamic. You can see people there, a community. There are possibilities that you could not have seen if you stayed where you were. That’s quantum thinking.
In the traditional retirement that we’ve got, most people retire and the income spigot shuts off. Now they’ve just got this amount, and they’ve got to be careful. Notice what happens to the mind. The sandbox gets smaller and smaller and smaller.
Josh: Limits their possibilities.
George: Exactly. And, hey, are you concerned about that inner dialogue corresponding to your sandbox getting smaller and smaller and you’ve still got another 30 years? How in God’s name are you gonna navigate this transition? You need to un-retire and drop retirement out of your lexicon. Create something new. Create a new identity for yourself. You need to revisit some of the earlier chapters in your life where you probably dropped things that you loved to do because you had to put food on the table. You need to revisit that because that might give you joy.
Then you can attach the skill sets you have and maybe even go back to school and learn again. There’s no shame in that. That’s growing, and if any of your friends think you’re barmy or stupid for doing that, let me tell you, in five years’ time, you’ll be looking back and they’re the ones who are going to look stupid.
Josh: I agree. And I can tell you from a practical standpoint, I work with a lot of clients and have for 23 years. I’ve had thousands and thousands of interactions, and the people that seem to retire successfully are not the ones that have the most money—they’re the people that are still learning. They’re growing, they’re active, they’re moving their bodies, they’re moving their minds. Our oldest client is 99 years old. He’s still doing fine. He doesn’t need assistance to walk. He’s not in a nursing home or anything like that. His wife has passed away now, but I asked the two of them several years ago, “How is it that you’re doing so well at this age? So many people younger than you either don’t make it or their minds aren’t too sharp, that sort of thing; what’s the secret to your success?” And they said, “Some people just decide to retire or to give up early; they just decide to be done. They stop learning and growing and moving. So don’t give up. It’s not time to give up just because you’re not working.”
George: Yeah I agree. It’s about learning and growing, continuing to learn and grow. That’s the secret. People retiring have this idea that they can’t learn anything new anymore; it’s over. But it’s not over yet. So, that’s the D.A.R.E method that I talk about. I think of Clint Eastwood in that movie called The Mule. He’s asked this question about retirement. He says, “Don’t let the old man in.” We love that.
Josh: Yeah, that’s a great line. So, you’ve got your books, but also your courses are a huge part of your fulfillment now, and how you’re helping other people. You’ve got a couple of different options on those.
George: Yeah, I have two courses. One is pre-recorded so it’s more affordable. There are exercises and videos for each module. The videos explain the exercises so that the client understands what’s going on, but it’s all pre-recorded. You’ve got to put your mind to it and do it. I also have a live course where there’s engagement. It’s exactly the same course but clients are engaging with me and with each other. It’s also about noticing other people’s journeys and other people’s stories. Everyone’s got a story, everybody’s got a journey. And you start to see a thread—that this isn’t just me, this isn’t just my challenge; everybody else is also going through this chrysalis, this cocoon, this transformation. That’s the advantage of the live one. The pre-recorded course is $195, the live one is $1950.
Josh: OK. And there’s a course starting soon, right? A new eight-week course starts up and that might be the last one of 2022, correct?
George: That’s right.
Josh: In terms of the coaching element, I completely agree with you that there’s some magic that happens when you go to conferences and you’re in trainings with people. So much of what we learn is from other people and their journeys, their stories, so that’s great. And the best way to find those courses is through your website. www.georgejerjian.com . Your book is there but it’s also on Amazon, right? Dare To Discover Your Purpose. And the prequel to that was Spirit of Gratitude, Crises or Opportunities. You’ve given a great illustration of how people can refine their purpose and move forward to the next chapter. It can be exciting but also a little scary?
George: Yeah, it’s scary, but what’s scarier is staying stuck where you are. That’s even scarier, and it gets worse and worse as you get older because it doesn’t get better. If you change direction now, there is some work to be done, but you’re on the mend. You’re putting yourself in the right place to continue growing and you’ve got another 25 to 30 years to go. Now, of course, we all know that maybe you and I or people listening might not make it till the end of the day today. That’s the paradox, but statistically, the odds are that we will live for another 25 to 30 years after what society defines as retirement age.
And we need to be primed to not just survive, but to thrive. We deserve to thrive. We’re not guaranteed eternal life here, but at least we can thrive into old age and go out with a bang instead of a whimper.
Josh: And kind of on the opposite end of the spectrum, we have younger listeners too that might be wondering, gosh, how does this apply to me? So, what advice would you give to, say, a smart, driven college student that’s about ready to enter the real world out there? What advice would you give them, and what advice should they ignore?
George: I’d give them two pieces of advice. I’d say make each day count because you might not grow old. That’s the reality. None of us know how many days we have in our lives. And run after the buck, make some money, yes, but try to enjoy each day, because you just don’t know if you’re gonna have more. So that’s the first point.
The second point is: recognize that when people talk about retirement, sure, put some money aside for savings, but recognize that that’s not gonna be enough to sustain you when you officially retire at 65. I would say to you, figure on retiring at the age of 90. I know it’s crazy.
Josh: Hey, Warren Buffett is 92, and his partner Charlie Munger is 98. They’re still going. They’re still not retired.
George: They’re still going. Why? Because they’re still having fun.
Josh: They are absolutely. Buffett says he tap dances to work every day.
George: Well, he’s a prime example. No rich person retires willingly. Because they know that retirement is not a vacation. They’ve taken all the vacation in their life they ever wanted, and they know beyond a certain point you get bored, you get fatigued, and then this boredom sets in and it starts to eat away at you like termites in the house. You really need something you love to do. That’s the best retirement you could ever hope for—doing something you love to do.
Josh: Yeah, and they’re learning and growing while doing it. And you can do that lots of different ways, right? It may not be a full-time job anymore or even be in a business that somebody built up. But there are lots of opportunities, as you have illustrated, another chapter and other exciting things that you get to work on and be excited about.
George: And everyone has the answer within. Don’t look for the answers outside you. Don’t look what other people are doing because on your deathbed, what you don’t want is any feelings of regret over the things you didn’t do that you should have done because you listened to other people.
Josh: Well said. And you’re a living illustration of what you teach and are living a beautiful life and helping others, right? You’re at that point in your life where you’re able to pass on these lessons to others and help them stand on your shoulders.
George: Totally. I love what I do. I love helping people. When I see people un-retire and create something to have a fulfilled life, I feel I’ve done something very good.
Josh: This has been a great conversation, and I know our listeners are going to get a takeaway. It’ll be some action items and things to think about in their own right and taking that time to apply what that means to them. And yeah, you can be found at www.georgejerjian.com and thank you so much for your time.
George: Josh, thank you for having me. It’s been a pleasure.
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