Sheryl Smokin interview with Mike Drak on Victory Lap Retirement
By Sheryl Smolkin
Today I’m interviewing Michael Drak for savewithspp.com. He is an author, blogger and speaker based in Toronto and co-author of Victory Lap Retirement with Financial Independence Hub CFO Jonathan Chevreau. Thank you for joining me today, Michael.
Mike: Thank you Sheryl.
Q: First of all tell me, what made you decide to write this book?
A: The stress at work was affecting my health, and I was reminded of this each morning as I took my blood pressure pill. I began to look into the possibility of retiring and got my hands on every retirement book that I could. I found out that most of them were just filled with numbers and rules of thumb about how much money I would need in order to retire. None of them really told me anything about what I might actually do in retirement. I think Victory Lap Retirement fills that gap.
Q: What exactly does the phrase “Victory Lap Retirement” mean to you? How does it differ from full stop retirement?
A: To me Victory Lap Retirement means freedom. It’s freedom to do what I want to do when I want to do it. In contrast, full stop retirement means pulling back — disengaging, sitting on the sidelines and becoming a spectator. It wouldn’t work for me at this point in my life because I still have a lot of game left in me.
Q: Is Victory Lap Retirement essentially a synonym for an encore career or an encore job?
A: No, not really, because Victory Lap Retirement is all about lifestyle design. The goal is to maximize the quality of your remaining years by creating a low stress, fulfilling lifestyle based on your own unique needs and values. An encore career is really work either paid or unpaid. But it can be an important component of the victory lap lifestyle. Part of my own victory lap contains a component of paid work, which I view as my fun money to fund new experiences for me and my family.
Q: Your coauthor Jonathan Chevreau coined the expression “findependence,” which is a mash up of the word “financial” and “independence.” Why is findependence the cornerstone and prerequisite to victory lap retirement?
A: Having financial freedom is what allows you work and live on your own terms. In other words, you can do what you want to do with your time and energy, not what someone else on whom you are financially dependent says you have to do. In short, “findependence” equals personal freedom and freedom is what life is all about in the end.
Q: How can people calculate how much they’ll need to be findependent and then reach that objective?
A: Findependence is best described on a cash flow basis. This is the way I was trained to think as a banker. It’s the point where your basic non-discretionary living expenses are covered by your passive non-work income. This is the amount of annual cash flow you need to keep a roof over your head, put food on the table and pay for the basic necessities such as heating, electricity, property taxes, etcetera.. Any additional non-discretionary expenses will be covered by the active work income that you generate during your victory lap, which we view as your fun money.
Q: As you’ve noted already, the decision to retire is not simply a financial one. In your book you counsel readers to beware of “sudden retirement syndrome.” What do you mean by this expression, and how can prospective retirees avoid it?
A: I really believe that they should put a label on retirement just like they do on cigarette packaging. Something like “Retirement could be dangerous for your health. Retire at your own risk.” Sudden retirement syndrome (not actually a medical condition) is a very dangerous thing. It’s the shock of withdrawal that occurs when a person suddenly ends their career. Not everyone goes through it, but I went through it, my father suffered from it, and I had a good friend die because of it. Most people, unfortunately can’t relate to what you’re going through. They really can’t understand why you’re unhappy, especially when you don’t have to go to work anymore.
In my mind, it’s important to have a retirement mentor in your corner to help get you through this period to ensure that you do not do some dumb things like I did. I really believe that investment advisors should expand their offerings to include this service instead of just focusing on the investment piece. In my opinion, assuming you can just fall into retirement and everything will be okay is a disaster waiting to happen.
Q: How far in advance should victor lappers plan their exit from their current jobs or careers?
A: I’m teaching my kids that they should start aiming financial independence as soon as they start working. Victory Lap planning is best done probably a few years before achieving financial independence. It’s always important to have an escape plan in place in case of emergency because these days with layoffs and mergers, you really never know what may happen. It really helps to know where you want to go in life and how you plan on getting there.
Q: How important is a social network to a successful victory lap?
A: To maximize happiness in retirement a lot of people are talking and writing books about it these days. Everyone says it’s really important to socialize with family and friends and continuing to work gives you an opportunity to surround yourself with fun, interesting people. Some people, for whatever reason tend to isolate themselves in retirement. They turn sour about life and that’s when bad things usually start to happen for them. Your social network will also provide emotional support and guidance as you work your way into your victory lap.
Q: The three stages of retirement have been described as go go, go slow, and no go. In that context, how long do you think your victory lap might last?
A: I love those descriptions of the stages and I totally agree with them. If things go according to my plan my victory lap will last into the go slow stage. This will be when I’m no longer capable of doing everything that I used to and it’s probably at this point that I would consider moving into a retirement home and letting others take care of me.
Q: Have you ever regretted your decision to leave the corporate world and embark on this new journey?
A: The only thing I really regret is that I didn’t learn about the concept of financial independence earlier in life. I really don’t understand why they don’t teach financial independence in school, and why the financial services industry doesn’t talk about it is puzzling. If I had known about financial independence I would have reached findependence that much earlier and have left my high-stress corporate job much sooner than I did. Life now is so much better on this side of the fence. It’s unbelievable.
Q: If readers are considering embarking on a Victory Lap Retirement but are afraid to cut the ties to their former life, what advice do you have for them?
A: I acknowledge it’s hard to leave a well paying job late in your career. The key is, if you don’t like your job, it might be better health-wise and also result in increased happiness if you make the change. I came to that conclusion for myself after reading Ernie Zelinski’s book How to Retire Happy, Wild, and Free. If on the other hand, you like what you’re doing, why would you ever retire? People have to get over the fear of taking a calculated risk and making a change for the better.
Q: That’s great. Thank you very much for chatting with me today, Michael.
A: My pleasure, Sheryl.
Michael Drak can be reached at email@example.com. Victory Lap Retirement is now available for orders online. It can also be purchased for Kindle or Kobo. The paperback edition is available in bookstores, and from either Amazon or Chapters.
This is an edited transcript of a telephone interview conducted in October 2016.