Saturday, May 24, 2008

The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho

I picked up this book after reading the following in the Jan/Feb 2008 issue of Pink Magazine:

When asked what book IKEA North American President Pernille Spiers-Lopez would recommend to the 750 woman attending the latest Pink conference, she suggested not a business title but The Alchemist. It is an allegorical novel about a shepherd who leaves the world he knows for the great unknown in search of a promised treasure - and his own personal legend.Giving readers a New Year’s wish, Pink's editor Cynthia Good offers – that 2008 serves up a new opportunity to take chances, to transcend barriers and mistakes, and, as Coelho writes, to “remember that wherever your heart is, there you will find your treasure.”

Always looking for inspiration to keep me on the path towards living my best life, I couldn't ignore a recommendation like this; I had to read this book. Unfortunately, although I enjoyed the fable, the book did not live up to my expectations. For me the tale was too simplistic to be inspiring, I did not find it to be amazing or life changing. I read this book earlier in the year, but I as did Florinda, I found it to be a difficult book to review. I would rate it 2.5/5.

What I did find inspiring, however, was Coelho’s biography written inside the back cover. Paul was born in Brazil in 1947 the son of an engineer and a home worker. He dreamed of an artistic career which was frowned upon by his middle-class household. In the austere surroundings of a strict Jesuit school, Paulo discovered his true vocation to be a writer. Paulo’s parents however had different plans for him. When their attempts to suppress his devotion to literature failed, they took it as a sign of mental illness. When Paulo was 17, his father had him committed to a mental institution twice, where he endured electroconvulsive “therapy.” His parents brought him back there once more after he became involved with a theater group and started to work as a journalist.

Now that is inspiring! Talk about having to face adversity; imagine being committed to a mental institution for following your dreams. And I thought I had it rough when at 17 my father refused to support my decision to go to college.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Do you review your Social Security Statement?

What is a Social Security Statement?
The Social Security Statement is a tool designed to help you plan for your financial future. It provides an estimate of the social security benefits you will receive under current law at age 62, your full retirement age, and at age 70. It also lists estimated benefits if you were to become disabled, family survivorship benefits and whether or not you are Medicare eligible. The Statement briefly explains what it takes to become eligible for benefits. Basically, you must work for ten years to earn retirement benefits, and you must work at least five of the last ten years to claim disability benefits. The statement is updated each year to reflect your latest report of earnings. When you get your statement, you should verify that your earnings record is correct for previous years.

When will I receive my Social Security Statement?
By law, social security statements are mailed out annually. You should automatically receive a statement if you have a Social Security Number, are age 25 or older, have any job earnings on record and are not already receiving benefits (including Medicare). You should receive your statement a couple of months before your birthday.

Why is it important to review your statement?
This is important because your earnings record is what the government bases your benefits on (for retirement, disability, Medicare, etc.) Verifying your earnings record is also important because if the numbers are off (especially if they are off dramatically) it could be an indicator of identity theft or fraud.

What if you didn’t receive a statement?
You can request a statement at any time; information on how to do so can be found on the SSA website.

What if you find an error?
If you discover an error in any of the earnings Social Security has listed other that last year, call Social Security's helpline at 800-772-1213, Monday through Friday, from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Have your W-2's or tax return for the incorrect years available.

Why am I writing about this?
Because the earnings record on my latest SSA statement was incorrect as were the earnings record of every employee at my company who had received their statement this year. My earnings statement had zero earnings recorded for 2006 while my earnings for 2007 were listed correctly. 2006 was the year my company transferred our payroll processing to an outside provider, ADP. This switch, for year-end tax filing purposes, was a hellish nightmare (ADP issued our company's W-2's eleven times before they got them right). Our accounting department is still working through the tax implications of this fiasco.

Upon noticing this error, I called the SSA hotline on my own behalf and discovered not only my 2006 wages, but the 2006 wages for every employee in our company was being held in suspense. I then asked my boss if his statement had been correct; his birthday was earlier this year. He didn't know as he had shoved his unopened statement into a file. This led me to believe our employees are not reviewing their SSA statements. It turned out my boss's 2006 wages were also listed as zero, while his 2007 wages were correct. Come on people you need to review these statements. This is your money.

On a positive note, it looks like this will be an easy fix. I sent a copy of my W-2 for 2006 to our local SSA office. On the company's behalf, per SSA instructions, I had the entire correct 2006 wage file resent to SSA.

Saturday, May 03, 2008

Managing the Second Half of Your Life

Have you thought about what you are going to do with the second half of your life? One of my co-workers retires in 27 days. When asked what she plans to do with the rest of her life, she didn’t have a clue, other than relax and have fun.

This conversation comes shortly after I had the opportunity to talk to two of our former employees. Both retired at age 62, both are comfortable financially.

Employee A worked as our company’s sales manager for 30 years. Upon retiring, he sold his home and moved to Northern Wisconsin where he and his wife run a seasonal souvenir shop. When asked how he was enjoying retirement, he emphatically stated, “I hate it." He misses the camaraderie of the office; his customers and the thrill of getting the deal. He manages to keep busy, but feels his life has no meaning. He inquired about our business; upon hearing we had just snagged an incredible deal, he was visibly upset. He had not even heard of our current #1 customer.

Employee B worked in our industry 30 years, 15 of them as Operations Manager for our company. He too sold his home and purchased a small fixer upper in Michigan (a lower tax state than Wisconsin). When asked how he is enjoying retirement, he enthusiastically replied “I love it.” He is busy working on his home; is active in his community (he was here as well). He and his wife own a motor home and are planning on traveling south this summer. He also volunteers at our state tech schools where he recruits high school students into the trades. This was an activity he performed while working with our company; enjoying it so much he agreed to continue after retirement. He is also planning on attending a company camping trip Memorial Day weekend.

Many of us long for the day when we can do whatever we want whenever we want. We put a lot of time and effort into calculating how much money we will need when we retire, but don’t put equal preparation into planning what we will actually do; other than travel, visit the grand kids, and maybe do a little volunteer work. Is that enough?

In the Harvard Business Review article, Managing Oneself, Peter R. Drucker discusses the importance of knowing yourself and offers valuable advice for managing the second half of your life: "The one prerequisite for managing the second half of your life: You must begin long before you enter it." Another, noteworthy point; "If one does not begin to volunteer before one is 40 or so, one will not volunteer once past 60."

In the above scenarios, employee B adequately planned for the second half of his life and is happy in his retirement. He continues to perform the aspect of his job he enjoyed the most on a volunteer basis. He is in contact with former co-workers, even attending work social events. Employee A has virtually cut himself off from all contact with former co-workers. He started a new business he does not enjoy. He did not adequately plan for his retirement never realizing how much he would miss sales. If planned appropriately, he could easily have taught sales techniques on a part time basis to entry level salespersons in our industry.

Do yourself a favor begin managing the second half of your life long before you enter it?