The Herd Mentality and Retirement – How to Free Yourself and Others
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In my last piece, I wrote about my apparent decision that perhaps early retirement just isn’t for me. I outlined several pros and cons of early retirement, all of which I had previously read about or otherwise heard expressed.
Confession time: I was subtly and intentionally trying to stir the pot.
The result? It worked. My faux-criticism of early retirement worked just well enough to spark some lively discussion.
For reference sake, here are the pros and cons I listed.
*Opportunity to spend increased time with family and friends
*Freedom to travel
*Reduced stress and improved health
*More time to pursue other interests or even a new career
*Possible negative impact upon health (possible loss of health benefits, decreased physical activity)
*Possible boredom and/or depression
*Increased stress (more time to worry; constant fear that your nest egg may be insufficient)
*Limitations due to fixed income
For the record, I don’t necessarily buy into the above cons. They are possible, but as Physician On Fire stated, “if you’re more stressed and less active when retired, resulting in poorer physical and mental health, you’re doing it wrong.”
So why was I intentionally-deceptive?
Testing the Herd
While I don’t mind readers agreeing with me based upon the merits of my arguments, I do have a problem with those who mindlessly agree with others. To the credit of those who left responses in the comments, you all got pretty critical with my shallow analysis. Some of you were kind, even though I could sense that you really wanted to sock it to me. Some of you downright took me to the cleaners, which I fully deserved!
I’ve noticed more and more that this kind of honest dialogue is rare. Heck, if the two top candidates to become the next leader of the free world cannot even participate in a simple debate without displaying an egregious lack of manners and an overall inability to communicate, how can we expect people to be candid yet respectful in a blog or other forum? And how can we expect people to disagree with one another in person and still continue the conversation?
These are tough questions to navigate, so many just don’t bother to try. We pat each other on the back despite the presence of disagreement, stand pat as others share misinformed or half-baked ideas, and keep our mouths shut.
We might not possess a herd mentality ourselves, but we often do very little to discourage its advancement among our friends and loved ones. Think about it. How many of us have said nothing when a friend or family member spoke of his latest voluntary investment in “can’t miss” company stock, the “stable return” of her annuity, or the “deal” he received on a whole life insurance policy?
I know I am often far too nice, and you are, too, in all likelihood.
Understanding the Herd Mentality
The act of discouraging the herd mentality on retirement begins with understanding. If we can grasp the reasons for the perpetuation of this mentality, we may be better equipped to combat against it.
At its heart, the herd mentality may be traced to man’s desire for conformity. Put another way, being different is very often undesirable. Even a majority of the weirdo middle school kids with dreadlocks and trench coats don’t like being different, if they’re being honest. So we often find ourselves following along with others in group-think as a means of gaining a sense of belonging and becoming part of a group.
Similarly, the heard mentality is rooted in the fear of being wrong. Even if we feel we are more likely to be correct in taking a specific course of action, nagging fear may drive us to choose the opposite course out of fear that we could end up isolated by our own wrong doing. After all, it is better to be wrong and with others than to be correct and alone, no?
Intellectually, many of us may wish to shed these notions, yet our behaviors and actions say otherwise.
Discouraging the Herd Mentality
So how exactly can we help others overcome the tendency to conform, fear mistakes, and perpetuate a herd mentality? No two people are alike, but the following guidelines will prove to be helpful in most situations and with most people.
1. Listen more than you speak
When helping another person by seeking to change their opinion or behavior, it is most important to fully understand their position. This understanding can only be achieved through careful listening.
Billionaire Richard Branson articulated the importance of listening very well in sharing a lesson learned from his father:
When I grew up our house was always a hive of activity, with Mum dreaming up new entrepreneurial schemes left, right and centre, and me and my sisters running wild. You were as likely to find me helping Mum with a new project as outside climbing a tree. Amidst all the fun and chaos, Dad was always a supportive, calming influence on us all. He wasn’t quiet, but he was not often as talkative as the rest of us. It made for a wonderful balance, and we always knew we could rely on him no matter what.
Within this discreet support lay one of his best and most simple pieces of advice for me: listen more than you talk. Nobody learned anything by hearing themselves speak. Wherever I go, I try to spend as much time as possible listening to the people I meet. I am fortunate to travel widely and come across fascinating characters from all walks of life. While I am always happy to share my own experiences with them, it would be foolish if I didn’t listen back.
2. Ask questions with care and humility
Aside from listening, it is equally important to engage with others by asking thoughtful questions and remaining humble. These steps go hand-in-hand, and they are the keys to earning others’ trust.
Remember, most people do not care what you know until they know that you care.
3. Acknowledge your own mistakes and imperfections
In order to continue building a foundation of trust and credibility, seek to admit your own mistakes and imperfections. It is very difficult to shatter the herd mentality if you skip this step.
Yesterday, I was listening to the Dave Ramsey show podcast when Dave took a call from a confused caller. The wife and mother of four shared that she and her husband were considering following the advice of friends and family by moving in with her parents and selling their house to save money. Dave took this caller to task in a manner that made me wince a bit. He was critical of the caller’s lack of planning, overblown spending, and knee-jerk reactions. Dave also pointed out the this woman was attempting to implement a plan which treated only the symptoms of the problem rather than the problem itself.
Naturally, this caller became a bit distressed and defensive. In a moment of swift timing, Dave pointed out that he himself had made “far dumber” mistakes with money than even the mistake that this woman and her husband were about to make. As he outlined several of them in crystal clear detail, he displayed empathy and earned credibility with the caller. Little by little, the caller warmed up to Dave and become more and more interested in what he had to say. By admitting his own mistakes, Dave broke down the herd mentality barrier which had driven this caller.
I apologize for any genuine concern I may have caused over my views on early retirement. Despite my deception, my true vision for early retirement is simple:
I desire to reach financial independence and gain the option to work, if I so choose, for purposes other than monetary rewards.
Despite experiencing some guilt over my slight deception in my previous piece, I am glad that the outcome was as I had expected. Collectively, the tight-nit community listened to my ideas, posed relevant questions and counter-examples, shared personal anecdotes, and tapped into long-established trust and credibility in an attempt to show me the error of my ways.
I am proud to be running with the right herd.
Have you had experience breaking others free from the herd mentality surrounding retirement?