At my daughter’s school, her art teacher starts every year with a self-portrait. It’s been a wonderful thing to see how the kids draw themselves at every age—not just because their art skills improve every year, but because the detail and their perception of themselves does, as well. The attention to detail of the hair color and texture, the point of making
sure they get the “right” eye color, for example. Or, in my daughter’s case, of making sure her
pictures have the right jewelry added, her favorite clothing or a meaningful background. I enjoy
finding my daughter’s artwork among the others in her class because I know she has taken
time to imagine how she wants herself to look in a portrait, not just her face, but the overall
setting of the picture, too.
Whether we put them down on paper or not, we are constantly creating our own mental
self-portraits. Growing up, we are called on to imagine ourselves in environments before we
get there. When picking out a college, it’s trying to figure out where you fit—can you afford
it, does it have the major you want, is the milieu the right one for you to learn (and have fun)?
When interviewing for a job, you try to picture yourself at the company, determining whether
the culture of the workplace will allow you to succeed. In your personal life, evaluating relationships is about whether being part of a couple with another person will create the right environment for you to have a happy and healthy life.
Planning ahead by imagining yourself in a foreign setting is nothing new—it happens
at all life stages. Which is why we should not be surprised to see that research is increasingly
examining whether success in saving for retirement can be improved by properly envisioning
one’s retirement life. It also explains why some plan providers are doing away with the pictures
of the couple sitting on the beach or out on a boat—how many of your participants have such
plans in their retirement picture?
At our recent PLANSPONSOR National Conference, at its booth in the exhibit hall one of
our conference sponsors had an iPad with an app that took your picture, then projected what
you’d look like decades later. In my opinion, mine wasn’t pretty—and I deleted it about as
quickly as I could—but even in those few seconds of seeing that image, it was hard not to think
about what or where I’d be when I—gasp—looked like that and what it would take to get there.
Whether you use a photograph to age them or not, helping your employees think about
what they want out of retirement is a positive step. We regularly report surveys that show the
whole concept of retirement is changing—respondents no longer say it’s that old notion of
never working again. For many people, retirement means a time to move into a new phase of
life, perhaps one where they will work part-time, or in a different industry, or as an entrepreneur. Those surveyed often say their “retirement” is more about a time of financial freedom.
These are great tidbits to use in communication campaigns, as a starting point. By getting
employees to take those thoughts a step further, you can encourage them to think about their
retirement environment and—even if it’s baby steps only—you can help them consider their
needs, which can lead them to rethink their savings or plan new participation decisions.
Encouraging people to think about what their retirement story will be, as a part of their life
story, can be helpful and may be a worthwhile exercise in trying to engage participants in their
need to save.
at all life
Alison Cooke Mintzer, Editor-in-Chief