The 4 Biggest Lessons from the Past 365 Days

Dear Rich Lifer,

In the past year, America has dealt with a pandemic, an economic meltdown and a tumultuous political transition. 

These crises have challenged us in ways few have been challenged in their lifetimes. 

It has taken a toll on our emotions and our energy for over 365 days. 

Along with these crises — and because of them — we have also grappled with issues of racial disparity and equity. 

It’s an understatement to say we have been through a lot as a nation, but in the spirit of the spring season and the light we’re finally seeing at the end of the pandemic tunnel, we think it’s time to take a long, deep breath and assess how far we have come and what we have learned. 

Today we will share what various experts have learned from the past year from the personal, professional, financial, and scientific. 

Hopefully, we can continue to learn from these lessons and continue to grow, recover and move forward as individuals and as a nation. 

The Importance of Family 

Marc Freedman, CEO and president of Encore.org, stated, “Beneath the warts and complexities of all that went wrong, we rediscovered the interdependence of generations and how much we need each other.” 

Because of the pandemic, a huge number of adult kids moved back in with their parents. Last summer, a Pew Research Center survey found that 52 percent of the American population between ages 18 and 29 were living with parents — the largest figure since the Great Depression.  

We have also seen a tremendous drive to find better care for the elderly members of our families, removing them from nursing homes and into family care. This has highlighted the need for expanded resources like Medicaid programs to pay family caregivers, such as an adult child, or initiatives like the Program of All-Inclusive Care for the Elderly. 

Nancy LeaMond, AARP’s chief advocacy and engagement officer, commented, “A positive piece this year has been the pause to reflect on how we can help people stay in their homes as they age, which is what everyone wants.” 

Additionally, kids and elderly moving home allowed for more family bonding as members of multiple generations found themselves living under the same roof for possibly the first time.

Being “stuck” at home also helped highlight the importance of your spouse or partner during times of difficulty. Social psychologist Richard Slatcher noted, “The ones who’ve done exceptionally well are couples in long-term relationships who felt renewed intimacy and reconnection to each other.” 

Those of us who were not able to quarantine with family have also learned how to stay connected and spread love from afar. You can read to your granddaughter on FaceTime, you can send your adult children handwritten letters, you can embrace virtual game nights! 

Ultimately, we have learned how to be there for our families (given or chosen) regardless of the distance (or the proximity) and have strengthened generational bonds. 

Scientific Discovery Is Thriving 

John Cooke, M.D., medical director of the RNA Therapeutics Program at Houston Methodist Hospital’s DeBakey Heart and Vascular Center, notes, “One of the biggest lessons we’ve learned from COVID is that the scientific community working together can do some pretty amazing things.”

This couldn’t be more true! We’ve seen a life-saving coronavirus vaccine developed in 11 months, potentially changing the way drugs are developed forever! 

The development of the Covid-19 vaccine was supported by over a decade of research into mRNA vaccines, which teach human cells how to make a protein that triggers a specific immune response. 

The breakthroughs we have seen this year could lead to even more vaccines, such as a better flu vaccine and vaccines for rabies, Zika virus, and HIV. Future mRNA therapies could help regenerate muscle in failing hearts and target the unique genetics of individual cancers with personalized cancer vaccines. 

Vaccinating people for coronavirus is likely just the first of many groundbreaking ways mRNA vaccines will change how we treat and even cure many diseases and conditions. 

Retirement Savings Are Crucial 

Mark Iwry, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and former senior adviser to the U.S. secretary of the Treasury, warns, “The need to augment our retirement savings system to help people put away emergency savings is crucial.” 

A Federal Reserve report unveiled that before the pandemic, nearly 4 in 10 households did not have cash on hand to cover an unexpected $400 emergency. Then the pandemic hit, and suddenly millions of people were caught off guard without emergency savings while dealing with layoffs, reduced hours and lower pay. 

The economic fallout was obviously devastating, but it has taught Americans the importance of saving. And we have learned fast; right now, the average savings rate (the average percentage of people’s income left over after taxes and personal spending) is 13.7%. 

As we continue forward economically, we now know how important it is to cultivate both a short-term and long-term savings account. Mr. Iwry suggests a savings account funded by payroll deductions. That way even if you don’t have a ton to put aside, “a little is put away for you each pay period, [so] you don’t feel the pinch.”

Work Is Anywhere

Carol Fishman Cohen, cofounder of iRelaunch, which works with employers to create mid-career return-to-work programs for older workers, commented, “One of the major impacts of the new working-from-home focus is that more jobs are becoming non-location-specific.” 

Most of us have been working from home for the past year, so this probably is old news, but it also shines a light on what could be a prevailing trend. 

We have learned we can be just as productive at home as we are in an office thanks to video-conferencing and other technologies. Many companies like Twitter and REI are shifting toward a more permanent work-from-home environment. 

If you are lucky enough to work a remote job, you can take advantage economically by moving to a more affordable area or buying your “forever home” while continuing to work and save instead of retiring sooner. You can boost your quality of life by cutting out commutes and having more time at home with family. 

You can also pat yourself on the back for adapting to a completely new work environment over the past year. It’s not easy creating boundaries for yourself when working from home, and learning new technologies to stay connected was a tall order, particularly for older workers. 

These few big lessons only scratch the surface of what this year has taught us. 

We encourage you to take the time today to reflect on your own journey over the past year. We’ve come a long way, and we should celebrate each other for our strength, growth, and resilience. 

To a richer life,

The Rich Life Roadmap Team

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