Sunday, July 23, 2006

Feels Like the First Time

Like many of you, my job takes me away from home from time to time. For the most part, these are short jaunts, at least from a time standpoint. These days, it’s not unusual for me to make a cross-country trip – deal with business, and come back – all in the same calendar day. I get to visit some nice places but, frequently, all I actually get to SEE of those places lies between the target venue and the airport.

Over time, like all good “road warriors,” I have learned how to pack, know what size bags work best with the carry-on restrictions, and have invested in a series of portable toiletries that never have to leave my travel bags. When lugging my laptop and assorted work materials was beginning to take its toll on my back, I even bought a special backpack. I can almost get up the morning of my departure and pack with my eyes shut (in fact, I’m sure that I did for some of those early flights). Oh, and I NEVER check bags.

Then, last week, I did something I have seldom been able to do – I managed to couple a business trip to the West Coast with a family vacation. Now, bearing in mind that nearly all of our family trips have been in ground vehicles, all of a sudden I found myself needing to worry about the number of carry-ons, the process of checking bags for a family of five, and the need to pack everything I would need for three days of business – and another week of vacation. Oh, and what kind of picture I.D. DO you need for someone who is not yet old enough to drive?

Thanks to my wife’s superior organization skills (and her ability to wrest a modicum of order from the preparations of three occasionally unruly teenagers), we managed to get everything together, to the airport, and to security. That’s when I realized just how much the process of flying has changed since our last family trip. Things that have long since become part of my traveling “routine” – having to take off your shoes, sending your cell phone through with your luggage, being able (encouraged?) to bring food from the terminal onto the plane – even being able to send your laptop through the x-ray without booting it up (remember those days?). Things that I had grown accustomed to accepting without question were a new experience to the rest of my party.

It was kind of fun being the experienced traveler in the group (my kids actually listened to me, for a change). However, it also gave me a different perspective on things – and a renewed appreciation for the perspective of the “amateurs” that seem always to be gumming up the works when I am running late to catch a flight (I still think there should be lines for “I don’t know what I am doing here”).

Those of us who work day in and day out with retirement plans, and for whom making investment evaluations is just part of what we do, may well suffer from a certain lack of appreciation for the perspective of someone who hasn’t made those kinds of decisions in a long time – or perhaps ever. Can you still remember what it felt like to see that eight-page, glossy brochure for the first time? Can you recall the first time you heard phrases like “the time value of money,” or “the magic of compounding”? How many investment funds did you have to choose among the first time you made a retirement-plan election?

I wonder how much more effective our education materials would be – how much more impact those enrollment meetings would have – if we could remember how we felt the first time we sat in that room. Maybe you can – I’d recommend the effort to do so. It could make a difference.

- Nevin Adams

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