Book Review: “How to Retire Happy, Wild and Free”

How to Retire Happy, Wild, and Free (Retirement Wisdom that You Won’t Get From Your Financial Advisor), by Ernie J. Zelinski
Reviewer: Nova D. Muhlenberg Bonnett, Esq.
September 2011

Ernie Zelinski’s title is so very promising, particularly coming on the heels of his previous book, The Joy of Not Working, and his third work, Career Success Without a Real Job. What a reader quickly discovers, however, is that Mr. Zelinski is one part Wayne Dyer (Erroneous Zones), one part AARP travel suggestions, one part philosophical wisdom, and – well, that’s pretty much the sum of the parts. Is this a bad thing? Not at all. But it is a very limited thing: this book will best (and perhaps only) serve an audience who have 1) already determined how they are going to fund their retirement (or who have decided that they will work well into advanced age), and who have also 2) never taken the time to plan the ways in which they intend to make those years a ‘golden’ time.

The ideal reader for this book is someone for whom the financial preparations for retirement are in place, who has spent his or her entire working life focused on work, who has few (if any) outside interests or relationships, and is dreading retirement: viewing it as an intellectual and personal bone yard. Not only will you not find this advice coming from your financial advisor, you will not find any of his advice in this book.

Having said all of this, there is a place for Zelinski’s book on an Elder Law practitioner’s book shelf: it fills the human factor void that often exists in the dry and practical world of financial and estate planning. Anyone with friends or clients in their fifties, sixties, and beyond, certainly knows someone (or a number of ‘some ones’) who suffer from anxiety, depression, and fear, particularly where concerns about retirement steer the conversation. This book is a humorous and conversational attempt to focus on quality of life: what it is, approaches to crafting one’s own in retirement, and historical moral support in the form of myriad famous quotations.

Zelinski contends that “Retirement Can Set You Free” (Chapter 2). Quoting Kafka, Zelinski points out that “It is often safer to be in chains than to be set free.” No argument there. But Zelinski also argues that retirement is only freedom for those who are emotionally and egoistically prepared; and, he adds, retiring early is even better: “The younger you are,” he observes, “the better you will be able to adapt to such a big change in your life.” And he further warns that, “Retirement may be your last shot at being the person you would like to be.” Again, no argument here.

Zelinski is an advocate for travel and adventure, and offers some clearinghouse information in this area, including contact information for the Elder Hostel program. He does not deal with the nuts and bolts of health and emergency care while traveling: that’s simply not his niche. He also offers advice on late in life dating and companionship. My favorite quotation in this area is one from Elayne Boosler, one of the funniest comediennes of the last thirty years. Boosler claims that “A man who was loved by 300 women singled me out to live with him. Why? I was the only one without a cat.” (I’m still laughing.) There’s some serious stuff, too, like this from Eleanor Roosevelt: “Friendship with oneself is all important because without it one cannot be friends with anyone else.”

Zelinksi does give a few examples of people who have retired early or only part-time, but these stories aren’t likely to motivate individuals with expansive investment portfolios (nor are they intended to). In the end, Zelinski’s book is about becoming that person in retirement that one has never been able to become during working life: an authentic true self. It’s a limited market, for sure, but a market nonetheless.

[Nova D. Muhlenberg Bonnett is an attorney in Largo, Florida, with a general civil practice focused on Elder Law.  She is an LL.M. in Elder Law candidate for December 2011]

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