The first step to having a successful retirement is defining what a successful retirement means to you. That means actually writing it out!

A successful retirement will look different to different people. Some may want to keep working; others may want to travel. Defining what your successful retirement looks like is essentially setting goals and then creating an action plan to achieve them. You have to know what the end game looks like and have a measurable way of knowing when you have achieved your goal.

The Exercise

This exercise is called “The Three Questions.” I learned this from George Kinder, one of my mentors in financial life planning. It has turned a lot around for me personally as well as professionally. This exercise gives you the building blocks to being able to define what your retirement success looks like—the necessary ingredients so to speak. It helps us to clarify what is meaningful to us.

When I do this exercise with my clients it allows me to be more connected to them and create a much more authentic relationship. It makes it less about money and more about achieving a lifestyle they want. It helps put me in their shoes and see them as a whole person, including their dreams and values. And then utilize the money to make it happen. It’s a much more rewarding relationship for both parties.

The Three Questions

Let me introduce you to the three questions. Remember when you are answering these you are looking for things that will motivate you, make you happy, avoid being hurt, give you a feeling of fulfillment and bring meaning to you.

Please remember it is important to write out your answers.

Question #1:

Imagine that you have all the money you need now and in the future. What will you do with it? How will you live your life? What will you change? Let yourself dream. Don’t hold back. Describe a life that is completely and richly yours.

Question #2:

You have just come from a visit to the doctor who told you that you have five years to live. The good part is that you won’t ever feel sick. The bad part is that you will have no notice of the moment of your death. As you let the emotional impact of the situation sink in, ask yourself these questions: How will you change your life? What will you choose to do with the finite amount of time you have remaining?

Question #3:

This time the doctor told you that you have only one day left in your life. The question you have now is not how you spend the hours that remain. Instead, ask yourself what am I feeling? What are my regrets and longings? What do I wish I had finished? What did I not get to be, do? What do I wish I had done?

These questions have changed many people’s lives. When we look at our lives, shaped around our values and what is important to us, it allows us to filter out the noise of the insignificant and focus on what really matters. When we apply this to retirement and even our retirement income and investments we can find the motivation to keep looking at the big picture and working towards a life that is successful and rewarding.

Joseph F. Falbo, CFP®, AIF®, CRC® is an independent LPL financial advisor that helps grow and preserve clients’ wealth using cutting edge, customized, and comprehensive strategies. With over two decades of experience, Joe helps clients to pursue and retain the lifestyle they want in retirement. To discuss your retirement goals or any financial topic you want, schedule a 20-minute complimentary call. To learn more about Joe, please visit

The opinions voiced in this material are for general information only and are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual.