race car curve

This Curve Can Wreck Your Retirement

The other day, I heard the 1960s Jan and Dean song, “Dead Man’s Curve,” and I was reminded of my racing days.

When I was in junior high, my Dad bought my brother and me a small quarter-midget race car. This was a precursor to the popular go-karts. We joined a local racing circuit, and we would race at small oval tracks around Northern Kentucky. This was great fun until my little brother got overly aggressive in a curve and flipped the car. He wasn’t hurt, and Dad said, “No big deal, just part of racing.”

But Mom said, “Boys, your racing days are over.” Mom won, and the car was sold.

How Is Racing Like Retirement?

In a race, there two phases: The first phase is on the straightaway, where speed always wins. The second part is the curves, where skill overcomes speed. When entering a curve, you must plan the right line through the turn, adjust your speed accordingly, and be prepared for the unexpected (just ask my brother). Most crashes happen in the curves.

In life, too, we experience times in the straightaways, where we go flat out. Then out of nowhere, a curve shows up, and we must adjust our speed and plan our approach. The problem for many of us is that we often don’t realize that we are in a curve until it’s too late to make the necessary adjustments.

As you approach retirement, you are heading toward one of the toughest curves you will ever encounter. The danger of crashing is especially high. How you react now will determine how you run the rest of your race.

Consider the curve in the graph below. It’s like your own personal race track.

In engineering, this curve is often called a “sigmoid curve,” and it is used to measure productivity over time. There are three parts:

  1. The first part shows your early adult years as you are getting your act together. Remember all the curves you had to negotiate when you were starting out?
  2. The second part, which slowly rises over time, is the period when you are most productive and successful. This is like the straightaway on the race track, when you are going flat out, pedal to the metal.
  3. Now notice the top of the big curve where it turns downward and begins to decline. This is where many retirees find themselves. They have grown tired and lost some focus, and there is great potential they will crash.

This decline curve can wreck your retirement dreams if you don’t use all your skill to negotiate it.

The Decline Curve

It has been my experience that as people round this decline curve, they often spin out into a downward spiral, no longer able to visualize an exciting future. Their futures tend to shrink and—other than a few vacation dreams—become less inviting than the past. As we age, our futures obviously become shorter in terms of time. However, the future doesn’t need to become smaller in terms of significance and purpose.

In fact, when retirees take a moment to plan their approach to the decline curve, they find that their lives can grow even more fulfilling than they were before. Rather than being controlled by the curve, they master the turn by planning a new path; they choose to create a new, more satisfying route around the bend.

I call this new route the “Encore Curve” because it detours you away from the decline curve and back into upward progress.

Mastering the Curve

What if you could design a different retirement curve that points upward like the second diagram? The danger of crashing on the curve would reduce tremendously.

Your retirement days ahead can still be even more significant and purposeful than those that have passed. They can be packed with meaning, enjoyment, and impact. That’s the point of the new Encore Curve. We all want to have a meaningful future, regardless of our age, where we are doing what we are passionate about, using our greatest strengths and gifts, and making a difference for other people and our world. The Encore Curve is the point where you take the best of who you are and refocus where you want to go.

If you have spent your working life with the pedal to the metal roaring down a straightaway, you probably fear easing off the accelerator and settling into the downward curve. But your race isn’t over just because you’re retiring. You now have a chance to master the curve and continue the race in a new and different way—a way that allows you to repurpose your life and, I hope, end up in the winner’s circle.

The Encore Curve program is designed to give you a new set of tools to help you master the decline curve that is coming and to turn that downward curve into your own Encore Curve. You only have one chance to negotiate this turn. So adjust your speed and plan your approach. As you drive safely past the spin outs and wrecks, you’ll be glad you did.


Andy Raub is the author of The Encore Curve: Retire with a Life Plan That Excites You. If you want to know more about how the decline curve could ruin your retirement, go to EncoreCurve.com and download his free e-book, “The Five Biggest Retirement Dangers That Money Can’t Fix.”

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