Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Retirement Planning and Louis Pasteur

I use a well-known quote from Louis Pasteur in the book: “Chance favors only the prepared mind.” Essentially, the man who debunked spontaneous regeneration, a belief in the notion that some things could automatically be created from inanimate objects, understood the importance of the experimental process. It is what he brought to that process that separated him from his fellow experimenters.

(For those of you who may not be aware of what spontaneous regeneration is, you can try this simple experiment at home: Take one large jar. Place one pair of sweaty underwear and some husks of wheat and if you did everything correctly, you will have a mouse in twenty-one days. Even when Italian physician Francesco Redi, using the first controlled experiment to debunk the myth in 1668, the general populous was not swayed.)

Pasteur (1822 – 1895), a chemist who was born in Dole, in the region of Jura, France said, "Imagination should give wings to our thoughts but we always need decisive experimental proof, and when the moment comes to draw conclusions and to interpret the gathered observations, imagination must be checked and documented by the factual results of the experiment."

Philosopher Ernest Renan described Pasteur's method of research as a “marvelous experimental method eliminates certain facts, brings forth others, interrogates nature, compels it to reply and stops only when the mind is fully satisfied. The charm of our studies, the enchantment of science, is that, everywhere and always, we can give the justification of our principles and the proof of our discoveries."

Should our approach to retirement planning be any different? I don’t believe it should. Although I do lay some specific guidelines for how you should question your retirement plans, each individual query will be different for each of us. We have different experiences and obstacles, many of which are not of our making. While you can control some of the roadblocks that life places squarely in your path – such as debt, your own health – many are unforeseen.

Each event requires us to interrogate the nature of the obstacle. Can it be overcome? How long will it take? Is there a way to absorb the change into my retirement plan with out jeopardizing the goal? And if the setback is major, how will I adjust my plan to compensate?