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Charlie Rose asked the actress, “But why would you want to do a television series about a woman with cancer?” She answered, “For all my friends who have not had the privilege of a long life.”

She was talking about all the friends who had died of cancer at an early age.

Then she talked about “the privilege of aging, the privilege of growing old.” And about how she couldn’t understand the “anti-age thing” in America, how it made no sense. And how it was all about what you did with that time.

And I have to agree.

As I look around, I don’t want to be twenty and I don’t want to look twenty.

I wouldn’t trade the experiences I’ve had...the ones that probably brought on half the wrinkles on my face and half the white hair that snuck onto my temples when I wasn’t watching.

Those are exactly the experiences that taught me life’s lessons and made me wise. Over the years, they added richness and contour, in the form of hills and valleys. Without them, life would have been one boring continuum.  Instead, I can flash back to one decade or the other, zeroing in on whether at that time I was struggling to build a new business, hiking across the Andes, or gathering up the pieces of a broken heart...again. Whether I was playing in Paris and staying at its finest hotels, or wondering how I was going to make my next mortgage payment.

And with all that, somehow the years slipped by.

Yet by my early 50s, the idea of saving for retirement was still a distant concept. Both my parents had died young, so I had no model for what retirement meant. Besides, I was having so much fun I figured I’d work (and play) until my time was up. Whatever that meant.

Then in 2001, when I was 53, the economy came to an abrupt halt after 9/11. And no one knew how long that paralysis would last. Because some of my largest clients went bankrupt, leaving my invoices unpaid, it really didn’t matter how long it lasted. They had already pulled me under financially. My business went under, too.

It was the wake-up call I needed. As I started piecing my life and career back together again, I realized that my energy level was different...and that I wouldn’t have the energy level to keep starting over again and again, forever.

Suddenly it was time to start thinking seriously about how I was going to pay for my later years, whether we called them “retirement” or something else, whether I stayed active or not.

My first step was to understand my relationship with money. It was time to get that relationship healthy, rather than continue to react to events with the messages and beliefs I had carried forward since childhood.

And the second step was to decide how I personally defined “quality of life.” What was important to me? How did I want to spend the years that were left? (And that could easily mean another 30 or 35!) What were the elements that would make up the quilt of my everyday life going forward?

I knew that having a very clear vision would be necessary if I was going to make up for all the years I hadn’t saved a penny. And unless I knew what I wanted my life to look like, how could I know how much money I needed to be able to afford it?

That process — of getting clear on my relationship with money, kicking out old “gremlins” from my mind, getting brutally honest with my money, knowing exactly where I was headed, and calculating how much I needed to get there — is what has prepared me for financial freedom. It has prepared me to play out the privilege of a long life, the privilege of aging, the privilege of growing old. With gusto.

What about you?

Leave a comment below on where you are on your path, and where I might be able to help you along it!

Sharon O'Day

Sharon O'Day's mission is to show as many women as possible how to become financially free for the long term.

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