Living the Dream and Making It Matter

Dr. Jay Merriam, DVM, describes the post-retirement life he and his wife Shelly are enjoying as “living the dream.” They relocated to Colorado to be nearer their children and grandchildren and purchased a great home in a visually stunning and altogether wonderful mountain community there. And Jay is devoting his time and equine veterinarian expertise to a cause he has championed for more than 20 years – helping families in developing countries care for their working equids – horses, mules, and donkeys. These animals are essential to their owners’ livelihood as they fulfill agricultural, commerce, or transportation purposes.

The Merriam’s decision to sell Jay’s practice – along with the specific strategy and structure they used for that sale and their subsequent choice to move across country to their dream home in the mountains– were all born out of their engagement in a thoughtful Life & Legacy planning process. During focused discussions about financial resources and planning for their future, Jay and Shelly’s passion for their family and the critical importance of healthy working equids to people living in extreme poverty was very clear. Professionally, their goal in selling the practice was to allow more time for charity/equitarian projects. So it was a gratifying and welcome insight when the planning process unlocked the potential for Jay to co-found a unique non-profit organization– the Equitarian Initiative – through which he truly is doing his very personal “more that matters.”

At week-long workshops sponsored by the Equitarian Initiative, veterinarians, animal scientists, and caregivers come together in rural Mexico to learn about and treat hundreds of working equids. The training combines clinical work with education about the special needs of working animals in extreme environments. The goal is to help veterinarians and animal scientists realize the how valuable they are in providing working equid care and to develop a network of professionals dedicated to traveling throughout the world to apply their expertise and train local caregivers. To date, care and training has been provided in Haiti, Nicaragua, Mexico, Morocco, and on U.S. Indian reservations.

In the few years since the Equitarian Initiative was founded, its mission and scope of work has significantly expanded. The number of professionals who have been touched and motivated by the needs of working animals has grown as word about the initiative’s work has spread. Jay is confident that with the care and training model they have developed to promote and connect veterinarians worldwide, working equids and their caregivers in many more countries can be served.

The Merriam’s story is a powerful example of how “retirement” is being redefined. It is no longer “being put out of use” (the definition from Webster’s Dictionary). Instead, the new retirement can be best defined as “discovering and pursuing continued, fulfilling opportunities for value creation and impactful contribution within areas of personal passion” (my own, preferred definition!)

It has been my joy and privilege to see Jay and Shelly’s dreams come alive in such an exciting way. They went “all in” with our planning process, and through this experience they are both living more and giving more. They are an inspiring example of what you can achieve when you dream more, plan better, and take action. Not all of the decisions they made were easy. But the personal and financial clarity they gained from the planning process gave them the confidence to move forward and give shape and substance to their dreams. They knew what mattered most to them and they were resolved to plan for and create a future that connected them with the people they love and the causes they care about most.

After all, if any of us knew that we could do the same, wouldn’t we?




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