As Halloween approaches, we think of scary things lurking in the shadows. Fortunately, most people over the age of six know that ghosts and goblins are merely figments of our imagination. Also, Halloween presents many opportunities to accumulate delicious treats. However, for some adults, there is one potential goblin that is very real and hard to ignore. It is called (cue: scary music) retirement. When it is far away, it looks and sounds like a beautiful shimmering siren, softly calling out our name. As retirement gets closer, however, the siren grows warts, and her voice can grate on those who have not adequately prepared for the transition.
Retirement scares us for personal and financial reasons
Why is retirement a scary proposition for some? There are two main reasons, personal and financial. In part 2, I will address the financial aspects of transitioning into retirement.
Leaving the numbers aside for the moment, many soon-to-be-retirees spend much more time thinking about the life they want to leave behind (long hours, stress, the commute, a lousy boss) than the life they will eventually replace it with. A lack of structure and the feeling they’re not doing meaningful work has a short shelf life for retirees (and anyone else, for that matter). After the Retirement “honeymoon” is over (figure three months to a year, on average) retirees who lack a new purpose, often become lethargic and bored. They need something to get them up in the morning and make them feel personally fulfilled. Social isolation plays a part, too. It can lead to depression if people do not replace their professional network with a social one.
Yet many people do not spend enough time thinking in enough detail about how they will fill their days once they leave the workforce. This is especially true for people who have strongly identified with their job, but have not developed outside interests or causes outside their career. People in the helping professions, such as teachers, doctors, psychologists, and clergy, can experience an even more acute loss in their sense of self-worth if they don’t ease out of their profession over time. After all, they spent their entire career serving and caring for people who needed them. Once they retire, they are suddenly no longer needed (or so they think). This can take a real toll on their psyche.
Poor planning before punching the time clock for the last time can lead to anxiety and an identity crisis. (Does anyone still need me?) I often wonder why some of my “financially set” clients in their 70’s keep working full-time. Many seem to have no idea when they’ll retire. I occasionally detect a disapproving look or comment from their stay-at-home spouse during our annual reviews. Perhaps the working spouse is also concerned about how the marital relationship would change if they were to spend more time around the house. Certainly, there is nothing wrong with doing what you love and getting paid for it, as long as your health and relationships don’t suffer. It is important, however, to be clear about the reason you continue to work, and to make an effort to prepare for the inevitable.
Start activities now to plan for the future
A successful transition to retirement could include spending more time with grandchildren, working part-time (perhaps in a new field), volunteering, mentoring, learning new hobbies, starting a business, and even relaxing in a hammock. Beginning some of these activities before retirement can provide a shock absorber for when it is time to retire. Finding something to do in retirement that provides personal meaning and fulfillment is perhaps the strongest predictor of a successful retirement.
If you are contemplating retirement in the not-too-distant future, you may wish to revise your financial plan to include activities you think will have a personal and financial impact during retirement.
Finally, remember to exercise regularly. Keeping physically fit enables you to continue doing what you love to do for a long time.