Sunday, April 16, 2017
Are you retiring to something or from something?
We are all retired and we were meeting for lunch on a Friday afternoon. The talk moved through many topics, from funny things grandchildren say to more serious issues such as stroke and medical issues. One of the people at the table was a man I had not seen for about six months. When we had a chance, he asked me if I was still working.
I explained that I had, in fact, stopped working for pay two years ago. His first response was that is great, his second was to ask me this question: “What are you doing to keep yourself busy?” I explained that I was giving workshops to seniors on Health and Wellness issues as a volunteer. In fact, over the last 18 months, I have given over 85 workshops. He thought that was interesting.
When we worked, we spend decades dreaming of the day when life won't be dictated by alarm clocks, commute times, meeting schedules and office politics. When we retire, we realise that if we don’t do anything then retirement can be kind of a drag. And there may be 20-plus years of it ahead of you.
We plan and think about retirement mostly by looking at the financial essentials — expected returns, inflation, withdrawal rates, portfolio rebalancing, tax planning, which is needed. However, most of us don’t prepare for the emotional challenges of post-work life.
When we work, we may dread the day to day boredom of employment, but there's something to be said for the structure it provides.
I have talked about this before, work is where many people derive their sense of purpose. It can also provide a framework for your days (projects, meetings, deadlines) and a sense of community (thanks to water coolers, slow elevators and happy hours). When we retire, many of us suffer from the syndrome “I used to be an important person”, I know I did. After you retire you are no longer wanted or needed, you are replaced, and your sense of purpose may be gone.
So, a question to ask yourself, are you retiring to something, or are you retiring from something? I retired from something and it took me almost 8 years to find something I felt good about retiring to in my life.
Here are steps you can take to help protect your golden years from being tarnished by dissatisfaction.
FIND A REASON TO SET YOUR ALARM
For the first part of my retirement, I travelled, spoiled my grandson, organised the sock drawer and descaled the coffee maker. After two years, I decided to give back to the community so I sat on the board of a major charity, and that helped to inspire me to get out of bed each morning.
There is research that shows people who have pursuits outside of their professional life tend to fare better in retirement. If you're not interested in taking up a new hobby, consider ways to use the professional expertise you've cultivated over the years. It's even better for the psyche to apply your talents to serve a cause that you care about.
Don't wait until you retire to explore new pursuits. Test-drive volunteer opportunities in your community before retirement to plant seeds for future endeavours. I am no longer on the Board, but I have taken up another wonderful volunteer activity which I can see myself doing for the next 10 to 15 years. Many of the active volunteers in my organisation are in their mid and late 80’s. So I hope to continue to do this work for a long time if my health allows.
Retirement can be a major relationship disruptor. All that "me time" you and your partner had when one or both of you were at work is now potentially "we time."
I think it is important to have a series of conversations with your spouse about whether you will retire at the same time. Retirement can be especially stressful if one partner retires before the other. My wife retired due to a medical issue, and I decided to retire at the same time, with little thought to the consequences of my decision. Talking with your spouse prior to making the leap into retirement, will save you much stress.
Expect that there will be an adjustment period, and perhaps spats over household duties ("You were home all day; why didn't you mow the lawn?") and scheduling conflicts ("I can't take that week off work for a road trip"). But if you're prepared to be flexible, respectful and understanding of the other person's perspective, you can achieve peaceful coexistence in retirement.