Virtually everyone who comes to our firm seeking retirement planning help is focused on the financial aspects. The No. 1 question is usually: “Will I have enough money to be able to do all the things I want to do as a retiree?”
Being prepared financially, however, is not the same as being prepared emotionally. Your lifestyle during retirement is going to be quite different from what you’ve been experiencing up until now, and if you don’t plan for it, you could be in for a shock.
During our working years, our identity tends to be intertwined with our careers. When asked to describe themselves, most people respond with “I’m a VP at IBM” or “I’m a dentist.” Retirement – particularly for those who have built their career at a single company or industry – can mean abruptly losing the environment, associations and accomplishments they’ve enjoyed for many years. Their daily routine gets turned on its head, and many report experiencing more boredom, anxiety and feelings of uselessness.
The key, according to multiple sources I’ve found, is to find a new identity that provides you with a sense of purpose and meaning. And it’s best to prepare for it before pulling the retirement trigger.
Karl Pillemer, professor of human development at Cornell University, suggests viewing retirement as the beginning of a late-stage career transition, not as the end of working. Many seniors appear to be doing exactly that. According to the Kauffman Index of Startup Activity, entrepreneurship in the U.S. is growing fastest among people over age 55.
Where to start? Long before you retire, start thinking about the activities you like to do, things for which you have a demonstrated aptitude and even stuff that you’ve never tried but find interesting. Read up on them and identify full- or part-time careers that involve such activities. Talk to people – especially retirees – who have established such careers for themselves. Then come up with a plan for completing the various educational, legal and financial steps needed to start your new career. When you finally retire, having such a goal as well as a plan for moving forward should make you feel more confident and comfortable with the transition.
Living your values
In addition to continuing to work, you can use retirement as an opportunity to live your values. Research the nonprofit organizations in your area that most closely align with your beliefs. Even if you don’t feel qualified to join a board of directors, you can always choose from among the myriad volunteer opportunities at any nonprofit organization. If you begin this process while still employed, you will build connections that you’ll be able to leverage quickly once you’ve left the workforce and have a lot more time available.
As I’ve written previously, keeping busy is another key contributor to retirement happiness. Think about how you would like to spend each day in retirement by documenting your current weekly routine in as much detail as possible. Then substitute each pre-retirement activity with some post-retirement activity (babysitting grandchildren or taking classes, for example). By the time you’re ready to retire, you’ll have an established schedule of activities that should help you speedily develop your post-retirement routine.
Ken Dychtwald, co-author of the 1989 book “Age Wave,” suggests using your acquired knowledge and wisdom to help others. This is your true legacy and how you will be remembered. As he puts it, instead of becoming elderly, become a wise, experienced elder.
In summary, planning for retirement should involve more than just your finances. Doing it right can enable you to discover a whole new life experience that could make your later years the best years of your life.