Imagine your retirement. What do you see? Leisure, hobbies, travel, volunteering? The joy of unlimited free time? According to this recent article from NerdWallet, by reporter Liz Weston, most people envision retirement simply as the end of their working life, and so they plan financially based on how many upcoming years of leisure time they anticipate. But retirement planning—and the end of a career—have a deeper meaning that can and should be addressed, and it all has to do with purpose and fulfillment.
The End of Work Life Can Mean Loss of Identity
As Weston explains, work isn’t just about making money. Often the first question we ask—and are asked in return—when we meet someone new is, “What do you do?” And that should tell us something about the role of work in our lives as a source of identity, even meaning.
As the article observes (and our experience attests), when your working years draw to a close, a big piece of your identity also ends, along with a vital source of accomplishment and meaning. This ending can be a logical thing to grieve, but many retirees don’t think ahead to that inevitable grieving process or give themselves a way through it. Weston urges potential retirees to plan ahead for that transitional time. Let’s explore her recommended steps.
Start by Envisioning a Typical Day in Retirement
In her article, Weston quotes financial planner Barbara O’Neill, who writes, “Most adults don’t want a life of pure leisure. They crave a sense of purpose, meaningful daily activities and relationships, and the freedom to do what they want, even if that means continuing to work.” We think she’s right – so why is retirement so often depicted as little more than endless cruises and golf games?
“Retirement often starts with a flurry of activity as people travel, visit family and indulge in favorite pastimes,” says Weston. “But retirement experts recommend envisioning a more typical day after you’ve checked off some of your bucket list activities.” After all, a typical day for most people is a colorful mix of events, work, and hobbies, along with the mundane little tasks that make up a life. But when people imagine a typical day in retirement, they tend to gloss over the mundane activities. They want to imagine travel, pursuing passions, spending time with family, almost like a permanent vacation. But day-to-day life isn’t like that, even after retirement.
Weston poses: “How will you spend each hour, starting from the time you wake up? Who will you spend time with? How will you respond when someone asks ‘What do you do?’” These are great questions to ponder.
Make the Retirement Transition Gradually
The NerdWallet article offers one important option. Instead of an abrupt retirement, in your planning, why not consider what it would look like to ease out of working full-time instead of making the leap all at once? Research has shown that retirees who continue to work in some capacity exhibit greater happiness, and experts agree that even keeping a part-time position can really help to ease the shock of going from a work-based daily routine to one with no structure.
As financial planner Shelley-Ann Eweka told Weston, “Some people get really stressed out, because [retirement] does seem final. Consider working part time to have less employment and more free time so you can ease yourself into it.” Ask your employer about the option of cutting back your hours to four days a week, or three. It can make a huge difference.
Take Retirement for a Test-Drive
You wouldn’t buy a car or even a pair of shoes without seeing them and experiencing them first, so why should retirement—a whole new life stage—be any different? Eweka suggests that you can “practice” retirement before taking the plunge by being intentional about your vacation time leading up to the end of your working life.
“Consider spending a two-week vacation doing what you hope to do in retirement, such as playing golf, traveling, volunteering or looking after the grandkids,” Eweka says. “If you’re planning to move to another area, you might rent a home there for a few weeks, if possible. You may discover that the reality meets or exceeds your expectations. If not, you can alter your plans before you commit.” We suggest two weeks might not be enough time, but it’s a start.
Relocating in Retirement Can Rob You of Important Social Connections
Many retirees plan to move as part of their “new lifestyle,” but Weston argues that you should think carefully about the social implications of moving in retirement. Many people get the bulk of their social interactions every day from their workplace, and when that ends it can be a lonely change. Being intentional about maintaining your relationships—whether with former co-workers, friends, and family—can go a long way to bridging the gap into retirement. Schedule intentional time for phone or video calls, or to meet up in person if possible.
Along with maintaining longstanding friendships, financial planner O’Neill warns that building new relationships can be every bit as important in retirement, when relationships shift and change as people in your circles die or move away. “Volunteering, joining community organizations or just getting to know your neighbors better can help you build relationships with new people,” says O’Neill. “The companionship of a dog, cat or other pet also can contribute to well-being.”
Whatever You Choose to Do, Live Life with Purpose
For her final suggestion, Weston turns her attention to that all-important sense of meaning. Work gives structure to our days and a logical set of goals to attain on a daily, weekly, quarterly basis. When that vanishes, people have a tendency to “drift” and feel aimless.
O’Neill explains that setting personal goals can go a long way to living a fulfilling life well into retirement. These goals can be physical, related to diet and exercise, or they can be based on hobbies, passions, or “bucket list” items that you’ve always wanted to achieve. Whatever the goal, it should be something both attainable and meaningful. “Achieving specific, measurable goals can help people redefine their concept of productivity,” O’Neill explains, “which is important to many people’s sense of self-worth. Goals also can help offset a tendency to put things off.”
Don’t let the good habit of delayed gratification—saving scrupulously for a rainy day—keep you from enjoying your retirement years. Set those goals and make them a priority, even the “fun” goals. You worked hard for your retirement years, and with a little bit of intention in the lead-up, you can give yourself every opportunity to truly enjoy them.
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(originally reported at www.nerdwallet.com)