Chances are, if you ask ten people to identify what they think is the biggest challenge retirees will face, you’ll get ten different answers. Some might talk about running out of money, or about the weaknesses in the Social Security system. Others might express concerns about finding the right place to live or affording the right medical care. Still others might worry about declining health or about deteriorating relationships with loved ones. All those and more are valid answers, as far as they go.
But in this insightful CNBC article, George Jergian, author and life coach, reflects on his own experience and comes up with a much different, more personal answer. Forced by ill health to retire early at age 52, Jergian found himself aimless and adrift, finally choosing to “un-retire” at age 67. Let’s take a look at his personal story and see if we agree as Jergian identifies “the biggest retirement challenge that no one talks about.”
Forced to Retire Overnight
Jergian begins, “In 2007, at age 52, I was forced to retire overnight. An MRI had revealed a tumor, the size of a large eggplant, sitting on my pelvis. In 98 percent of these cases, my oncologist told me, bone tumors are secondary cancer. He estimated that I had about six months to live.”
Thankfully, that didn’t prove to be the case. Two successful operations and a few months of recuperation later, Jergian was 10 years into his “retirement” after his near-death experience. “I found myself bored, restless and stuck,” Jergian writes. “My enthusiasm and energy diminished. My mental health suffered.”
He adds, “No one else I knew who was retired told me these were things I might experience. But when I shared with them how I felt, they admitted to feeling the same way at times.
That’s when I decided to ‘un-retire’ and launch a mindset coaching company to help people achieve a more fulfilling retirement than I had.”
Every Retirement Faces Unique Challenges
As he describes in CNBC, in his journey to dig deep into this topic, Jergian surveyed more than 15,000 retirees over the age of 60 and asked them only one question: “What is your single biggest challenge in retirement?” Among those surveyed, Jergian discovered that the top three issues in the responses centered around Regret, Health, and Identity.
- The answers around “Regret” included statement such as, “I miss doing the work I love,” and “I’m not sure what to do with my time. I feel lost.”
- For “Health,” responses ranged from “Keeping my mind healthy and adding value to the world,” to “Fear of dying in pain and discomfort.”
- And for the topic of “Identity,” the answers were similarly bittersweet: “Fear of losing my identity created over a lifetime,” and “People do not see you anymore,” and “Feelings of rejection—internalized, not voiced.”
Jergian writes, “Here’s what this tells us: The biggest retirement challenge that no one talks about, in my experience, is finding purpose.”
Financial Planning is not Retirement Planning
In his article, Jergian admits that money was certainly a concern that popped up in his survey responses, but it didn’t make the top three, which surprised him. Upon reflection, he attributes this apparent anomaly to the difference between retirement savings and retirement planning, and how people get them confused between the two. (It’s a topic Rajiv Nagaich discusses frequently.)
Jergian writes, “Google the words ‘retirement planning’ and you’ll mostly see, for pages and pages, savings-and pension-related content. There is nothing on actual retirement planning, which I believe is more about your life, and less about money. Having steady finances to last you throughout retirement plays a significant role in quality of life, but what’s more important is your life-planning.”
For many retirees, the finances are essentially planned out by the time they leave the workforce. But they didn’t bank on what they would actually do. As Jergian puts it: “You can retire from your career, but you can’t retire from life.”
Purpose and Health
“In the same survey,” Jergian writes, “I asked how people thought they might solve their challenges. A full 35 percent believed that the answer is in finding purpose in life through a new skill or interest.” What’s more, academic research seems to bear that up. A study in 2021 of 12,825 adults associated a strong purpose in life with healthier lifestyle behaviors. Moreover, a strong sense of purpose appeared to slow the progression of chronic illnesses.
Of course, the benefits of seeking a new life purpose can be financial as well. “Finding purpose can also help retirees find new side hustle opportunities that bring in income, helping to ease financial concerns,” Jergian writes. That’s precisely his personal experience.
Ikigai – How the Japanese See Purpose
In his coaching work, and in his own life, Jergian uses the Japanese concept of “ikigai”, which translates to “your reason for being.”
“The Westernized version of this concept is based on the idea that there are four components a person must have complete to achieve ikigai,” Jergian explains. “Each concept is represented by a question. As you actively pursue what you enjoy doing in service of yourself, your family, and your community, think about whether that activity allows you to answer ‘yes’ to any combination of those four questions.”
Here are Jergian’s questions:
- Are you doing an activity that you love?
- Are you good at it?
- Does the world need what you offer?
- Can you get paid for doing it?
Going further, Japanese neuroscientist Ken Mogi, also known as a “happiness expert”, suggests these following five pillars to really let your ikigai thrive:
- Does the activity allow you to start small and improve over time?
- Does the activity allow you to release yourself?
- Does the activity pursue harmony and sustainability?
- Does the activity allow you to enjoy the little things?
- Does the activity allow you to focus on the here and now?
Seeking A Valuable Life
It’s difficult, almost impossible, to reach for a goal when you feel that your life is not valuable. Ikigai, on its deepest level, is meant to connect you with that sense of value that you need in order to attain fulfillment.
“As for me,” Jergian concludes, “I’ve found that my purpose now is to help retirees ‘un-retire’ and create a new life for themselves. Depending on when you plan to retire, you may have another 30, 40, 50 or more years of life — and that’s a hell of a long time to drift aimlessly.”
My Life, My Plan, My Way: Get Started on the Path to Retirement Success
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Photo Credit: Ian MacKenzie, Flickr
(originally reported at www.cnbc.com)