Aging Options

Retirement Can Be an Abrupt Change – So You Might Consider Creating a Retirement Glide Path

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In aviation, the difference between a gentle, safe landing and an abrupt, dangerous one often comes down to the so-called glide path, that carefully-planned descent that gets you safely where you want to go. That same term is often used in retirement to signify an easy transition from full-time work to full-time retirement. The glide path is an in-between state that can last months or years. We’ve discussed the concept before here on the AgingOptions Blog but, as more and more boomers retire – estimated at 10,000 per day – the idea is worth another look.

Recently we came across this article from NerdWallet in which one of our frequent sources, reporter Liz Weston, revisits the concept of the glide path. As she observes, relying on a well-planned transition can avoid a jarring landing. Let’s take a look.

Gradual Changes Avoid a “Jarring Transition”

“In investing terms,” Weston begins, “a ‘glide path’ describes how a mix of investments changes over time. Typically, the mix gets more conservative — with fewer stocks and more bonds, for example — as the investor approaches a goal such as retirement. You also can create a glide path into retirement by making gradual changes in your working and personal life in the months or years before you plan to quit work.”

As our regular readers no doubt know, retirement can be a very abrupt, “jarring transition”, especially if—as Weston explains—you haven’t set up ways to “replace the structure, sense of purpose and socializing opportunities that work can bring.”

Saundra Davis, a financial coach in San Francisco, puts it this way: “People are excited to leave (work), but then once they leave, they feel that pressure of ‘How do I define myself? Am I important now that I’m no longer in the workforce?’”

What Do You Want Your Life to Look Like?

Where to start? Thinking about what you want from retirement is a great place to begin. “That could mean visualizing your ideal day: where you’re living, what you’re doing, who you’re spending time with,” Weston writes.  

Davis adds, “Free tools such as YearCompass and Unravel Your Year can help you identify what ‘sparks joy’ for you and what you want more of in your life. These tools allow you to reflect on your recent past and plan for the future. What are the things that have been calling you? What gives you energy?”

Knowing what you want can also reveal any potential pitfalls or roadblocks, such as insufficient funds, poor health, or needing to care for someone else. “But understanding what you really want from this phase of your life can help you figure out ways to get what’s most important,” Davis says. “Just because you might have some limitations, either physical or emotional or financial, don’t assume that that counts you out.”

It’s also crucial to make sure that you and your spouse or partner are on the same page about what you want from this phase of life. David John, a senior policy adviser for AARP, notes that your significant other might have other ideas, goals, and dreams about this phase of your life.

“We tend to assume that people agree with us, when we haven’t had a formal discussion about something, and that can prove to be a mistake,” he said.

Will You Work in Retirement – and How Much?

Joe Casey, a New Jersey retirement coach, said, “Some employers have phased retirement programs that allow people to cut back to part-time work while retaining a paycheck and benefits. Other companies don’t have formal plans but may be willing to accommodate an employee who asks, particularly if the worker is a high performer.”

Melissa Shaw, a wealth management adviser from Palo Alto, agrees. “Phased plans give employers time to look for a successor while allowing workers to ease into retirement,” she said. “They still have more freedom to start to enjoy and plan for the next phase. It’s a good way to transition.”

She adds, “If phased retirement isn’t an option, a part-time job or consulting work can help people keep a foot in the work world while they shape their post-work life.”

Avoiding Isolation, Keeping Connected, Staying Mentally Sharp

“Loneliness doesn’t just diminish the quality of your days — it also can diminish the quantity,” Weston writes. “Social isolation and loneliness significantly increase someone’s odds of premature death and are associated with about a 50 percent increased risk of dementia as well as higher rates of depression, anxiety and suicide, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.”

Davis adds, “Many people underestimate the social connections that work provides. They also may not anticipate how much their social circles can shrink over time as people move away or die.” 

To counteract this, Davis recommends making friends of different generations through pursuing various hobbies and volunteering for causes you care about.

Shaw agrees, and adds that “it can also help to find friends or mentors among people who have retired. Senior centers, social connection sites like Meetup and the AARP Foundation’s Connect2Affect service are other ways to find potential social contacts.”

This can build both a social circle as well as an informal support group with similar needs.  “Having others around you who have experienced retirement and who can provide support and tips and share ideas is extremely valuable,” Shaw said.

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(originally reported at

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