You’ve worked all your life and loved it but now it’s time for retirement – to withdraw from a career that’s defined you, dominated most hours of your life and from which most of your social interactions have revolved. But you’re not alone. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics about 41 million people in the labor force will be 55 or older by 2024. And for most, there’s an element of fear with this withdrawal. According to experts the three greatest fear factors retirees face are 1) the loss of professional status that’s closely tied to self-image, 2) change and 3) concern over how to spend the extra time.
All of this begs the question, now that you’re ready to retire, will this new phase of life be a happy one?
Here’s what the Nationwide Retirement Institute (NRI) found when they surveyed both newly retired Americans and those who’ve been retired for a decade or more:
More than one-quarter (28 percent) of recent retirees said life is worse in retirement than before it. But, a little more than one-third (35 percent) said life is better in retirement and 38 percent report it’s the same. But of those who’ve been retired for 10 years or more, there’s a different tilt. Fewer retirees, 17 percent, report that life is worse and 49 percent report that life is the same.
Chances are you’re much more apt to find happiness in this new phase of life if you take a little time to think about how you might deal with these fears. While financial concerns can’t be ignored, for the purposes of this article, let’s focus on the emotional fears most often expressed.
1. What is your purpose or mission? It may take some time to sort this out. Begin by thinking about what gets your going in the morning—what makes you wake up every morning, eager to start the new day? Perhaps there’s something you always wished you’d pursued early in life, but didn’t. Or perhaps you can turn an avocation into a new career, go back to school, take a few classes, exercise your entrepreneurial spirit or apply your knowledge to those less fortunate through volunteerism. The point is you’ll need some structure in your life as well as a path to new channels of socialization. Once you’ve determined your purpose or mission, consider writing a mission statement to help keep you on track.
2. How will you develop new relationships? While it may not happen immediately, over time you will lose touch with people who were once part of your everyday life. You’ll need to develop new relationships, new groups and communities. If you’re married, even your relationship with your spouse will change for despite your love and shared interests, having a spouse under foot daily can be become a source of irritation. There’s a modicum of truth to the old saying, “I married you for better or worse, but not for lunch.”
A few new ground rules may need to be negotiated for couples. As for singles, don’t give up on love and romance, as love and intimacy are vitally important to your health, happiness and overall wellbeing.
3. Will you stay where you are or move? Unless you’ve spent considerable time in another location and are confident about moving there, hold off—at least for a year or two. An immediate move can simply add stress to the change that you’re already faced with. And think twice about downsizing your home. Although it may be tempting, consider that moving can be considerably expensive as well as emotionally and physically taxing. Postponing this decision gives you fewer changes to deal with.
4. Are you concerned about loneliness? If you’re not, you should be. According the AARP 45% of Americans older than age 65 are divorced, separated or widowed. So do your best to build a new social network, get involved in activities where you can meet new friends of different ages and if all else fails, start your own social group. Maybe it’s a bridge group, a dinner group, a theatre group, or just a plain and simple “girl-time” group.
5. How will you fill up all the time and not become bored? Considering that you’ve been in a 40-hour workweek plus drive time, getting ready time and hours spent with clients or overtime, suddenly you have a lot of time to fill. No two people are alike, thus there are numerous ways to consider filling some of this time. Some will find volunteering to be very rewarding. Others will prefer exercising or sports like golf or tennis. Travel, when affordable, provides excitement and adventure and then there are always hobbies like cooking, gardening, and a host of creative endeavors.
Some may actually pick up part-time work or try their hand at a new career. You might even decide to start a new business or run for local politics. Most importantly, preparing ahead will ensure you that you don’t accidently find yourself with too much time on your hands and, ye gads, become bored.
6. How will I now define myself? Most people are identified by their careers—there’s Mary the accountant, Judy who owns her own marketing firm, Linda whose vice president of that high-tech firm and so it goes and when they leave their positions they leave those identities behind. A retired executive reportedly said when she was first retired and people asked what she did she felt “hollow” because she hadn’t given thought to what her new identity was. It’s less important “what” that new identity is than to know it and be comfortable with it. Just be prepared.
7. How long will it take to adjust? Don’t be impatient; it will take some time to adjust but preparing for some of the adjustments is sure to ease the transition. Realize that regardless of whether you’ve been looking forward to retirement or simply not thinking about it, one day you’ll be retired and reality will set in. Those who thought it would be great to sleep late, spend the days playing golf, moving to the seaside and relaxing on the beach or whatever lifestyle may have been fanaticized, will find that retirement is simply your next phase in life.
If you’ve planned for it financially, taken care of your health and put a little preparation into how you’ll spend the time, it can be one of the most happy and enjoyable times of your life.
Ken Dychtwald, the Age Wave guru, says that there are two phases of retirement. The first phase—which now often spans 15-20 years or more—is a time of more freedom and new choices of how and where people live. People live longer and are often healthier and more active than prior generations of retirees.
The second phase—which often begins when people are in their 80s—is when health becomes an increasingly important factor. His research finds that among people 85+, three-quarters (74%) have difficulties with at least some daily activities, such as housework, getting around the home or other everyday tasks. Thus assisted living becomes a viable option.
With dedicated thought and preparation for each phase you’ll find the stress and fear of the unknown will be lessened and that you and your loved ones can feel a sense of security, knowing your best plans have been put in place.
So start preparing now.