Retirement- a new phase in life, the well-served carrot, or unrelieved boredom? There are so many conflicting views on retirement. As a recent, “early” retiree, I have been asked often to describe retirement. Although I can definitely say that the experience has been very positive, it is often hard to describe it properly. In fact, on a recent internet search of retirement, that is a view shared by many recent retirees. The same search produced varying notions on retirement and different perspectives on the term “early,” ranging from the traditional under 65 definition to the growing concept of “extreme early retirement,” or financial independence, for those in their 30s!
Many women in their late 40s and early 50s start pondering retirement and grappling with issues, not just financial concerns, but answers to questions about meaningful life after retirement. In order to decide when to retire, many ideas need to be explored.
Changes in social, economic and cultural views have had an impact on the opinion of when to retire. For many, it is seen as more of an ideal than a realistic situation.
Economic Realities: The fact is that many people in their 50s cannot afford to retire for a variety of reasons. Unlike in previous years, many people do not stay with an organization that offers a pension plan. Many people, particularly women, have had gaps in their working life or have worked in a freelance or entrepreneurial capacity. These circumstances may leave little room for the concept of “financial independence” after one stops working.
Mental Mindset: Our societal culture values work and our professional identities. The most often asked question upon meeting a new acquaintance is “what do you do?” Add to that a fear of aging, loss of identity, old stereotypes of “retirement leads to death” and other myths, and many people are loathe to give up a career which offers not only financial stability, but a sense of accomplishment and identity.
Perhaps this can be traced back to Erik Erikson’s stages of development where he labeled the post retirement stage as “generativity vs. stagnation.” Obviously one stage of life cannot be so simply stated by one conflict, but this is an interesting, though very negative statement, which may still resonate with people.
Different Attitudes Among Different Generations
Interestingly, different generations seem to have different attitudes on retirement and when to retire not solely based on obvious factors such as age and economics.
Millenial/Generation Y: Younger workers view retirement as financial independence yet a long way away. They are struggling to start their professional lives or have finally achieved a sense of security. The trend has moved away from one career to a varied professional life or different work situations within one career area.
However, a new trend has emerged with movements such as ERE (Early Retirement Extreme), where younger people make early retirement a goal, and to do this, change their lifestyles, often dramatically, foregoing home ownership and making choices for simpler and less expensive daily living. Their goals may include long-term travel or a series of freelance work situations. Clearly, their image of retirement is not one of relaxation after a long career, but a dramatic and adventurous shift in the way one lives life.
In contrast, Prime Women-Boomers/Early Gen Xers often have financial means but have become emotionally invested in a career. They, too, are more interested in an exciting and adventurous change of life, but after years of work, career satisfaction, and economic stability are less willing to make extreme sacrifices to make this happen, and hence, may be more careful in their planning and approach and to their overall “retirement readiness”.
Much research lately has looked at the concepts of slowness and mindfulness in our approaches to all facets of life.
If, for many women, retirement readiness is about attitude and emotional readiness, then preparing for this milestone is a more involved process than meeting with financial advisers and attending retirement workshops. It needs a thoughtful and careful approach. There is value in taking a look at the precepts of the “slow” movement and the benefits of mindfulness. Experts stress that mindfulness and the art of slowing down should not be confused with procrastination. Instead, this should be seen as taking the time to anchor oneself, foster curiosity, open-mindedness and a sense of gratitude. This, it is argued, will lead to creative possibilities and connections and a sense of grace.
This movement has been applied to studies in education, creativity, employment and health. It makes sense to use it when making a major shift in our own lives.
What are Options/Resources to Finding Meaning in Retirement?
If we apply the philosophy of mindfulness to retirement readiness, it is clear that one can set goals and find meaningful pursuits. These will look different for each person, but they can include:
Embracing “found time”: Enjoying the chance to slow down, meditate, and be open to possibilities you never knew existed. Get to know yourself. Savour the moments.
Making connections: Proponents of the “slow movement” suggest being connected to the present makes our relationships with others stronger, allowing us to be more open to others around us. This can also provide opportunities for volunteerism and sharing time and talents with others.
Pursuing passions and artistic pursuits: Whether this be a new pursuit, a passion that has lain dormant throughout your working years, or a renewed interest in the arts, slowing down, being in tune with one’s mindset, and having more time makes you open to possibilities. Many programs designed to foster creativity in writing or art use as a guiding principle the need to slow down and be reflective in order to surrender to one’s creativity. A good resource for this is The Artist’s Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity by Julia Cameron.
Re-inventing new career, second act: For some of us, rediscovering or developing new passions may lead to something more permanent. This may take the form of a new career or business opportunity, or a creative endeavour.
What Does This Mean to You and Your Decision of When to Retire?
Obviously, the decision about retirement and when to retire is a personal one, with each of us considering her own circumstances and priorities. For some, retirement is not an imminent goal, while others may find the idea of finishing a career very appealing. It is necessary to take stock of your own attitudes, lifestyle, goals, finances, family situations, age and countless other factors. Prepare yourself emotionally and mentally by considering options and reading and studying as you would before undertaking any new venture. There is a plethora of valuable information in the way of blogs, websites and articles, as well as potential networks to discover as you get involved in other pursuits.
Some good reading:
Boomer Confidential: 5 Things No One Knows About Retirement
Lifestyle Changes: Misconceptions About Life in Retirement
22 Early Retirees Describe What It’s Like To Be Retired
Personally, I am almost a year into my “second act.” I loved my career and was satisfied I had left at the right time. I am fortunate to have a good pension that enables me to do this and to be able to do it at the young age of 53. I don’t regret my decision; rather, I am excited to embrace the new opportunities. My year has been full of travel, the re-visiting of pursuits such as acting and writing, chances to see more of friends and family, books to read and re-read, and even some lazy downtime! I feel almost like a younger person who is “dabbling in” and exploring, yet without the sense of panic about finding gainful employment! I am relishing the chance to slow down and be mindful (though at times I feel I am busier than I was while working!)
The most important thing I have learned this year is that retirement is not a dead end or just the ultimate goal. It needs to be prepared for just as one prepares to begin a professional life, and it needs to be nurtured and adjusted as you go. I look forward to this new chapter in my pursuit of lifelong learning!