Of all the transitions we face in life, the one called retirement just might be the most unnerving of all. Just the name is frightening. Retirement. For many of us it conjures images of our grandparents sitting on the front porch swing, wondering why the grandkids don’t come to visit more often. After all, we retire things that are no longer useful, putting them out to pasture. And that is not how most of us want to spend twenty, thirty, or more years of our lives.
The entire idea of retirement used to be simpler. But then–life was simpler. Most people worked at one job for their whole career and then retired with a pension. Now people are working longer, living longer, and demanding more satisfaction out of everything they do.
Just as we changed the landscape during our careers, Boomers are changing the landscape for retirement. But just what does retirement look like now, and why are so many people frustrated or even depressed when they reach what are supposed to be the best years of their lives?
The truth is most people spend all of their energy and attention making sure they will have enough money to live comfortably after they retire. And while they may have enough money, many find they don’t know how to fill the days once they don’t have to hit the alarm clock. Most of us–right or wrong–define ourselves by what we do. Work gives us a sense of identity, accomplishment, and a sense of meaning. When that is suddenly no longer valid, many people struggle to find a sense of purpose in their new lives.
Retirement planning doesn’t just involve finances. It should include a plan for what, why, and how you are going to spend your time. You should start considering this plan about two to three years out from your actual retirement. Here are a few things that should be an integral part of your transition blueprint.
What in the Heck Are You Going To Do? Travel, golf, and spending time with the grandkids are all great pastimes, but that is what they are. You can’t–nor should you–fill your days solely with recreational activities or focus on taking care of others. Start thinking about things you have always wanted to do. Volunteering, giving back to the community, starting a small business, mentoring…these are just a few ideas of how you could create a meaningful next chapter. What are your passions? I felt stress was one of the not-so-secret killers of our time. That led me to wellness coaching and then to executive and transitional coaching after my years in corporate management. The key lies in finding something that make you want to get out of bed in the morning.
Stay Connected. Most of us find our social connections through work. Building relationships with people you see day in and day out creates a strong support system. But once you leave that office for the last time, don’t expect people to call and see how you are doing. Most of your network will move on. After all, they are still working and that was the main thing you had in common. How will you build new connections? This is more of an issue for men than women since most women already have social networks outside of the of the office. You could think about taking yoga classes, joining a hiking group, or getting involved with a local charity. Maybe even the local community playhouse. The point is to get out and stay social. Don’t spend all your time in the house, and don’t expect your spouse to provide all of your social support.
Learn to Relax. Once you decide on a course of action–be it volunteering or going back to school–don’t let it rule your life. You just spend thirty or forty years obsessing on a career. Now is the time to find the balance we all talk about. Sure, start that business, but don’t forget to schedule that river cruise down the Danube. Travel, golf, trips to the grandkids–use those things to fill your recharging time. Now you can find out just how important this whole balance thing really is.
Of course, there are many other things to consider when planning your retirement. Do you want to stay where you are or move to someplace new? How about downsizing? Is the idea of moving to a smaller one-level condo appealing? What if you are ready to retire and your spouse isn’t?
Just like everything else in life today, planning your retirement isn’t simple. But it is a pretty fair bet that without some thoughtful consideration, you won’t know what to do after you take that celebratory trip. And while you are planning, you can pivot your thinking to see the next chapter not as retirement, but as a reinvention of yourself and the creation of the life you’ve always dreamed about.