Written by Jeff Walker, Financial Planner
Retirement – A New Identity
George had been looking forward to retirement. The high pressure of sales and service that came with his job was getting to him, he found getting through the weeks harder and harder. Too many meetings, too much travel, too many changes in technology, too much of everything. Unfortunately, retirement wasn’t what he thought it was. Shopping for groceries and finally relaxing a little wasn’t as fulfilling or rewarding as he thought it would be. Ironically, he missed the daily streams of emails and phone calls, He missed talking to his colleagues. He missed being in the middle of things. Basically, he felt lost.
Who am I now? When people ask me what I do, what do I even tell them?
We’ve met a lot of people like George over the years. People who have enjoyed their careers often find it difficult to accept that they’re over. Work is such a huge part of our identity. Retirement can change the way we fundamentally think of ourselves. Many people recognize that they are entering a new stage in life, but they probably have given little thought as to how, on an emotional level, they will deal with their changed status. The result is that sometimes retirement comes as a serious letdown.
Sometimes the biggest issue in retirement isn’t money-related its identity-related. What most people don’t realize is that retirement involves an emotional separation, like death, there are stages people go through and the basic challenge is around managing those feelings but also fulfilling the void. Some people go smoothly through these stages, while others struggle. Work can provide several psychological benefits that sometimes people don’t appreciate until they stop. Work can provide a sense of purpose and a sense of progress. Another benefit work can provide is stability and routine. Most people like having structure and having a routine in their day, and work is usually the largest component.
Work can foster human connections that provide a sense of community, comradery and other benefits like a mental stimulus that keeps our minds active and healthy. Sometimes personal friendships are created that extend beyond the workplace and even after.
Unfortunately, sometimes people retire to escape the burden of work but fail to focus on creating the next chapter of their life. This perspective alone can go a long way to helping people make the proper psychological changes. Managing partner, Bret Elam, advises people to “Retire TO something and not FROM something.”
At Thrive, we value and appreciate the opportunity to help people deal with ALL the challenges that will come their way as they transition INTO and AFTER retirement. To be honest, a lot of it isn’t money-related, it’s psychological, geographical, health-related, etc. One of the biggest blessings of the work we do for families is to remove the burden of creating a financial plan so they can create a life plan. Often, people don’t do the work to create a retirement that replaces the emotional void left after they retire. And it isn’t their fault, the industry does a terrible job of preparing people for retirement and to be honest, most advisors
and firms only want to talk about what they get paid to talk about and they miss the big opportunity to support their clients in ways that sometimes are even more beneficial than the financial aspect.
So here are some tips to make the psychological transition more product and enjoyable
Start Now: There is no reason you can’t start planning this while you are working. You don’t have to wait until you are retired. If you are already retired, it’s never too late to reframe your perspective on what you want the rest of your life to look like. Today is the first day of the rest of your life.
Design a Retirement That Excites You: One of the easiest things you can do is to define this time of life – name it, establish a theme for it. Recently we had a conversation with one of our clients and they said retirement is their “time to give back.”
Give Yourself Time to Experiment, Try New Things, Find New Outlets: Ironically when retirees embrace new challenges, they also often create new relationships. Many become more involved in their local communities, membership roles in various boards or associations, and volunteering for nonprofits may be opportunities to consider. Mentorship is another wonderful opportunity. As a mentor, you can make a tremendous difference in the lives of younger people navigating the employment world. Volunteering can provide a sense of fulfillment as well as the potential to create new relationships.
Dip Your Toe into Retirement: More and more people are transitioning into retirement as opposed to an abrupt stop. One of our clients thought they wanted to move to Florida and sell their home, so they rented a house and spent the summer there before pulling the plug and they realized that perhaps being a snowbird was a better option for them. Many employers are open to the idea of a reduced workload, whether it’s fewer hours or fewer days, and are often pleased that they can retain a valuable employee for a little while longer. Another option may be to retire but return as a consultant in your field of expertise or even company and this is a great strategy because it allows you to spend time in both worlds while you explore this new stage of life. As retirees further separate or transition from full-time work and gain comfort with their post-work identity, “being” increasingly replaces “doing” and they have fewer negative feelings and more confidence in this new stage.
Invest in Personal Relationships: There’s no better place to start than home. Spending time with friends and family, whether new or old are great ways to stay connected and socially engaged. A lot of retirees say they are busier now than they are retired as compared to when they were working. Lunch with friends and family are great ways to stay sharp and remain active.
Create Networks Beyond the Office: Look for opportunities to keep learning —enrolling in a university program to learn a new skill or interest may be appealing and helpful to keep our minds active and stimulated. Another client recently told us that she always wanted to run a marathon but never had the time to train with her work schedule. So, she created a plan and said, “I don’t know if I even want to do it now or even if I can, but I’m energized and ready to try something new.” As retirees further separate or transition from full-time work and gain comfort with their post-work identity, “being” increasingly replaces “doing” and fewer have feelings of guilt and far fewer concerns about monetary issues
Talk to Someone Who Can Help: It’s never a bad idea to speak to a professional such as a therapist or a coach about these issues to get their perspectives. Sometimes a simple conversation and expressing and verbalizing your thoughts and feelings is enough to help alleviate the psychological burden.
Unfortunately, the industry doesn’t talk about this subject enough but as you can see there is a lot more to retirement than just money. We hope this information is enlightening and we hope this will help empower and provide you with more support to make your retirement everything it could be. In summary, make a plan, stay active physically and mentally and re-engage in society in an exciting and new way, and don’t be afraid to ask for help! What good is money if you aren’t healthy mentally and physically to enjoy it? Schedule an appointment with us today!