Retirement: ‘Aging is the master teacher’

We all know that the whole concept of retirement is changing dramatically. The word “retirement” no longer fits.

For several years I’ve been searching for a new word to describe this transition, to no avail.  Some people are replacing “retire” with “rewire” or “reset.” Some are calling it the “third age” or simply the “new retirement.” None of these clicks with me but if you have an apt descriptive word, please let me know.

We do know that people are retiring earlier and living longer. Retirement no longer means stopping work.

Yes, it means moving away from one’s former work, but more and more retirees are finding ways to remain at work or to develop new work interests. Nearly half return to part-time or full-time work, by choice or necessity. The labor participation of so-called older workers has been rising since the middle 1990s after years of decline. 

We do know that most people spend more time and thought planning for a two-week vacation than for retirement. Many carry around a mental picture of retirement that is unattractive, boring and sometimes downright frightening. As a retirement coach, I help people design a retirement lifestyle that is a snug fit between who they are and their projected retirement activities. Of course, the sooner we start this design, the better.

There are six arenas to examine when drawing up a blueprint for your retirement. Of course, one is the financial arena. Without some level of financial support, a retirement lifestyle will lack any style at all. That’s why we need to dedicate considerable time and energy and a portion of our income for most of our lives, in preparation for this time called retirement.

My clients complete a questionnaire that measures their knowledge of financial issues, their level of financial planning, and the confidence they feel about the money they will have for retirement. If the results indicate a need for financial advice, they meet with their own financial advisers -that is certainly not my field. (I just wish I were better at convincing my own adult children to start investing early so they can meet the retirement chapter of life with a measure of financial confidence.)

Another arena vital to the plan is the career arena. Our work life has many benefits beyond the paycheck, and if we don’t examine those benefits and rank them in importance to us, we can wake up feeling lost a few weeks after the retirement party.

We need to develop a plan for disengagement from work, for reorientation and definition of our self-image. Another benefit of full-time work is time management. Many retirees feel best when there is structure to their days, so they must figure that out before retirement. Work also provides socialization for many of us, and we can’t discard that benefit without some consequences.

Our work also gives us a sense of purpose, a sense of being useful. So planning includes finding a new way to be in the mainstream of life – vs. feeling irrelevant. Each job has a certain status attached. Each job gives us a definite place in the scheme of the world. Nothing elitist or wrong with appreciating that status, it helps us to know who we are. All of these work benefits need to be replaced in some way.

The health and wellness arena consists of all the energy you expend helping your body and mind work as well as possible. This arena includes physical and mental wellness as well as finding personal meaning in life – that element that helps us feel whole. We all need a physical fitness plan, retired or not. In planning, we look at vitality blockers, wellness attitudes and degree of flexibility.

In the family and relationships arena, we talk about the client’s ability to develop, nurture and maintain intimate relationships. We project into the future to think about a possible need for caring for aging parents or our offspring. We deal with probably the most critical element here, the relationship with a spouse. As you probably have seen, retirement can have a negative impact on a marriage. This is especially true if only one partner is retired and the couple has not prepared for this change. Or one may want to retire on a beach and the other in the North Woods.  These issues can be resolved one conversation at a time in the planning, rather than arising as nasty surprises later.

The plan includes the client’s preferences in the leisure and social arena. Many people have told me that work was “my whole life.” Leisure is a fundamental human need, and in retirement it occupies a more central position than it did previously. We explore – or talk about developing – leisure preferences, retirement residence, travel and hobbies.

In the personal development arena are the active and intentional actions that we do to improve ourselves and give life meaning. This is a highly individual arena. I do believe, though, that we live better and thrive when life potentially holds meaning as long as we live. Some clients want continued education in some way – that may mean accordion lessons. Others want to volunteer and find that heightens their zest for living. 

There are thousands of ways to find meaning and continue to develop as human beings. The pathways most likely will change as we move through any stage of life. It is important to be wide awake though, no matter what our pathway to meaning is.

Middle-age is a good time to formulate a retirement plan. Of course the financial element will benefit from much earlier attention. Preparation can evaporate those fears and negative hits surrounding the word “retirement.” Someone said, “Aging is not a thief in the night. It is the master teacher.”

I like that.

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