Retirement is a journey, not a destination
You have likely been saving, investing, and planning for retirement for years, if not decades. Having a workable and flexible financial plan is essential as you approach the end of your working career. But retirement readiness also includes non-financial planning or life planning. What are you going to do once you reach your goal? Retirement is a major life changing event that will require an emotional adjustment.
Hopefully your retirement will be filled with many rewarding and productive years. However, just like other phases of life, there will be bumps along the way. Retirement is a whole new chapter of your life; it isn’t a permanent vacation. You will likely experience a range of emotions. There will be a sense of joy and freedom as you pursue travel, hobbies, and more time with family and friends. There can also be concerns surrounding no longer working as you transition from saving for the future to instead spending what you’ve saved. You might also experience a feeling of letdown after so many years working and planning, this can lead to loneliness, boredom, and disillusionment.
Most major life-changing events involve an ongoing process of emotional adjustment. Retirement is no exception. Retirees must face what is essentially the last transition of their lives. Typically, you will move through a 6-Step process when dealing with this transition. At some points you may be in two phases at once, others might skip a phase entirely. No two retirement journeys are exactly alike. Below we’re going to explore each phase and some of the characteristics associated with it.
Pre-retirement: Planning Time
During your working years, retirement can appear to be both a distant goal and a cause for worry. You save for it, you might develop a financial plan for it, but have you devoted thought to what you will actually do once you reach your goal? Too often we get caught up in the busyness of our daily lives: kid’s activities, paying for college, paying down the mortgage, and having fun too. It is hard to focus on the future, when there are so many demands on our time today. The default concern becomes making sure that enough money is allocated to long-term savings each year. If you are looking for a better transition from working to retirement, sketch out a flexible plan on how you anticipate spending your time.
The Last Day: Smiles, Handshakes, Farewells
By far the shortest stage in the retirement process is the last days of work. This is often marked by some sort of dinner, party, or other celebration. In some respects, this event is comparable to a marriage ceremony, a new chapter of life has started, off to the honeymoon…
Honeymoon Phase: No More Alarm Clock
Of course, honeymoons follow more than just weddings. Once the retirement celebrations are over, a period often follows where retirees get to do all the things that they wanted to do once they stopped working: travel, indulge in hobbies, visit relatives and so forth. This phase has a set time frame and will vary depending upon how much honeymoon activity the retiree has planned.
Disenchantment: So this is it?
The emotional high of the retirement has worn off, now the day-to-day reality of the new situation is visible. The big question becomes: How am I going to be productive in retirement? After looking forward to this stage for so long, many deal with a feeling of disappointment. Now is the time to address the needs of daily living, the honeymoon is over. This phase can also be associated with loneliness, monotony and feelings of uselessness.
Reorientation: Building a New Identity
Fortunately, the disenchantment phase of retirement doesn’t last forever. Retirees begin to familiarize themselves with the landscape of their new circumstances and navigate their lives accordingly. This is easily the most difficult stage in the emotional retirement process and it will take both time and conscious effort to accomplish. Self-examination is required: “Who am i, now?” “What is my purpose at this point?” and “Am I still useful in some capacity?” It is important to develop satisfactory answers to these questions. One way to get started is to set small goals. Working on goals can give you a sense of purpose. Accomplishing new things can give you a sense of achievement. Unfortunately, some retirees never exit this stage. If you find yourself struggling seek advice from experts, friends, or family.
Routine: Your New Normal
Finally a new daily schedule is created, new marital ground rules for time together versus time alone are established, and a new identity has been at least partially created. Eventually, the new landscape becomes familiar territory and retirees enjoy the last phase of their lives with a new sense of purpose.
The Bottom Line
“People can maximize current enjoyment partly by spending time and other resources to produce ‘imagination capital’ that helps them better appreciate future enjoyment.”1 Life planning is important to a successful retirement. Those that have given serious time and thought to what they will do following retirement will generally experience a smoother transition than those who haven’t planned. It is never too soon to begin mapping out the course of the rest of your life.
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1Source: “The New Retirement Mindscape,” Ameriprise Financial Inc. G. Becker Cambridge, MA Harvard University Press