Working and saving for retirement is what we are all programmed to do from our college years, and for some people, even earlier. Being financially independent is the glamorous future we all look forward to one day. No bosses to report to, no time clock to punch in and out of, nobody but yourself dictating what you do all day every day. Sounds pretty good, right? But there are some things about retiring that can take some adjusting to, and they can be difficult for a lot of people as they get used to the new normal. I am not yet to that point personally, but having worked closely with dozens of clients over the years who have gone through this transition, I can share some of their experiences with you.
An Identity Crisis
After you spend several decades working in a career, many people find it incredibly unsettling to no longer be identified as the plant manager, investment professional, HR director or VP of acquisition. This can and usually does lead to an identity crisis for some period of time when a person retires. How long it lasts can depend on how long you spent getting educated for and how long you worked in that career. Job titles can be incredibly addictive. Throughout your entire career you compete to get promoted to a higher level, and you wore that title as a badge of honor. When people asked you what you did for a living, you gave them your quick elevator speech and made a great first impression. Once retired, many people feel a sense of emptiness that they no longer hold that title or have the same responsibilities.
A lot of new retirees find themselves thinking about their old jobs, coworkers and customers on a daily basis, at least for a while. They wonder how their employer is getting along without them and maybe even wait for a call or an email asking them to come back. Especially if you had some great relationships with customers who were very important to the employer. And when several weeks or months go by with no desperate phone calls, you realize that you’re no longer important to that organization. This can leave you feeling like maybe you were not that important, and that you were easily replaceable. If you find yourself feeling this way for a while, don’t worry, this is very common.
Worrying About Money
If you’ve done your retirement planning properly and worked with a professional, you should feel very confident that you don’t need to worry about running out of money. However, expenses come up, and stock markets go down, so concerns about money are normal during retirement. Having a good financial advisor during your retirement is just as important, if not MORE important than having one as you save for retirement. Talking to your advisor on a regular basis and updating him or her on your financial situation is critical. Following a budget during retirement is just as important as any other time in your life. Even if you have more income than you need to meet your expenses, it’s still important to follow a budget and continue building your nest egg if you can. You never know what kinds of expenses may come down the road that you’ll need to be prepared for. If you aren’t lucky enough to have a pension from your old job, talk to your financial advisor about setting up some lifetime income annuities that will give you income that will never end.
You Might Not Be As Happy As You Thought You Would Be
When people initially retire there is definitely an initial feeling of freedom and cause for celebration. Who wouldn’t feel elated to get away from a micro-manager boss or annoying coworkers. But this feeling probably won’t last as long as you thought it would, and pretty soon you’re going to feel about the same level of happiness as when you were working. You might think something is wrong with you that every day isn’t like you’re on cloud nine. But multiple studies have shown that the amount of money you have has no impact on how happy you are. In fact, I can say from my experience that some of the most unhappy people I’ve ever met have been very wealthy. And, some of the happiest people I know have very little in terms of worldly possessions. Having freedom to do what you want is definitely a good thing. But you’re going to need to fill up your days with things that are truly fulfilling, things you really care about. Otherwise, you might find yourself yelling at kids who step on your grass or make too much noise playing football outside.
Spending More Time With Your Spouse
If you are married and have spent most of your career working outside the home, then you probably have not spent all day every day with your spouse, other than when you were on vacation. If you’ve been working from home then this may not apply to you. Many of my clients have told me that suddenly being with their spouse all the time can create some tension. Of course, your spouse is probably your favorite person in the world. But even still, most people need their space on some level. And don’t think that you’re the only one in the marriage feeling a little crowded, because your spouse may be feeling the same way! It’s important for both of you to let the other person do things that they enjoy doing without being critical. This probably will include letting them go on outings with their friends or former coworkers. It’s also important to budget for the extra activities that you and your spouse will be doing with your newfound time together. Lots more lunch dates, dinner dates, and special events can put a dent in your checking account.
What You Can Do About It
It’s important for everyone to realize that you are not your job title, you are YOU. And you have a lot of great skills you’ve learned over the years that you can now use in new adventures. Yes, your old employer is probably going to be OK even though you’re gone, but you’re going to be even better!! This is a time to take an inventory of the things you’re really good at and the skills you have. You need to also come up with a list of things that make you really happy. It’s also a great time to make a list of new talents or skills you’ve been wanting to develop. Think about how can you use your skills and talents to pursue those things in life that you truly enjoy and that make you really happy. Maybe for you this is spending more time with family and loved ones. Maybe it’s teaching someone else a skill that you have. Maybe it’s giving back through service in your community and helping less fortunate people out. Maybe it’s volunteering your time to a local animal shelter. Making the world around you a better place is something that can help make retirement a lot more fulfilling.
Get Back In Shape
Working all day every day leaves a lot of people exhausted at the end of the day, with little energy left to exercise. Having complete control of your day makes it A LOT easier to get into some healthier habits. This doesn’t mean it will be an easy change to make if it’s been a while since regular exercise was part of your routine. If you are someone who needs to get healthier, I would say do this slowly. Most New Year’s weight loss resolutions fail because people try to do too much all at once and it’s like trying to lift an entire brick wall over your head. Build your fitness wall brick by brick, little by little. And before you know it your clothes will be fitting a little more loose, and you’ll be feeling much better about yourself. Losing some weight and feeling better is probably one of the best solutions for an identity crisis that you could find.
Stay Busy, Alert & Active
A lot of my newly retired clients tell me after being retired for about a year, “I’m so busy being retired, I don’t know how I ever had time to work full time.” I think it’s a very good thing to keep yourself busy and active. My wife’s grandmother recently passed away at the age of 99 1/2. She was a great example of staying busy and active and living a long time. Up until the age of 96 she volunteered at the local hospital working in the gift shop once a week. She also played golf and bingo once a week with a group of ladies up until about that same age. She constantly did crossword puzzles and other types of puzzles to keep her mind active. Of course genetics are a part of it, but I think her active lifestyle kept her going for a long time. Recent studies are now showing how regular exercise and playing brain games are two important things that can reduce the chances of developing dementia. Here’s a great article on that.
You might decide that you want to start up a small business to pursue a passion that you’ve always had, but just never had the time to pursue. This could be some consulting using some of the professional skills you’ve acquired, or maybe it’s centered around a hobby that you’ve always loved. Maybe you could write an e-book and share some of your knowledge that way. This could be a great way to earn a little extra money to pay for some fun trips you’ve always wanted to take. Or, maybe it’s just a fun venture that keeps you active and focused, and watching less news channels.
The bottom line is, retirement life is a really great life to live, as far as I can tell. Being financially independent and free to control your day means the world is your oyster! But you do have to be properly prepared for it. And part of the preparation is knowing what it’s going to be like, including some of the challenges you’ll be dealing with.