Two attorneys were taking on the telephone. (No, this isn’t a joke so don’t wait for the punch line.) They were having a serious conversation as each one is still working but thinking about retiring soon. They both said their client base was shrinking and they have not gone out of their way to look for new clients or new work. In other words, they are ready to stop working but are not sure they are ready for retirement.
These men are fortunate in that they can keep working longer if they wish. However, they share a dilemma common among anyone in the workforce: are you emotionally ready for retirement? How do you know if you will be content without a job? What will you do to fill your days?
While you are packing up the photos and memorabilia that have surrounded your desk or work station for years, are you thinking about what is next? What will your days without an alarm clock or train schedule or rush hour look like?
There are millions of men and women who have had the same thoughts and it usually isn’t about the money that will stop when the work ends. But make no mistake about it, retirement is about loss. Any job, be it in an office, school, hospital, factory, retail shop or at home at a desk, provides structure, purpose and community. If one understands that you are giving up these things when you retire, you will understand that the sooner you find a way to replace them, the happier your retirement will be. You need a plan that includes all three.
Let’s begin with structure. OK, you may not have to wake up at a certain time any more, but sleeping late every day means you probably aren’t ready for bed at night when your partner may be ready. If he or she is still working and adheres to her own schedule, your own late sleeping, afternoon naps, and zero physical activity during the day may put you on a totally different schedule and this can easily harm your relationship. You don’t have to adopt the same schedule as your partner, but you should try to compromise so that you do have quality time together when you are both energized. So even though you are retired, create a schedule for yourself. Perhaps it means that every day at noon you will shop for dinner or work in the garden; maybe you will sign up for a class or lecture series that meets a few times a week and will help to fill that blank calendar. Or you may want to devote time to something you hoped to do over your working years but never had the time to finish. You wanted to learn Spanish or write a novel or compose music. These are noble causes and you will accomplish them sooner if you make a plan and stick to it. Structure is important.
Community can mean many things. There is your community at your work—co-workers, support staff, bosses. Whether your interactions were more chats about last night’s game or your grandchild’s achievements, you had people to talk to every day who knew you, maybe knew your family and other friends, and were a constant part of your days and weeks. Now that you are retired, who will you hang out with?
Many people want to stay in touch with the office community and schedule monthly or even weekly lunches or coffee with the old gang. That is okay at the beginning of your retirement, but it can get old quickly as you are more and more out of the loop on new projects at work or new hires. You need to replace that work community with a new one, be it old friends from high school or neighbors or acquaintances you always wanted to know better. If you are fortunate to have adult children in the area, now is the time to get to know your kids again as an adult. Just don’t be surprised if they are busy and have trouble squeezing you in.
Purpose may be the hardest of all to replicate. Retirees are happiest when they use their experience and skills to help others, start a new business or decide to do something entirely new that interests them , even if it is considered frivolous by others. What better time to follow your passion than in retirement? There are no “shoulds” about this time of life…except that you should have a plan, and follow it.
Determining if you are psychologically ready for retirement is an individual thing, but making time to think about retirement before you do it is the best way to be prepared. Think you want to pursue a hobby when you stop working? Start learning about it now; take a photography class in the evening, work on your musician skills online or with a keyboard. Start making new friends now by joining a community center or a fitness group; find out if your local sports club has golf or tennis tournaments and meet and play with new people. Looking for structure? Commit to a schedule you can keep now and continue in the future.
Too many people report feelings of isolation and lack of direction when they retire. If you act now to plan for those golden years, you will be happier and healthier when that last day of work arrives.