Retirement is supposed to be about living your ideal life.
Examples of this supposed ideal abound everywhere you go — pictures of happy, middle-aged couples relaxing on the beach, enjoying pastoral views, or engaging with the grandkids.
Is that what a successful retirement feels like to you?
Studies focused on retirement satisfaction report that people retiring today feel that they’re on shaky ground. Confidence in Medicare and Social Security benefits has decreased, worries about long-term care costs have increased, and more than 4 out of 10 retirees report their health care expenses are higher than they expected.
Experts in the field of retirement psychology find that while some individuals transition smoothly into their golden years, others have a much more difficult time, and they typically don’t talk about it because they’re embarrassed.
Retirement is supposed to be about having fun, doing the things you enjoy -- living the good life, but how do you set yourself up so that you also feel good?
Here are a few things to think about BEFORE you actually retire...
Having a successful retirement that's fulfilling and fun isn't just about how much money you have saved in the bank; it's also about preparing for the social and emotional stresses and issues that can often arise. Most financial planners focus solely on financial health, but money alone does not guarantee you will have happiness or even satisfaction. To achieve a true sense of fulfillment, you need to pay attention to several key areas that require just as much, if not more, of your time and attention.
Who Are You Without Your Job?
A lot of people don’t think about it, and they’re supposed to be having the best time of their life because they’re no longer working, but they’re depressed because they no longer know who they are .
Transitioning out of a job during retirement can result in a kind of identity crisis, particularly for those whose identities are shaped by their careers. Let me tell you a quick story about Jason...
Jason was a pilot for United Airlines for 25 years. Both he and his wife were thrilled when he retired. They were looking forward to doing a lot of travelling. And, that meant doing a lot of flying.
Things were going great until he walked into the airport for the first time as a "civilian" and not a pilot. He almost didn't board the plane.
He was so accustomed to receiving deferential treatment from everyone when he was wearing his pilot's uniform that he felt lost, like he was invisible, when no one paid any attention to him whatsoever. Thankfully his wife was there with him and helped him get through all of that.
They also used some of their vacation time to talk about what not being a pilot any more meant to Jason and what he could do to create a new identity for himself in retirement.
If the satisfaction you get from a job well done goes beyond the paycheck you receive, then perhaps your definition of retirement needs an adjustment before you actually retire.
And, that begs the question...
What's Your Life Purpose?
If you’ve spent the majority of your working years making a living, retirement may be your opportunity to focus on making a life.
Each of us has a unique combination of talents and interests that no other human being has. Ask yourself, what have you always wanted to do? What gave you joy as a child?
Reconnect to what gives your life meaning and it might also be part of the legacy you leave behind to your children, or to the world.
Who Are The People You Feel Closest To Outside Of The Workplace?
It’s common for retirees to see a decline in their social activities once they retire, in large part because they lose contact with work relationships. This transition can be especially difficult for men who don't invest in their social life before they retire.
"Retirement is the day you come home and tell your spouse, ‘Honey, I’m home… for good!’" ~ Unknown
It's easy for relationships to get stressed because your spouse might not be used to having you around all the time. Losing your social connections at work can lead to a greater dependence on your spouse, an increased sense of isolation, and greater dissatisfaction and unhappiness -- for both of you.
It's a good idea to start building a high-quality network of close friends and confidants before you retire. In this case, the quality of those relationships is more important than the quantity. Get involved in some community activities that you enjoy.
Social engagement has been found to stave off chronic disease, and when you combine that with physical activities such as playing tennis, bowling, or even just going for a walk, you also stimulate the brain, improving your thinking skills and overall health.
And, that means you are more likely to have a fun and fulfilling retirement.
That leads us to...
What Are You Doing To Protect Your Primary Asset?
After all your years of hard work, the last thing you want is a retirement limited by health constraints. Not surprisingly, good health has proven to be strongly correlated with retirement satisfaction. Research has found that retirees with poor health report dramatically lower levels of happiness and satisfaction.
Staying active during your golden years can not only keep you fit and more mobile, but it can also give you the added benefit of increased opportunities for social interaction. Make your health a priority by taking advantage of regular wellness visits. Most health insurance plans including Medicare don't charge for annual wellness visits, and as the saying goes, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.
I would encourage everyone who's reading this to take a few minutes to reflect on what you want your retirement to look like. Speak with your spouse so you can get their input to make sure both of you will be on the same page. Write down your top three concerns, and then make an appointment with an advisor qualified to give you a holistic retirement plan.
Work with someone who can give you not just returns, but peace of mind. This means taking a realistic look at how things might change in the future and addressing those concerns now so that emotional hardship isn’t part of your retirement.