By Jonathan Burton, MarketWatch
Retirement ain’t all it’s cracked up to be. In fact, if they’re not careful, a lot of folks will crack once they retire.
Perhaps no other stage of life triggers such intense feelings of excitement and liberation, on the one hand, but, on the other, fear and anxiety. Retirement for many entails a leap of faith after decades of routine. You’re not simply at work Friday, doing your job, and retired Monday, dancing for joy, though. Retirement is a major transition that unfolds over many years, as we move from the life we know into the life we will get to know.
Many pre-retirees do not fully comprehend how dramatically their lives will change.
“I struggled with it,” Nancy Schlossberg says of retiring more than two decades ago from a university teaching career. “It wasn’t what I expected.”
And she’s an expert on transitions and how to navigate them; the author of “Too Young to Be Old: Love, Learn, Work, and Play as You Age” and other books on aging, and creator of a respected academic theory about transitions.
A few lucky souls know exactly what their retirement looks like. The rest of us figure it out as we go. If we go, that is. Many people are simply not psychologically ready to retire, even if they’re financially able. Their job is their identity. They believe that “I work, therefore I am,” and its plaintive corollary, “Without work, what am I?”
Research shows that adjusting to retirement is difficult for such people, who report more boredom, anxiety, restlessness and feelings of uselessness. Retired men, for example, were found to be 40% more likely than employed men to experience depression, and the greatest increase in suicide rates between 2000 and 2016 occurred among 45- to 64-year old men, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention .
Sociologist Phyllis Moen suggested that “people spend more time planning a wedding than planning retirement,” says Schlossberg, who at 89 years old enjoys a prolific second act as an author and public speaker. “It’s very important to think about your identity and what you’re losing, and how you get a new identity. What would give you a sense of meaning and purpose?”
“Visualize the kind of person you want to become [in retirement], share it with other people and get their feedback.”
— Karl Pillemer
There is no one-size-fits-all solution, but there are ways to carry the relevancy of your work life into retirement. Constructing a framework for your retirement should start at least three to five years before the planned date. Assessment and course correction occurs about a year before. A year or so after retirement, the honeymoon period will likely have waned; it’s time then to review how things are going. Give yourself another couple of years for retired life to become your new normal. That’s a six- to eight-year journey that will require flexibility and resilience.
“This is an entirely new experience,” says gerontologist Ken Dychtwald, co-author of the 1989 best seller “Age Wave” and founder of a consulting firm that bears the same name. “You’ve been in patterns for decades. How is a person to know what will satisfy them?”
Start by finding your spot on the retirement transition curve. Dychtwald has identified five phases of retirement: imagination (15 to five years before retirement); anticipation (five years prior); liberation (first year of retirement); reorientation (years 2 to 15); and reconciliation (more than 15 years after retirement).
Three years to retirement: anticipation
You’re past the imagination stage and its fantasies, hopes and wishes. The anticipation stage is reality. Friends are retiring; you’re tired of working, the finish line is in sight. It’s time to seek wise advice on how to handle feelings about leaving regular employment and the supportive social network it typically provides.
Set aside any money concerns for now. Of course, money matters, but there’s plenty of guidance for retirees about your financial portfolio; not so much about your emotional portfolio.
“People make the decision to retire based on an economic state rather than a life state,” says retirement coach Mitch Anthony, who teaches investment advisers to help clients plan their life in addition to their finances. “Retirement is a mental-health consideration,” he adds. “We’ve treated it as if it’s something you have to do, then, ‘Do you have enough money?’ — and conversation over.”
Being emotionally grounded going into retirement will likely lead to better, more mindful financial decisions in retirement. Moreover, retired life may require less money than you expect. Find purpose and ways to feel relevant, and your financial plan will seem like a piece of retirement cake.