When I consider the questions that I get asked most often as a retirement coach, the truthful answer would be that I am repeatedly asked if I can provide retirement financial advice. I’m always taken aback by this question, but it’s only when I explain that I talk about just about everything except money, that I suddenly have their attention. At this point, the conversation moves on to questions more aligned with how they might create a retirement lifestyle that will be happy and fulfilling.
Without a doubt, financial preparations for retirement are extremely important, however, I prefer my clients to seek advice from experts in this field. With the demanding nature of a career in the rear-view mirror, the challenge of creating a retirement that lives up to all the hype stimulates a whole different set of questions. These questions reflect the kind of anxieties that are common amongst those about to retire, or those who have been retired for some time and are dissatisfied with their new lives.
1. What Will I Do All Day?
This might be the question that triggers the greatest anxiety in those who are about to retire. Most people report that before retirement, their lives were full and often overwhelmingly so. At retirement, when all of that comes to a screeching halt, it makes sense that you might feel a bit aimless. The first few days and weeks without the demands of work consuming every waking moment can feel pretty glorious. This “honeymoon” period of retirement is an opportunity to enjoy leisure activities, work through your bucket list, and perhaps do some traveling. It doesn’t take long before the glow wears off, and the prospect of figuring out how to fill your days for the next thirty years can feel a bit daunting.
People tend to fall into two categories when they retire. The first group knows exactly what they will do and have likely been planning for this and working on their bucket lists for years. They tend to have travel plans arranged, hobbies scheduled, and volunteer activities already teed up. The second camp is those who have devoted most of their time and energy to their careers and have little idea of what they will do with themselves when they leave. This is the group that tends to seek out a retirement coach. While this group usually enjoys a limited period with a light schedule, it doesn’t take long to realize that a day with nothing to do can feel like a very long time.
A recent client, newly retired from a demanding career, came to coaching quite anxious about how he would spend his days without the structure and rigors of work. With a narrow social circle and no hobbies, he was hard-pressed to describe what he wanted his life to look like. Coaches, by nature, are famous for dealing with this type of problem, by starting at the beginning. This requires the client to do some self-exploration and clarification of their core values. Upon completion of these exercises, my client determined his top values to be; learning, family, and personal health.
Further exploration revealed that while these are things he claimed to value most, he was not currently expressing them in any meaningful way in his daily life. With the freedom now to create the life he chooses, he realized that finding activities that align with his values was a great place to start. His task was to generate several activities that would fulfill each value. An adult learning course at a community college worked to satisfy his love of learning. Commitment to regular weekly check-ins or visits with family members satisfied his value of family. He joined a walking group in his community as a means of expressing his value of personal health.
An exploration of values is a great way to begin the process of finding activities to fill your time. Activities that satisfy one or more of your core values tend to bring more happiness and a wonderful sense of fulfillment to your life in retirement.
2. Who Will I Do It With?
Not only are retirees concerned with filling their days, but they also need to consider who they will spend their time with. Often, social networks are primarily tied to work colleagues. While many hope and believe that these relationships can be maintained in retirement, it is often not that simple. Inevitably, the one who leaves tends to get left behind as time moves on.
As these relationships dwindle, retirement provides an opportunity to forge new relationships, nurture current ones, and focus more on family relationships. Investing time and energy in important relationships can help avoid the risk of having a lonely and isolated retirement.
A recently retired client expressed a desire to grow his social circle to enhance his life. Acknowledging that it can take time and energy to forge deep and lasting friendships, we explored building his network with a variety of different types of relationships. Relationships can range from simple acquaintances like a neighbor, to very close ones that might include a best friend, a spouse, or a confidant.
Relationships that are simply acquaintances or casual still provide a level of enrichment in life. Acquaintances, like the people in a walking group or choir practice, provide light, surface-level conversation. At a deeper level, your friends, both social (neighbor), or close (your best friend), are people you might share your interests with and have a deeper level of intimacy, trust, and commitment. Even if an encounter is just a quick hello, these quick and simple exchanges provide a degree of connection.
My client set out to examine who is currently in his life that fits into each of these different levels of relationship. Next, he identified which area he would most like to build upon to grow his social circle. His priority was to find casual acquaintances to play bridge. He simply signed up for bridge lessons and was assigned to a group. After several lessons, he proudly reported that he had broadened his casual network of friends and was able to create a group of four for the bridge.
Relationships are at the heart of who we are and healthy ones are a vital component of our health and well-being. Retirement is the perfect time to nurture all different types of relationships, so you can avoid the question, “Who will I do it with?”
3. What Will Give Me A Sense Of Purpose?
Research shows that having a purpose in life, whether it’s something grand or modest, can significantly enhance your overall quality of life. Most of us have been purpose-driven all our lives in our professional careers and our family lives. As people approach retirement, the idea of finding a new purpose can feel overwhelming. Newly retired clients often say that they’re done with being purpose-driven, and just want to relax for a while.
This is great until leisure-filled days don’t feel like quite enough and days begin to feel a bit aimless. Boredom sets in. Clients ask, “Is this all there is?” The prospect of spending the next 30 years with nothing meaningful to do becomes a frightening reality. Most people relish the prospect of having a reason to get out of bed in the morning and have purposeful activities that enrich their lives.
Purpose comes from within and tends to reflect who you are at your core. Engaging in activities that feel purposeful provides long-term satisfaction, but also a sense of being useful and continuing relevance. Purpose doesn’t have to be something grand, like saving the earth. It just needs to be meaningful or valued by you. It might be caring for grandchildren, volunteering at a shelter, or mastering a new instrument. It is not unusual for clients to struggle to articulate a purpose. Some clues that might help identify activities that are purposeful include:
- It needs to inspire you.
- It should reflect your passions.
- It should align with your values.
- It should make use of your strengths.
- It should require concrete actions to fulfill.
If, for example, it is important to be of service to your community, choose activities that satisfy this need. Build houses or volunteer at a shelter. Choosing activities that serve your purpose allows you to engage with your community, offer a sense of accomplishment, and live every day to the fullest.
While retirees ask a wide variety of questions, these three are the ones that come up over and over. Deep self-reflection and a willingness to discover (or re-discover) your values, strengths, and passions, will offer clues to those pesky questions about what you will do all day, who you will do it with, and what will make your life more purposeful. Take the time to do the self-reflective inner work and you will be rewarded with a happy, meaningful retirement!
For more retirement information, check out these articles: