Finances in order? Check. Date of retirement established? Check. Retirement party planned? Check. You’re all set! Hold up a minute! Is that all there is to planning your ideal retirement? No, sir! Retirement planning is about so much more than just money. Preparing for retirement requires a sound financial plan, but all the money in the world won’t make for a happy retirement if you don’t know what you want to do with it. Financial investing is critical but equally important is investing time and energy in designing a plan for your life.
Assuming that life will automatically be great when you stop working might be the biggest pitfall people make when it comes to retirement. Of course, the “no plan” approach might work for a while, but it doesn’t usually take long for boredom to set in. If a gratifying retirement is what you’re looking for, a bit of effort and a certain amount of self-exploration will get you there. This self-reflective work will ensure that you avoid the four most common pitfalls that are associated with retirement planning.
1. No Lifestyle Plan
Diligent financial planning is critical, but we tend to be far less thoughtful when it comes to planning how we will spend the next 30 or 40 years of our lives. The shift into retirement is so much more than a financial event. It changes your lifestyle and self-perception and completely alters how you will spend your time. As a retirement coach, I often hear from anxious clients who are unable to visualize the rest of their lives. Planning the rest of your life can be less daunting if you start before you retire. We cannot know what the future holds for us, but the adjustment will be less challenging if you hold the attitude that this is a time of possibilities and new beginnings.
Much has been written about the emptiness and boredom that can happen if you don’t have a plan. You’re less likely to encounter problems if you’ve thought in advance about what you want it to be like. Retirement is a time to disengage from your old self and create something new. Take the time to clarify your core values, discover activities that are meaningful to you, identify relationships that you want to nurture, and create a bucket list. Spend time visualizing what an ideal day, month, or year might look like. This pre-retirement work helps you deal with the emotional challenges of leaving your work identity behind.
I advise my clients to have a plan but to hold it lightly. Circumstances change as we move through life and your plan should change and evolve along with you. For example, clients who plan to travel must consider how mobility or health changes might affect their plans. Do you need to consider traveling in a group, letting someone else take charge, or should someone else drive? Good proactive planning can help reduce any potential negative effects these inevitable changes might present.
2. Underestimating Former Lifestyle
It seems hard to imagine but many of my retired clients are taken aback at the extent to which they miss parts of their old lives. After dreaming of this for so long, how is it possible that they might miss work? Work offers much more than just a paycheck. Among other things, it offers an affirmation of self-worth, purpose, structured days, and a social network.
Underestimating how much these things add meaning to your life is a common pitfall for retirees. Clients in my retirement practice who have moved successfully into retirement all report that they put in some self-exploratory work in the months leading up to retirement. They recommend taking an inventory of all the aspects of your work that give you pleasure, a sense of accomplishment, or boosts your self-esteem. Become intimately familiar with all the perks and pleasures of your work life. Once it is clear which aspects of your work life you want to bring forward with you into retirement, it will be easier to identify new activities or opportunities that will satisfy those needs.
For example, some clients report missing the learning opportunities that work provided. Retirement is a prime opportunity to continue to learn and flourish, just outside of the realm of work. Consider learning a new language or instrument. You could also give woodworking a try. Planning and discovering new opportunities that can replace the benefits that work provided is a sure way to find success in retirement.
3. Not Identifying Purpose In Retirement
You’re retired so you can finally let go of that purpose-driven lifestyle and just chill out. Not so fast! You don’t want to have to rely on those old stories like “back when I was a nurse I saved lives”, or “when I was an engineer I designed amazing buildings.” Those are great stories, but they’re about the old you, and retirement is the time to find a new purpose and create new stories. Your new purpose doesn’t have to be something grandiose. It can be something big like solving the climate crisis, or it could be something small, like being fully engaged with your family.
Professor of Epidemiology Dr. Celeste Pearce says that having a strong sense of purpose can significantly enhance your overall quality of life and help you live longer. Retirees often feel a loss of purpose when they leave work. Your new purpose must be an authentic reflection of you and the things that matter most to you. However you choose to express your purpose, it should add meaning and joy to your life. Living a purposeful life also offers a sense of still being useful and relevant in today’s world.
4. Leaving Behind Meaningful Relationships
When you retire, a significant portion of your social network is no longer readily available to you. Research shows that having a robust social network has a positive impact on your health and well-being. We are social creatures and most will agree that our happiest moments are when we are in the company of family and friends that support our retirement vision. Unless we invest time and energy in our important relationships, we run the risk of having a lonely and isolated retirement.
Surround yourself with people who will encourage you to continue to grow and have a shared sense of purpose. Close relationships also offer the opportunity to share your personal feelings, and this has been shown to play a role in the relief of stress. Having great relationships to draw on as you work through the retirement transition will ensure the process is smooth and enjoyable!
The transition to retirement is one of the biggest changes you will experience in your lifetime. We all want success in our post-work life. Before you retire, start to visualize it, try new activities, forge new relationships, and consider new opportunities. A plan, a purpose, and healthy relationships will go a long way in making sure you avoid the most common pitfalls of retirement. Plan for it and it will be possible!
For more information on retirement lifestyle, check out these articles: