Pedestrian returns from retirement funds, a struggling economy, and Covid-19 have all conspired to make those in their late 50’s contemplating retirement to feel anxious about what this next phase in their lives is going to hold, especially if their vision of retirement was going to be a time filled with travel, golf, sleeping in ….name your fantasy!
The reality is that even if you have prepared financially for retirement and 2020 has not dented your balances too badly, the real impact of retirement can be more jarring than you may have anticipated. After dealing with what 2020 has thrown at you, you might be looking forward to taking a complete break from work but is this actually healthy for you?
An extremely important part of your retirement planning is a discussion of the benefits of working (as crazy as this may sound), regardless of age. Retirement is no longer an event – it is a segue into an altered definition of life as you know it.
A definition of work that I like is that it is an activity that brings value to others and meaning to you. While you may feel that you’ve had enough work, it’s probably the underlying issues (i.e., meetings, corporate politics, commuting) that have left you drained and exhausted.
Many people who go back to work after retirement are motivated by more than money – they are also motivated by the psychological and existential payoffs.
You need to consider work and retirement in more holistic terms. What exactly do you want to retire from? Keep in mind that the word “retire” means to withdraw, and while it may be tempting, you need to consider the pros and cons of not working at all.
You may want to withdraw from your environment, but do you want to withdraw from the challenge of solving problems? You may want to withdraw from an egotistical boss, but do you want to withdraw from colleagues you’ve developed relationships with over many years?
Alzheimer’s and dementia research are underscoring the power of leading an intellectually challenging life, especially as we age. The brain is a highly-sophisticated muscle that needs to be used, lest it atrophies just like any other unused muscle. Any engagement that we find intellectually stimulating helps expand the computing capacity of our brains. If we treat life as a learning experience and are intentional about continued learning, we are constantly building and expanding our brain circuitry.
The discussion surrounding “who we are” has received short shrift in the retirement conversation. Most of us are unprepared for the realities that come crashing down around us once we retire: playing golf every day quickly loses its appeal; the family doesn’t want us visiting that much; spouses need space, and we don’t know where to ply a lifetime of know-how and know-who any longer.
The old retirement question that most clients asked me as they were nearing retirement was, “How will I invest my money so I can retire comfortably?” The new question I am asking them now is, “How will you invest yourself and your time, as well as your money?” In order to answer the new retirement question, you need to talk about the pros of working and how they apply to you:
- Physical health/energy;
- Intellectual stimulation;
- Social stimulation;
- Creative tasks;
- Meaningful contribution;
- Sense of relevance;
- Engagement/doing what you love; and
- Opportunity for growth.
If you are looking toward retiring, think about how work will be integrated into your life going forward. Many people don’t do this assessment before retiring, only to end up going back to work in some capacity because they realised they were missing out on the pros listed above.
Think about what you like best, and least, about working and use those responses, along with your choices above, to help you integrate a work plan into your retirement plan. Remember that the concept of work can be redefined to being an activity that brings meaning to you and values to others. This means that your new “work” could even consist of volunteering or other non-paid endeavors.
Are you enjoying benefits but want to slow down? In that case, working some balance into your schedule will sustain your enjoyment of the work you do. Do you love what you do? If so, full retirement probably is not a good choice for you.
It is important to determine how work benefits you. Money is certainly one, and having more of it doesn’t hurt. But, as the saying goes, money can’t buy happiness. The psychological, social, and intellectual benefits that the right work can deliver into your life is much more difficult to tally in terms of the value it delivers to you and to those you work for or with – but it is just as important.