June 30, 2010

Satisfying Retirement - You Will Survive The Second Stage

The "honeymoon" period of a satisfying retirement is when time stretches forever towards the horizon. You see all the possibilities of an active, productive, exciting decades-long part of your life. That euphoria can last a few weeks, a few months, even a year or more. But, at some point, virtually everyone leaves the first stage of retirement and gets a hard slap in the face: I call it Stage Two.

I am not a mental health professional so I can't tell you why this happens. Nor, would I even pretend to tell you how to "fix" a severe problem. Hopefully, knowing that you are not alone and that these feelings come to most everyone might make the process easier to bear.

  • As you make the transition into this new phase of retirement, there is a growing sense of unease, even panic. "What did I do? Am I crazy? I'll be broke in a year! What if I get really sick?"  The reality of being  without the safety net that a job provided suddenly strikes you. You are the Master and Commander of your fate and that is scary.  What looked so good a few months ago now looks like a ship wreck about to happen.

  • Loneliness often rises to the forefront. Even if you are married and your non-working spouse is home most of the time with you, feelings of isolation from what is going on out there build. You have no idea how you are going to fill all the time each day. If you are single, widowed, or your spouse continues to work that void can be even stronger.

  • The benefits you took for granted while working are either gone, or curtailed. Medical coverage usually suffers. Paid vacations? No more. Pension contributions?  No way. Gaining weight and losing physical and mental sharpness? Yes.

What you must keep in mind is that, this too shall pass. If you suffer a bout of moderate to severe depression that lasts for more than a month, I urge you to seek professional help. Doctors can help you get control of these serious side effects of not working.

But, if you have thoughts about any of the question above and are not clinically depressed, breathe easier. Stage Three will definitely follow.

June 28, 2010

Satisfying Retirement: The First Stage

As noted in the previous post, one thing my first stage of retirement didn't experience was the loss of office interaction. For most of my consulting career I worked alone. There were a few clients and industry friends who I talked with several times a week. And, I will admit that not having the phone ring or the e-mail inbox full everyday did bother me a bit at first. But, the "water cooler" type of relationship was one I didn't miss because it wasn't part of my experience. During the first stage of developing a new satisfying retirement lifestyle I did discover a few things that you may be able to relate to.
  • Time becomes both a friend and later, an enemyFuture posts will detail the potential problem of having each day fully available to you. But, in the very first stage of retirement time can be seen as a tremendous ally. Suddenly you have control of the clock. You determine how your day is to be structured. Of course,  commitments to a spouse or other relationships don't stop. But, the blessing of a day and evening that lacks the rigidity of your former workday fills you with a real sense of freedom.
  • Self discovery is a journey that begins anew. You learn things about yourself and spouse that you never knew while working 8 hours a day. We've all read about the adjustments that a spouse has to make when the husband or wife is suddenly "underfoot" 24/7.  It is true, even if you worked from home for all or part of your career. Unless you are single, that other human being is not used to your charming presence all the time. If you approach the process as a positive, the personality traits, thoughts, and interests of the other person gives you a glorious chance to expand and grow yourself.
  • Your "possibles" list has fewer restraints. Books you have wanted to read, trips you want to plan and take, projects around the house, changing a spare bedroom into hobby space, taking on a new hobby that has always intrigued you, involvement in volunteer work, the chance to more fully develop your spiritual side if that is your thing,.....the list of "possibles" can be endless. Of course, limits are imposed by financial, family, or health issues. But, those boundaries are quite a bit farther apart when you are enjoying a satisfying retirement lifestyle.

June 25, 2010

Satisfying Retirement : The Three Stages Involved

My retirement journey has lead me to identify three distinct stages I have passed through.  I'm not writing as an expert who claims this is the way, the only way. but simply someone who has lived through these phases. It is possible to stop working and have a different path? Certainly. If your experiences differ I urge you to share your thoughts so all of us can benefit.

In future posts I will deal with all three stages of active retirement I believe occur. I will discuss some of the more critical decisions a recently retired person must address through retirement planning. I will attempt to explore some of the questions and concerns that face someone who hasn't retired from work yet, but is giving that step serious consideration. Importantly, I will address questions and comments raised by you. Please use the comments section at the bottom of each post to allow our community to ponder your thoughts. If you prefer to communicate with me privately, use the e-mail link in the About Me Section.

Why I stopped Working

When I stopped working in June 2001 little did I know that just a few months later the events of September 11 would make what I had done for a living very difficult. While air travel had become increasingly unpleasant over the previous decade, 9/11 made that unpleasantness close to unbearable. Those of us who flew for a living were suddenly faced with tremendous time and logistics hurdles that made conducting business a major hassle. So, when I decided to stop propping up a failing business the additional burdens created after the terrorist attacks had yet to happen. It is quite possible that the first stage of retirement life might have been quite different.

What Happened Next?

But, as it was, my first stage was of an incredible sense of freedom. The fear of making a wrong choice, or wondering about how I would fill my days lay in the future. Waking up knowing I didn't have to pack a bag and go to the airport was exhilarating. Waking up knowing I didn't have to leave my family for several days or a week at a time was a blessing. As far as I could see into the future all I perceived was endless enjoyment stretching out as far as I could see. Coffee on the back patio with the morning paper, tending my garden, going to a movie in the middle of the day, spending more time reading and listening to music......I had the world on a string. My lifestyle had altered for the better, immediately.

Did I miss the contact with clients? Not really. As I have noted in earlier posts my client roster had been diminishing for the previous 4-5 years at a rather steady clip. And, as anyone who is in contact with customers knows, some of my clients were not my favorite people. I dealt with them because they supported me and my family. But, not having to deal with the abrasive or arrogant personalities was like a breath of fresh air.

It is very possible that your experience in this regard was very different. If you had a work environment that included co-workers you enjoyed, clients or customers who were a pleasure to deal with, even a boss who treated you well and rewarded you fairly, missing that human interaction might be a large part of your first stage of a satisfying retirement.

I encourage you to leave a comment about your experience. Why did you decide to stop working? What were the first few months like? Any immediate regrets?