May 8, 2013

Unintended Consequences

A regular reader of Satisfying Retirement left a comment a month or so ago that raised an issue of retiring that I had never thought of before. Here is what he said:

"A new insight today....a little bit of anger from my friends who are feeling abandoned by my plans to leave the community. I knew it would be scary for me, but I think I underestimated the impact upon my friends, band mates and neighbors. I just didn't think of myself as being all that important in their lives. It is a bittersweet revelation. I doubt I'll lose any friendships, but I know some of them are feeling pain that I never intended to inflict. I wonder how commonly this occurs."
Dr. Keith

I have written quite often about moving after retirement. It is a major decision that should not be taken lightly. I usually advise folks to wait at least a year after retirement before moving to a new home. Leaving work is a major cause of stress to nearly everyone, as is moving. To pile them on top of each other is risky.

With that said, I have never really written about the effect on those you leave behind. Often a move made is to be closer to family, leave bad weather, or find a place with a lower cost of living. But, what about friends? Dr. Keith has raised an interesting point about unintended consequences and what, if anything, we need to do about them.

I imagine you are familiar with the concept of unintended consequences: something you do or say has a ripple effect you didn't consider. Some of the best examples occur when some level of government passes a law without fully considering all the ramifications. Unexpected complications or effects not planned for occur. Whoops!

Unintended consequences are a part of life. On the job you are probably quite familiar with something that might qualify: an e-mail that is read by the wrong person, a snide comment that is overheard by the boss, a tendency to be the first to leave the office every night. There is also the flip side: a report that is finished early and helps solve a problem, or a compliment to a co-worker that energizes her to find a solution to something that is hurting company profits.

During retirement there are all sorts of example of unintended consequences. Dr. Kieth mentioned one that deserves some thought on your part if it fits your situation. Here are a few others:

...The quality of your retirement is negatively affected because you didn't save/invest enough for the lifestyle you are leading.

...You never pushed back from the table or refused that large piece of chocolate cake, so you find yourself taking a boatload of pills and seeing the doctor much too often.

...You treated your spouse like an indentured servant and can't understand why things are so unpleasant at home.

...You enabled your adult child to avoid responsibility for his or her own life for too long, and now they are permanently dependent on you.

...You keep waiting to do something "until tomorrow" and tomorrow never comes.

Then, on the positive side of the unintended consequence coin:

...You lived simply and without lots of "needs." Now you find you can afford to spend that summer in Paris you have always dreamed of.

...You treated others the way you'd want to be treated, and now your life is filled with friends.

...You found activities and interests that keep you energized and excited. As a result you are rarely bored and always looking forward to what each day brings. 

According to Wikipedia, unintended consequences are outcomes that are not the ones intended by a purposeful action. Because these outcomes can be helpful or hurtful, thinking through all aspects of a decision is the wisest course of action. Then, it is more likely that the consequences will be intended instead.


  1. I grew up in a small town where hardly anyone moved in, but many people moved away. I remember the sense of abandonment I felt when friends would announce they were leaving- also a bit of envy.
    My wife and I have lived in and around a college town for 30 years, and the circumstances have been similar. Just as we have gotten close to this person or family, their education or stint at the university has ended, and off they go. The good thing is that because we live in a university setting, many more people are coming in. It all evens out. We find that we have many more relationships because of our unique situation than we would have otherwise.
    BTW, Bob, I am 10 (school) days away from retirement.
    Jeff in OK

    1. 10 school days to the start of your satisfying retirement. Yeah!

      I lived for a while in Morgantown, WV. At the time West Virginia University had around 13,000 students while the town's population was under 30,000. As you might imagine, the school was the 800 pound gorilla in town. There was a constant flow of people in and out.

      In a university town that is just normal operating procedure, but like you I sometimes found it hard to make friends who I knew would be gone for the summer and then forever.

  2. Dear Bob,
    I must have been upset when I wrote that note. I misspelled my name! (Dr Keith). Since then I have been saying to my friends: " This a a big loss for both of us. It's like graduating from college and we are going seperate ways. Right now I'm excited about my new life, but I'm also a bit scared and sad. I could really use your help right now...I need some support and an ear to hear my thoughts. Are you OK with that?" This turns around the focus, and my buddies are great in the roles of supporters and and helpers.
    The truth is that although things will change, I think it is easier than ever to keep friendships going with E-mails, Facebook and good old telephony.(Yes, that's a word).
    I know we will make new friends. I also know that we will return to our old home regularly to see family, friends and attend to business interests.
    Even good change can have sad elements, but we are looking forward to our new life with great joy.
    Thanks for the support and the "ear"!
    Dr Keith

    1. I hadn't noticed the misspelling! Oh well, It is fixed now.

      Thanks so much for the "rest of the story." You had raised a legitimate issue and now have provided a follow up. I'm anxious to read what others will have to say.

      And, it goes without saying, best of luck in this major change in your life. I hope any consequences are good ones.

  3. What a timely article this is for me. After turning 55 I realized that my life was headed in a direction that I was not happy with. I'd been feeling as if I was being pulled along by the tide, and against my will. I finally decided to shake things up and redirect my path. I put a vacation property on the market in March and recently went under contract. In addtion, I've had to let some people go from my life because the relationships were unsustainable. The results have been mixed: the sale of the property will free up some much needed income to pursue my retirement dreams, but letting people go has created some sadness in my life. I'm taking this 55th year to work on Gail. I will continue to redirect and redefine my life as it evolves from where it is now to where I hope to be someday.

    1. "I'm taking this 55th year to work on Gail." Good for you. Too few people are comfortable in admitting they must focus on self-development and strengthening on occasion. We are supposed to be strong and have it all figured out.....not true.

      The fact that you see what needs to be done is a big part of the process.

  4. Hmm, I am wondering what unintended consequences have flowed from my retirement. I know the dynamics changed at work. There were four of us who worked together for 20 years. I was the first of the four to retire. But I think the imbalance quickly righted itself and life has gone on there without me. I haven't moved, so that hasn't changed. I think I'll ask around and see what those closest to me think.

    Also, just read your last post on the spiritual communities. Made me wonder if any type of intentional community would be my cup of tea. Probably not. But it's good to know that there are several types of options.

    1. I would think you'd be very happy in a community that encouraged meditation and introspection..not necessary Polestar though there are worse places to be than Hawaii. Your blog is all about self analysis and discovery.

      Heavens, why don't you start a cohousing, meditation and self investigative type retirement setup. "Galen's Place" has a nice ring to it.

      Interestingly, because my career involved having lots of clients but very few friends I don't think many missed my departure. Real friendships didn't happen until I retired!

  5. That is one of the differences as we age, all those pigeons we've been sending out come home to roost. If you haven't learned to take care of yourself (body, mind and spirit, finances, etc) and others, retirement isn't going to magically make everything right. In fact, you're mostly likely going to ram head on into these issues, because you can't use work as a distraction.

    Both my husband and I each had a friend that struggled after we moved. They both lived in the neighborhood, but had become close friends. In my case, the friend had a husband with Alzheimer's. I know our living was difficult.

    1. As I read these comments I realize one couple (or at least the wife side) missed us tremendously when we sold a vacation condo we owned near Sarasota. We had been going there as a family for over 20 years, as had they. Our daughters grew up with their daughters and sons and there were lots of good memories of our time together.

      But, as these things happen regular contact, exchanged photos, even vacations out west together tapered off. Now, we are lucky to change an e-mail every 9 months or so. I think she misses the history we had together.

    2. That's one of the challenges of moving on, whether it's leaving work after 30 years or leaving your home. Because my husband worked nights, his work was our family. We moved a year after he retired to Prescott, so lost many of those connections. EXCEPT! Facebook has become an amazing way to stay connected. I think that's why seniors are the fast growing segment to use it.

    3. Good pioint. Yes, seniors are flocking to Facebook for that very reason (Skype, too). I urge folks to be cautious with Facebook. There can be legitimate security issues and it is easy to share too much. Someone must take the time to really learn how to use privacy settings and common sense to protect privacy and important personal information.

      L.A. to Prescott....that was a real shift in attitude and latitude!

  6. Interesting perspective, one I hadn't thought of myself, so thanks for bringing up. But my problem, I think, is the opposite -- I consider all the implications of any decision, pros and cons, ups and downs, and therefore often find it impossible to make a decision at all. Why, my family makes fun of me because it takes me so long just to order at a restaurant!

    1. My oldest daughter used to be that way. But, after 3 kids she has learned to make snap decisions...even when faced with a menu.


Inappropriate comments will be deleted