Most of us experience cold feet, or a lack of confidence, when faced with a major change in our life that disrupts what we know and are accustomed to. That is a natural reaction. I would guess it is somehow connected to the 'flight or fight' reaction.
Retirement would certainly qualify as an event that could cause cold feet. There aren't many experiences quite the equal of stopping something you have done for dozens of years, has probably defined you in some way, and has paid the bills. To not have your job description as the answer to, "what do you do," can be scary. I may preach about the tremendous joy of a satisfying retirement, but I can attest to my own case of almost frozen feet when it came time to close down my business in 2001.
Recently, I was reminded of this common occurrence by a regular reader. An e-mail detailed the struggles her husband was having in letting go. The family business was up for sale, and the decision to move on had been discussed for over year. This couple had downsized their housing and belongings. They had started making plans for their time together. But, when it came time to actually walk away...those cold feet poked through his socks.
After my assuring her that hubby's reaction was very normal and would eventually work itself out in a way that was best for both of them, I agreed the general topic of last minute retirement cold feet was worth a post. Like always, I am depending on some insightful comments and suggestions from you.
I will assume that this couple's financial house is in order. To retire without a good plan and a solid financial footing isn't wise. That would cause anyone to have second thoughts. Retiring when someone is tired of going to work every day, or had a fight with the boss, or any other reason...without months, if not years, of thinking through all the aspects of a life without full time work, is a mistake and will probably not work out well.
If, on the other hand, money has been saved and invested, expenses have been pared, and projections of future needs have been made, then retirement becomes doable. The decision as to when to retire then can be approached without unnecessary financial fears. True, life is going to through some problems your way. Your retirement plans are not going to unfold exactly the way you may hope they will. Financial concerns will be with you, at some level, under you die. But, guess what, being employed doesn't change that. We have no guarantees, working or not.
I will assume the couple has a firm foundation to their marriage relationships, one that won't be harmed by having both spouses together more of the time. Even for a loving, long term relationship, retirement takes compromise and adjustments. The cliché of being "joined at the hip," implying a couple that is with each other 24/7, is usually not a good idea. There is a need for private "me" time for each partner.
I will assume the couple isn't planning on leaving family and friends behind to move to a "dream" location near the ocean or halfway up a mountain. Living on a canal boat in France sounds nice, but how realistic is it to most of us? Moving soon after retirement doesn't always turns out well. No longer working is a major stress-producer. Add a move to that and you are off the charts in terms of pressures on you.
So, that brings me back to the central question: how does one deal with cold feet after making a decision, whether it is our own hesitation or that of a loved one? I can make a few suggestions, but then want to turn the forum over to you.
Retirement is a step, but not one that is irreversible. Plenty of folks stop working and then decide at some point that they miss some part of the working work. It may be the extra money, but it also could be time with coworkers. A sense of being part of something bigger than one's self motivates some to return to work.
The point is, if you find you simply can't settle into retirement at this point in your life, then get another job, either full or part time. Of course, once you leave your field of endeavor it may be a bit of a struggle to pick up where you left off. But, retirement today isn't necessarily a permanent state. You always have options.
Secondly, start focusing on what you will gain from retirement and less on what you may be leaving behind. Think about the hobbies, activities, travel, extra time with family, reading that stack of books on your nightstand, or sleeping until you want to wake up....all the good stuff waiting for you. A satisfying retirement is all about gaining the freedom to do what you want, when you want.
OK, cold feet experts, help this couple and everyone else who can identify with this situation. How did you break through that final mental barrier that kept you from taking the plunge? What was it that finally allowed you to look forward rather than backward?