March 10, 2017

Retirement: Is It A Smooth Ride?


Retirement is about movement. Movement from employed to unemployed. Movement from restrictions imposed by others to restrictions imposed by you. Retirement is about change. Change in how your day is structured. Change in your relationships. Freedom.

If you are getting close to retirement, or have recently taken the big step, it is natural to wonder "What have I gotten myself into? What happens now?"  Some of my earliest posts on Satisfying Retirement dealt with the Three Phases of retirement and some answers to those questions. I have reworked the original material a bit and present again for your review. 


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 would make 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 my retirement life might have been quite different if my stop date had been later.


What Happened First?

My First Stage of retirement began with an incredible sense of freedom. The fear of making a wrong choice, or wondering 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. 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 or others I worked with? Not really. 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, a few of my clients were not my favorite people. I dealt with them because they supported my family and me. But, not having to deal with those abrasive or arrogant personalities was like a breath of fresh air.

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.

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 phase of a satisfying retirement.

First Stage Discoveries

During these first steps of developing a new satisfying retirement lifestyle I did quickly discover a few things that became important:


· Time becomes a friend. Initially time is 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 blessings of a day and evening that lack 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 or more 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 chance to expand and grow yourself.

· Your "possibles" list has fewer restraints. Books you want to read, trips you want to take, projects around the house, changing a spare bedroom into den 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, financial, family, and health care issues impose certain limits. But, those boundaries are quite a bit farther apart when you are enjoying a satisfying retirement lifestyle.

Second Stage: Reality Raises Its Head

The first "honeymoon" phase is when time stretches forever toward 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 slap in the face: this is the Second Stage.

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 shipwreck 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 in the world will 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. The  next stage will definitely follow.

Third Stage: Stability Returns and Real Growth Begins

Luckily for most retirees, Phase Three of your retirement arrives and can become the most satisfying. This is when you achieve a healthy balance between euphoria, panic, and reality. It is when you realize that you have the ability to make it all work for you. A happy, satisfying lifestyle is very possible. 

This isn't a period of Pollyanna-like thinking. It is a time when you can more calmly look at your current position, your options, and your dreamed-about future and decide what you can accomplish. It is a time of possible personal growth and development like you haven't experienced since you were in your 20's. Emotional and intellectual growth opportunities abound. Time really is your ally.

Personally, I originally thought my wife and I would take a long cruise at least once a year, spend the hot Arizona summers someplace else, and maybe buy an RV and explore the country. Almost 16 years later a fair amount of that has happened. We did retire before our financial resources were sufficient to turn all of our dreams into fact. But, that was a deliberate choice on our part. To continue working would not be worth the cost to our relationship or our health just so we could make all those "dreams" happen. 

Also, we discovered that plans are meant to be adjusted, or abandoned. What makes us happy today is quite different from what it was all those years ago. The joy of spending much more time with family and friends and deepening our spiritual life has grown in importance. We have always built our married life on experiences over things and that wasn't about to change. So, some of the grandiose thoughts of retirement lifestyle have been modified. Did we get the RV, occasionally take a cruise and travel to Europe a few times? Yes, Yes, and Yes. Are we perfectly content to spend several months at home? Absolutely, yes.

Did I go through the anguish of Stage Two? Certainly, and I still do every once in awhile. But, I have developed the insight of what was really important to me so I can weather the storm, and so can you.

Questions for you: what phase are you in? How has your experience differed or matched mine? What advice can you share?

31 comments:

  1. Thanks Bob for this one. A very good read as I am retiring from my current job May 19th. Hope I will make it through the stages successfully. I have not even officially retired yet and I already feel a bit of the 'What have I done' thoughts.

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    1. Welcome to the wonderful world of retirement in just a few weeks, Peter. Your feelings at this stage are normal and expected. Just allow yourself to relax as you move into the process. Your body and mind will need time to adjust to the new reality. Each of us sets our own pace.

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  2. I retired a few years after you in 2005. Initially I missed the interaction with my work colleagues so I would suggest retirees join clubs to enjoy the companionship which they offer. I have also worked part time, one and half days a week, gardening and cutting grass, which keeps me fit. My most important advice is to share your leisure activities with your other half. Like you I have tried to give a little back to the retirement community by publishing a blog. http://boostretirementplans.com

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    1. The relationship aspect is so important. There is quite an upheaval to the day-to-day dynamics as another person is suddenly around full time. Those who struggle are the ones who forget the other person has been doing what they are doing for years and have a system. Your job isn't to disrupt that setup!

      I will take a look at your blog. Thanks, Ian.

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  3. My experience is similar to yours. I retired 5 years ago at 52. I remember waking up euphorically everyday for about the first 6 months which equates to stage 1. Now I oscillate between stages 2 and 3.

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    1. Bouncing back and forth between fear and acceptance (Stages 2 and 3) is exactly what you should be doing. You are adjusting to your new normal. That takes some getting used to. Retiring at 52...felt good didn't it!

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  4. Thanks for clarifying the stages of retirement, Bob. I retired two years ago from teaching, at age 50. I'm in stage two now, working into stage three. I particularly love my free mornings! My partner fun, supportive and easy-going; however, we're pretty geographically isolated from like-minded folks, and although this sounds mean, making friends in this community seems unfulfilling and pointless because there comes a time in most conversations when we choose to just quit sharing because the views of those around us are so different from ours. We're still working out where/how we want to live that might meet our social needs. The visual and auditory privacy of the country soothes us though... In the meantime, we love planning and tending and harvesting from our vegetable garden, walks in the woods, and our summer times swimming in a nearby lake. Perhaps I will come to embrace the isolation; I do, truly, know how lucky I am to be free of the stress and time-constraints of work.

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    1. My wife and I can relate to your comments on social concerns. Politically, we are very different from many of those whom we interact with on a regular basis. We avoid the subject or make ourselves scarce if a group begins talking about something with which we are uncomfortable. At this stage of life, we know we aren't likely to change someone's views, so an argument or intense discussion isn't worth the upset.

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  5. Having traveled in my career, I completely related to your relief at not packing and driving to the airport every week. I have the advantage of some local co-workers and still see several of them socially from time to time -- and only the ones I like. Ha! They always make me grateful I stepped out when I did. I don't miss the Hampton Inn or the regional jets. And, like you, I have customers I am happy to never see again.

    The relief did give way to panic a few times, but I think (hope) I'm mostly past that. And I think I've also adjusted my expectations and some desires. When I look back, I think dreaming of all the possibilities in retirement were one thing that kept me going and now that I'm there, I'm not so eager to wear myself out seeing and doing everything. I'm much more content to do less than I thought I would be. That said, I'm trying out different volunteer opportunities, cooking more (and enjoying it), reading a lot and looking forward to some travel this year. And I also eagerly await getting back into my garden this spring and summer as well as climbing back on my bike. Life is good!

    --Hope

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    1. Betty and I watched a movie last night where the lead character had to travel to the Middle East and attempt to deal with the cultural and business differences, all while living in a hotel alone for weeks at a time. I shuddered, remembering all the Hyatts and Westins and Hampton Inns that were my temporary home. I could so relate to that character!

      You have a retirement that sounds like it has nice balance and a comfortable flow. While I am in no rush for our summer, with its 100+ degree days, I can relate to the joy of a well tended garden.

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  6. I must be the luckiest retiree ever because I guess I skipped over stage 2. Or rather it was different. I did hit a reality check about time, in that I realized that there were still only 24 hours in the day and I still had to choose to spend my time on one thing and let go of something else. But overall, my retirement so far has been very smooth.

    I did have good friendships at work, and I knew when I retired, those relationships would fade out, as they have. But I'm lucky to have good friends who are not work related, so I have plenty of social interaction. It's different than the day to day casual interaction with colleagues, but it meets my social needs. I know people who have very little life outside work--work provides not only their identity and self worth, but also their social circle. I think that would be much harder to transition without making a conscious effort to develop connections outside of work.

    I also had interests and activities outside of work, so that helped, too. I have never been bored or panicked since retiring. I feel abundantly blessed to have had such a great career, and now to have, in your words, a satisfying retirement.

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    1. In the time we have spent with you, Betty and I both agree you have mastered retirement 101 very well. With your varied interests, strong friendships, a cabin in the woods, a great dog, and lots of family close by, you have nailed the satisfying part of retirement. And, as you noted in an earlier post, you are a homebody and very happy to live that way.

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  7. A phrase comes to mind - All things are difficult before they are easy; difficulties are meant to arouse, not discourage. I see retirement as another life transition and transitions are never easy. Planning for retirement and the freedom of time has been important for me - you have to be able to do time (life) so it doesn't do you. Individual differences are obvious - are you internally or externally focussed? Do you feel that you are in control of your life choices? Is goal-setting and planning important to you or do you let life take you wherever? I retired 4 yrs ago and haven't looked back. I'm still revelling in slow mornings and being the homemaker that work outside of the home didn't afford me in the past. Living in a country setting surrounded by nature has always offered enough entertainment and exercise to satisfy me. I often say that when there's nothing else to do (?!), I can always go for a walk or read. Retirement is both a privilege and a responsibility.

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    1. I like your quotes and summaries, Mona. I heard a saying last week at a United Way meeting I like: "Fail fast and move forward." Don't linger on what holds you back, but brush off the dust and keep going.

      I may have to add a Stage 4: So far this year, even though we are planning very few vacations, events and obligations have conspired to make virtually every day seem like it starts too early, moves too quickly, and is over too fast.

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  8. Sometimes it seems to me I go thru all three stages in a single day! But anyway, I think you bring up an excellent point relevant to all those thinking about retirement, planning retirement, or perhaps even regretting retirement. Many of us consciously retire before our financial resources are sufficient to realize all of our dreams. But, as you say, it's a deliberate choice on our part, to live a more modest lifestyle, because the cost of continuing to work is just too high in terms of stress, relationships, health and our general well being.

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    1. One truth is that after leaving work and settling into a retired life, having things is so less important. All that extra money earned while continuing to work isn't worth the paper it is printed on if it takes the place of really living.

      Thanks, Tom.

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  9. Hovering between stage 2 and 3. Some days euphoric and content,some days panic-y and worried!! Ahh-- life is so exciting! ESPECIALLY in retirement. We've been super-busy, shifting some priorities,travel plans, cabin up north plans, and volunteer activities. The change of seasons seems to being renewed energy all the way around!!! Must get a card game on the books very soon!!

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    1. I think you are really in Stage 3, Madeline. You and Ken have developed a nice routine, both together and pursuing separate interests. The changes to your travel plans are just one of perks of retirement: making changes! That is a good sign you are not still in the worried, fearful stage.

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  10. Great article Bob.

    I would say I am moving beyond Stage 2 and into Stage 3. I am more content now with my new normal.

    There were many comments you made that I identified with although I am divorced and living on my own for the past 15 years. My only child is grown and lives 500 miles away so we don't see each other often enough during the year. I had thought about moving closer to him and was starting to really consider moving after I retired. That was 2 years ago and now I find that staying where I am is the answer for now. I'm not ready to make that big of a change at this time.

    If there was one piece of advice I would offer is to be patient with oneself and let process be what it is. That panicky time you mentioned happened to me too. I had to remind myself that this too will pass and it did.

    Thanks Bob.

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    1. I am glad things have smoothed out for you. By the way, I have a post about aging in place coming up sometime in the next few weeks. You might find it helpful in reaching a decision about moving.

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  11. Bob, this post was of great interest to me as I have set my retirement date for June of this year. It is helpful to know how others have experienced the transition into retirement. My situation is a bit different in that I am on a leave presently (essentially a sabbatical) which I am using as a transition to retirement. Even though I still have some project-based work responsibilities during my leave, in many ways my leave has been like the Stage One that you described (except for the first several weeks which were dedicated to recovering from burn out and exhaustion). I am really grateful to have freedom to use my time as I wish throughout each day.

    It is good to know that many people experience Stage Two, a period of anxiety and second-guessing the retirement decision/experience. I'll be less surprised when/if it happens to me.

    Jude

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    1. A sabbatical is a tremendous way to ease into retirement. Not many people get that advantage. This time will probably help you with the let down stage which will happen, but in your case it may pass quickly.

      When I retired I didn't have much prep time or places to turn to advice. The Internet and book stores weren't nearly as retirement-friendly as they are today.

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  12. Fabulous post! And after being retired since 2009, but not by choice, it still is a great read to have on hand when I do go through all the steps in one very short period of time. My freedom to choose is what I value the most and what keeps my life relatively stress free. After battling cancer twice and coming out OK, I went back to work for 3 days a week (only a total of 15 hours) and really enjoy my job. I'm not a traveler but enjoy gardening, reading, singing in my church choir, and having time to do for others. I tell all my friends that I just love my small, boring little life and that is the absolute truth!

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    1. First, congratulations on beating back cancer twice. I would guess that gives you an extra appreciation for life. Your "small, boring life" fits you, so I would suggest it is neither small or boring...it is perfect for where you are today. Enjoy!

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    2. I'm with you Susan. I have been retired since 2010 and I just enjoy my simple life. Still so grateful to be able to get up when I want and spend my time as I want. Yoga, spending time in the park or botanical garden, reading, museums and being with friends and family fill my days. Not bored so far.
      May you have continued good health.

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  13. Excellent post and very timely as I retired on March 3rd. After 1 week, I seem to be moving back and forth between stage 1 and stage 2. You make a good point on the wealth of material available now to help with the transition.

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    1. Welcome to retirement, Dan. The normal time of Stage 1 "relief" is several weeks to several months. Your body and mind need time to release stress and pressure. Enjoy the new found freedom of time and schedule. Stage 2 will come, but usually not this soon in the process.

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  14. Hi Bob, interesting to see this post again and I forwarded it on to a friend of mine who is also a consultant and can't quite get a handle on not being a consultant. In his 60s he talks about it being time to retire and then a client calls and he just can't bring himself to say no to the next contract (and the cash that comes with it). He's fine financially, more than enough really, but he worries, I think he's already in the "What did I do? Am I crazy? I'll be broke in a year!" phase two but just doing it in pre-retirement. For my wife and me retirement has been great, I can't honestly say we had a phase two and we are a 2 years retired now. Perhaps we are in denial, or we were just well prepared :-)

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    1. As a former consultant I can appreciate your friend's reaction. It is a lot like being an actor: the work isn't always steady and it is hard to turn down an offer.

      People (like you) do skip the fear and worry stage. It can be preparation or personality. But, whatever the reason, rejoice!

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  15. Hi Bob. This was another great post. I have followed your blog for a while. This is my first time replying. Your blog (and a few others) have been a great source of information and encouragement for myself and I am sure many many others. You have, in no small part, been the impetus for me to pull the trigger. I will be retiring March 24. I am at peace that it is time. As is true I am concerned about finances, especially in these crazy political times. Are we as ready financially as I would like to be? No. Will be able to make it work financially? Probably. We did as struggling newlyweds many many years ago. Your blog has helped point out the other aspects of retirement that are so important to a satisfying retirement. I think I am ready to navigate the three phases you mentioned. I am also ready to see what this next chapter in my life holds. Thank you for this blog and for generating the comments from your loyal followers. Be well.

    Jeff

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    1. Thank you, Jeff. Your comments are very much appreciated. I wish you a great retirement journey starting in just a little over a week....how exciting!

      Drop me an e-mail at any time if you have questions or concerns.

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