January 23, 2018

Two People. Two Very Different Retirement Outcomes



Jim M. woke up to another day, destined to be just like the day before, and the day before that. He had argued with his wife all those months ago that taking early retirement would be a mistake. He loved his job, he enjoyed the camaraderie of the fellows he had worked alongside for almost twenty years. The 2 hour commute didn't bother him; it was his time to listen to audio books and think. The predictability of his schedule appealed to him. Besides, all that seemed to be waiting for him at home were problems and tension. He was a bundle of nerves as he thought about the day ahead.



Julie C. woke up to another day, destined to be just like the day before, and the day before that. She had agreed with her husband all those months ago that her taking early retirement would be the best thing that ever happened to them. Even though she was good at her job she had dreaded the 2 hour commute, the mind-numbing boredom of endless meetings, and the harassment she endured as one of only two female engineers. Besides, what was waiting for her at home was freedom and time to spend with her husband, her hobbies, and walking her dog. She was smiling as she thought about the day ahead.


Two people, two similar scenarios, but two very different reactions. What was the difference between Jim and Julie's experiences? Why was Jim convinced he had made a big mistake in retiring, while Julie faced each morning with a smile?


Jim sees retirement as an end, Julie as a beginning. 

To Jim, his work was his identity. He enjoyed what he did and who he did it with. In his mind, there was too much of himself left behind when he retired. For Julie, work was something she was good at, but it didn't define her. Her mindset was she worked to live, not simply lived to be able to work. An unpleasant  environment certainly made her decision easier. 


Jim has serious problems in his primary relationship, Julie apparently does not.

Jim's retirement journey began with arguments over his decision. You sense that Jim's wife wanted him to stop working yet she hadn't secured his approval or acceptance. Julie's choice was met with encouragement. Jim saw only problems at home after he stopped working, Julie saw the extra time with her husband as a positive. 


Jim has no particular passion or hobby to look forward to, Julie has interests that she can now spend time satisfying and the love of a pet.

One of the most important factors in having a satisfying retirement experience is retiring to something: a desire to travel, going back to school, fully engaged in a hobby, starting a business - the list is as varied as humans. 

With nothing to productively fill one's day, the hours plod along, time becomes an enemy. Life at work takes on a golden glow, one strengthened by powerful memories that pale against a day with no structure or purpose.

The other reaction doesn't discount all the positives that likely happened over a long career, but is looking at developing another part of one's personality, exploring talents and skills that were hidden while employed. 


Jim and Julie are fictional, but the description of their reaction to retirement is not, and of course, the sexes of each could easily be reversed. Each of us have, or will, face life after work. How you respond to the three situations listed above will help determine whether this new stage of your life is a burden or a joy.

Prepare wisely.



34 comments:

  1. You could have been writing about my husband and I. We just retired at the end of 2017, and that's pretty much what we're living.

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    1. I hope some my thoughts on changing your situation will strike a chord.

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  2. For those whose lives are completely wrapped up in work and the work environment, retirement will likely be a daily slog, unless they change their approach dramatically. At one time I may have fell closer to that reality, but with wisdom, time, and the business world helping to beat it out of me, I changed as well.

    Deb, who had the same thing happen to her, could not wait for retirement, and absolutely loves it. And while I may have been more hesitant, after almost four years I also have no desire to go back to work for filthy lucre either :)

    The sooner one embraces an acceptance of the inevitability of retirement the better off they will be. An important post that all should read, both those near and farther from retirement. Preparation is the key, like in most things.

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    1. Preparation, both mentally and financially are keys.

      Thanks, Chuck, and enjoy the fruits of your labor while at the beach!

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  3. Maybe this is sexist, but I'm not really sure most guys can really prepare for retirement and therefore most go through the "now what am I going to do?" syndrome. It takes a while to get into a groove. My "now what am I.." moment was 18 years ago and hardly a memory now, but they were painful at the time. We eventually come around to Deb's way of thinking of the freedoms and when we finally accomplish that it is indeed a satisfying retirement.

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    1. The reality has been that many men are not ready for retirement because of the confusion of self identity with work. With women now accounting for 48% of the workforce, and expected to pass the 50% mark in the next few years, this problem will face both sexes equally.

      It is going to take a shift in how folks think about work and living to "solve" this problem.

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  4. I struggled more like RJ mentions, with the idea of needing to be "purposeful.." and I somehow just seemed to think I could work and still be retired at the same time.My last foray into real estate taught me: Work is work.. HARD work,competition, getting up at a certain hour,meetings, stress!! What was I thinking??!!!!! It took me 4 years to get into my own groove and for now, I feel pretty content focusing on the road trips we've planned,rededicating myself to the writing projects I had on hold, and getting better at watercolor. I also am cooking even more,making vegan eating a hobby as well as good for us.. Ken found his own balance by continuing to work as a chiropractor/acupuncturist 2 days a week in our home office.. and the rest of the time he practices guitar an hour a day, reads, gardens,fixes EVERYTHING around here, and helps me with housework. We listen to music, enjoy sit down dinners every night and time on the patio, Circle Suppers with church group, hiking,kayaking. BEFORE retirement, KEN had the harder time, we had money worries and fear of letting go of a successful (but stressful) business we built for 35 years.. after just letting go, (We HAD planned well for this! Just go cold feet!!) it took time to readjust, but we did.. All I can say is retirement is NOT a straight line, both parties will have their own ways and time frame for adjusting.. and you have to give yourself permission to experiment a bit till you get to the place you want to be.THEN, don't let THAT be set in stone.. life has chapters--EVER AFTER RETIREMENT you might change it up a few times!!!

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    1. Your journey is an excellent example of the difficulty some have with the final severing of ties to the working world. Selling real estate is not easy as a part time job.
      The agents I have known spent 60-70 hours a week, at least, making everything work. Not a good fit for retirement, as you learned! But, give yourself a pat on the back for making the effort, and stretching yourself to get back in the game. If you didn't try you may have always wondered.....should I?

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  5. Unfortunately, fours years into retirement from my career job (although I did return to work for two years at another job), my view of retirement mirrors the Jim scenario. For me retirement is hours plodding along--not fun for sure.

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    1. I wish you the best in finding a way to turn that around. Our time in this life is limited; making the most of it in a way that pleases you is so important.

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  6. I would suggest that ths is partly a societal issue, and depends not necessarily where you are in the economic scale or your gender but the type of job work environment and so on. If you wwere a person who lived their job, was energizie by their work, and made social ties for work perhaps you should not retire. Early retirement is not for everyone. Full retirement is not for everyone and there is nothing wrong with being fulfillied by a job, as long as you are making time for family and other things. This is something that I think much of to so called FI Mr Mustache type crowd do not get.

    Having said, that, in most marriages, even two working marriages, it's one person has been more likely to be the "social calendar/keep the connections/make the arrangments for vacation type" In traditional marriages that is often the woman, which is part of the reason I think in general women adjust better.

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    1. At the risk of over-generalization, females tend to be better at balancing work and non-work environments. It is basic biology and how the brain is wired differently in each sex.

      Barb: I would like your help in a future blog post. Please drop me an email if you are interested.

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  7. I think it actually took me longer than my DH to adjust to retirement. Perhaps because I was younger, but I was so wound into my business life it took a while to "come down". Now I LOVE it and can't imagine going back to work.

    Yesterday I ran into a former co-worker and his wife in a store. He was let go in the fall and I hadn't seen him since then. Rumor was he took it hard, but we all knew at 66 his days were numbered when that company was purchased. He was high salaried and seemed to have no intention of retiring although his wife has been retired for several years. He still looked a little down to me, and when I saw his wife alone later in another section (big supermarket), she said he was adjusting but was insulted that they let him go. We all thought he was a goner many times in corporate churn and we even called him the guy with nine lives. None of us could figure out how he survived as long as he did, since he was really not a hard worker and tried to get by on his long experience and charm, but that's another story. Anyway, I think there are people who hope to work forever. Or at least ride the corporate travel wagon tying in personal jaunts on the side as long as they can. :-)

    --Hope

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    1. I am sure you are correct: it is the "tenure" mindset that some college professors have. Once you are granted a key to the inner sanctum, you have a hard time imagining a change that would take away that key.

      My whole life was wrapped up in radio, from the time I fell for it at age 12 until I said goodbye at 51. For several years after I couldn't listen to a radio station without critiquing it. Now, I actually listen for the music and don't notice the actual structure of it. It is a nice change.

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  8. "Retirement is when you stop living at work and begin working at living." This quote was on a card I received at retirement and it rings so true for me. The retirement experience is as individual as the people in it. The greatest thing for me is that I get to decide what that experience will be. So far, so good.

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    1. It is sad for me to read about people who struggle with what can such a positive stage of life. I understand why someone is unhappy and how difficult it is to change one's perspective, but that doesn't mean I don't wish I could take them by the hand and lead them to the good stuff!

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  9. I could walk away from work today, forever, and not care EXCEPT for the financial and health insurance....lol. The other issue I have mentioned before, is that "It" a/k/a dementia, whatever you want to call "it", runs deep in my family, and I am scared if I quit working my mind will quit working. I think that is an unfounded fear, however, I am almost 58 and healthy. My health insurance is $30 a month and I do not want to deal with the insurance drama we have here in the states. I would also like to have as much income coming in as I have now, when I retire. My break-even point happens to be 65. Work can be very demanding, and quite awful, if I am truthful about it. To be real, I am tired of trial work. I think I just do not want to try to reinvent myself in another job, for the next four to seven years, and just hang on to this one under I am close to 65. Although I am not lazy at all at work, I am "lazy" in not wanting to take the effort to seek a different field of work. I guess I just want to keep the status quo for a few more years.......Plus, if I am honest, I do not want to move to Utah to be near my daughter. I loathe cold weather, and I think my son-in-law is controlling, so my big mouth would probably cause issues...lol. I live in the deep South and also do not want to move any closer to my three sons, if I am truthful. They are 45 minutes (the closest) to an hour and a half away (the one I really do not want to move closer to at all. I love him, but he nags me constantly about wanting to get in my wallet and cannot get along with his siblings)......so, I keep working, and go visit, occasionally, on weekends. I did your exercise of a perfect retirement day, and a lot of that involved the beach, which is in the opposite direction of my sons, by about three hours. I do not like hurricanes, do not want to deal with the insurance, and would not want to live closer than an hour from the beach, if that will keep me away from hurricane insurance rates. I like to visit the beach, I just do not want to live there. I love to walk and swim at the national and state parks around here.

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  10. Like yourself we also live in the South (TN) but also love the ocean, getting our fix by spending a few months out of the year on the coast in SC. While we went the timeshare route to achieve it, there are plenty of ways to do so, since there are huge #s of rental properties available, particularly during the non-summer months. You will not be burdened with hurricanes and the like, and you'll still be at home in your Southern home. Give it some thought; it might galvanize you to punch out earlier. Best wishes.

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    1. Great points about a timeshare or a rental!

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    2. To original Anonymous commenter: You should not stop working. You have stated a clear case why you continue to be employed. As long as you are not just "punching the clock" but giving your employer a fair day's effort for a paycheck, then reinventing yourself and going through the hassle of changing jobs or careers would not be worth it for you.

      I remember your comment from an earlier post about the move to Utah or being closer to a son not being attractive options for you. You like where you live. Chuck makes a good point for you to consider: you can get your beach fix with a rental, thus avoiding all the negatives of owning property near the beach or active hurricane path. Plus, you like the parks near where you live so don't give that up.

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  11. My deceased husband was Jim to a tee! Work defined him as a person and when he retired with no hobbies to speak of and no closeby family to speak of, he became depressed and irritable. Retirement could have been good for me like Julie, but it was not, due to my husband's issues with it, which he often took out on me verbally.

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    1. Unfortunately, I have also seen the verbal abuse increase with relatives of mine who developed dementia. I have also seen relatives, after retirement, seem to be very ugly, verbally, with their spouses, when their previous work life had defined them. I hope you are having a happy retirement now, Mary.

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    2. Retirement when one partner is happy about it and the other is not is a recipe for disaster. Your story, Mary, is all too common, I'm afraid. As the person right above said, I hope your life is better now.

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    3. He was happy about it at first...it was a gradual thing. And thanks now I'm relatively content in retirement. Moved to a warm climate, keep busy, new friends and live my life as I like with no criticisms and I can do as I please when I want...freedom. But ironically, I do still miss him

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  12. Too many people are more prepared financially than emotionally to retire. I waited until 67 (I'm 70 next week) and was more than ready. But I had done a lot of reading and thinking about the emotional side as I knew this could be an issue. My mantra was "You need to retire to something not from something". I managed to retire to "Not working" and it has worked out ok. But I was not going to get trapped in the "you got to be busy to have a successful retirement" BS thinking so just not working was sort of the goal. And I am as busy as I want and happy enough. One thing I have found is that growing old with an eye to travelling and staying independent as long as possible requires effort. Like daily exercise and staying active. So there are more personal maintenance effort keeping me busy as well.

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    1. The post of a few days ago made one thing very clear: a "perfect" retirement day is one that is not out of the ordinary, but includes a mix of things you want to do. I was pleasantly surprised at how achievable a great day of retirement can be, with just a bit of alone time, a good book, coffee, conversation, time with nature, and a TV show to wrap up the day. ...very much like your "I am as busy as I want" approach.

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  13. You have perfectly described me (Julie) in contrast to my friend (Jim) who is not happy at work, but has nothing to retire "to" so he keeps working even though he is no longer happy at his job. (You met him so you know what I mean.) I loved my job AND I love being retired. I know I'm very fortunate on both counts.

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    1. Yes, I know who you mean...we had a nice dinner together. That was 4 or 5 years ago and he was ready to retire then.

      You, on the other hand, have figured it out.

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  14. My identity was very wrapped up in my work; in fact, I could be labelled a work-aholic. I found it hard to make the decision to step away when I retired. In fact, I haven’t fully stepped away. I still do a little academic work but not for pay. Some people who know me well predicted that I would struggle with retirement, and feel a sense of identity loss. But I love retirement, and I know it was the right decision. I think the reason it was not hard for me is that I have always had many interests outside of work, and I am looking at this period of my life as a time for all those other interests to flourish.

    Jude

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    1. Probably the academic work you still do would qualify as a passion or interest of yours and you have found a good outlet for it.

      Having many interests outside of work is helping you make the transition well.

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  15. When I retired last August from a senior position in a large health system, my very driven colleagues seemed off balance asking if I would be consulting after I retired, looking for another job, etc. I just lied and went along with it. The truth is, that for the first time in over 40 years, I get up and do what I want, answerable to no one by myself and my spouse. I enjoyed my career, but I was never blind to the stress it brought to my life. Besides, I get as much satisfaction organizing and executing a dinner party for friends and family as I did running multi-million dollar software implementations. And I have the added benefit that the clients in a dinner party are much more appreciative of the effort than software users ever were.

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    1. I like your comparison between the dinner party prep and the software work. That is what retirement is really about: deciding how and where your energies and talents are used at any one moment in time.

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