September 10, 2019

How to Retire


That seems like an odd title, doesn't it? How to retire is simple: stop working. Well, no, that isn't quite the case. If over 1,000 satisfying retirement blog posts have taught me anything, it is that this is a complicated journey. It is unique to each of us. Sure, there are general guidelines and certain steps to take to improve your odds of retiring well. Even so, I am struck again and again by how each person approaches this process in a slightly different way.

Retiring cannot be reduced to a series of specific steps. Yet, How to Retire is one of the most Googled terms in the area of retirement information. It only lags a little behind retirement financial calculators and retirement pensions in the total number of hits. So, there is a real hunger for help, a desire to find some guidance. Not being one to shy away from a challenge, let me try to summarize in a way that anyone will find something to work with.

1. Why do you want to retire? You've had a bad week, or month at work. Your boss or customers are annoying. You are tired of the daily commute. None of these should be enough to make you decide to retire. Trust me: retirement carries the same bad days, the same annoyances, the same routine. That is what living includes.

To really want to retire voluntarily the reason has to be two-fold: you have reached the end of the line in terms of enjoyment or satisfaction with your work. You dread getting up every morning and facing the same old things. Your dissatisfaction has been building for quite some time, not just because of a rough patch.

The second reason is you can't wait to tackle a new phase of your life. You have plans and dreams, you itch to try something new, you can't wait to tackle whatever is next. You feel you have talents and energies that must be tapped.

Retirement isn't running from something, it is running to something else. Any other reason is probably not sufficient.

2. Are your prepared financially? Trust me, none of us ever feel we have enough money to retire. The thought of no more regular paychecks is sobering. But, there is a difference between not being ready and being ready but still being concerned or cautious. The average 50 year old American has less than $50,000 saved for retirement. That person is not ready, no matter how much he downsizes and simplifies.

I don't believe in set dollar amounts for retirement. There are too many variables. But, common sense says that even with a decent Social Security check each month you are likely to need quite a bit more to live for another 20 or 30 years. If you live within your budget, understand how to use credit, don't treat your home equity (if you have any) like a piggy bank, and understand the concept of delayed gratification, you are well on your way.


3. Are your prepared emotionally? Do I mean to accept all that free time and lack of deadlines? Am I ready for a stress-free life? No, that's not the issue. Emotional preparation means the loss of your personal identity. Most of us see ourselves as valuable and defined by our jobs. "What do you do?" is the first question asked when you meet someone. Who will you be when the answer is "nothing." Can you find meaning and purpose when you have to create it yourself? Are you mature enough and secure enough in defining your life by who you are instead of what you do?

4. Is your primary relationship strong enough? Being home full time with another person is a major adjustment. I'll say that again: this is a big deal. Retirements end with one or both partners going back to work simply because they can't stand being together full time. Divorce is a growing issues with older, retired folks. In fact, the largest percentage increase in divorce comes from those 50+. The time to work through differences and decide on the balance of we and me time is before work stops.

5. Do you have ideas on how you will use your free time? At first blush, an unstructured day seems like heaven. Each 24 hour period stretches before you with no commitments, no deadlines, no pressure. The reality is very different. After financial worries the biggest fear of those getting close to retirement is how they will use their time. What will they do all day? With 30 years filled with a job or career, there has been little time to develop any outside interests or passions. As point #1 above notes, retiring into nothing means you aren't ready to retire.

The most pleasurable retirement happens when someone has things to retire to: hobbies to pursue, new interests to explore, travel to take, grandkids to visit, books to write, volunteering opportunities to accept......things that bring meaning and purpose to your days. These are the things that cause you to get out of bed full of energy and enthusiasm. For those faced with another day of puttering around the house, reading for hours at a time, and ending the day falling asleep in front of the TV, retirement becomes a type of prison, locked into a behavior whose only goal is to get from morning to night.

6. Are you ready for the time of your life? As someone whose whole existence was defined by his work, who did a poor job of relationship building and who entered retirement unready emotionally and without real goals, I have finally arrived at a place where I can honestly state that this has become the best stage of my life. I stumbled badly for several years. I read too much, watched way too much TV, spent too many hours surfing the Internet, and longed for the security of my former high profile career.

Then, I found my stride. I stopped worrying about finances. I found passions that ignited me. I discovered the thrill of giving back and making a difference through meaningful volunteer work. I allowed my spirituality to blossom and define why I am here on earth. I rediscovered the thrill of a relationship that is growing and respectful.

I wish I had sen a post like this 18 years ago. It would have saved me a lot of wasted time and frustration. Retirement is just another part of life. It takes work, You will make mistakes. You will occasionally throw up your hands and ask yourself why are you doing this.

But, then, suddenly you will find the correct light switch. You will figure it out. You will have what it takes to live a satisfying retirement.

21 comments:

  1. Great post. Thank you. This was thought-provoking and encouraging.

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    1. Encouraging was one of the themes. I'm glad it resonated with you.

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  2. Great post! I love the idea of going "to something " rather than running away from something..so true. We needed a break from running a busy complicated practice, but we also had goals for hiking,traveling, and enjoying a much more leisurely pace of life than our work years, and so..we retired. After the initial freedom feelings, I felt a little stale but also went past that milestone and added in some new personal hobbies and we're also back to building up stronger hiking skills. together.. .we've been hiking every Wednesday..and plan to continue. I have some writing I want to do.Ken took up swimming again now that his Silver Sneakers plan took effect and we have free gym membership. Retirement is a journey--and like life,ever-changing!

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    1. Retiring "to something" doesn't have to mean wall to wall activities or travel, or running a marathon (though it can).

      The "something" can be as simple as more time with spouse or family. It can mean an independent study of a subject that has always fascinated you. It can mean watching every Cary Grant movie, in order.

      What doesn't work is to leave a job and...have nothing to look forward to. As you say, what you do with your time and your energiers changes all the time. That's what makes life so exciting. Who knows what rock you will look under tomorrow and find a whole new path to follow.

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  3. Good, thoughtful post, except ... you make retirement sound like a job! But maybe, esp. if you retire young, you do need to work at making life more interesting, meaningful and rewarding. If you retire later in life though (like my dad, who retired at age 73) maybe it's okay to just relax and enjoy being alive.

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    1. To enjoy being alive takes something other than passively waiting for the the clock to move from sunup to bedtime. I relax when I play the guitar, read, write a blog post, or go to a movie. I enjoy life when I sit on the back patio and watch the birds. I'd suggest the definition of relaxing has changed. It is much less a passive activity than it once was.

      If someone's retirement takes on the aspects of a job, then I suggest they are approaching it incorrectly. The term "job" implies doing something one must do. Even starting your own business or working part time isn't a "job" in the normal sense of that word. Rather, the challenges of bringing a dream to life or making extra money to make life more in keeping with desires has a goal that is much different from the one that grabbed big chunks of your life before retirement.

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  4. You've hit the nail on the head with this post Bob and there's not a thing I could add to it. Tom above says you make retirement sound like a job. Perhaps, but when I am asked what I think of retirement I often say: "It's the best job I've ever had." And it is.

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    1. It's only a "job" if you equate "activity" with "working!!" We are ACTIVE , we plan trips, hobby time, youtubes,movies, get togethers with friends.. but retirement is NOTHING like the job!!!!!!!!

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  5. Great post. It really does help if a person truly considers some of these things you mention. I made the mistake of thinking something so appealing as having no schedule did not need preparation for mentally/emotionally. Change is change, even positive change and it take adjustment.

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    1. You are so right..change is change regardless of what is the cause. Adjustment is the name of the game.

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  6. All great points! I was recently talking to someone who was contemplating retirement and it sounded to me that she was retiring FROM something, not TO something. I advised her to think about her decision more. Retiring might turn out to be the right thing to do, but she needed to really understand what she was doing, and why.

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    1. If you simply retire from something, everything will be fine for the first few months. Just letting go of the stress and pressures of a work-oriented life takes time to flush from our system.

      Then will come the time when that person says, "now what?" If there is no good answer, retirement can be frustrating. I think the majority of us retire without really knowing what comes next.

      The good news everything begins to work itself out. But, there will be some rough sledding as we come to grips with the fact that it is now up to us to decide how to fill our time in a way that will satisfy us.

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  7. Everyone of these is a valid point. And as much as I hated my last job, I had to stick it out until I was ready. The first few months were as disconcerting as yours, Bob. I felt a huge gap in my life, I stayed in touch with the old team to see what was happening, and I even toyed with returning to the job world. I'm so glad I didn't. Now I feel grateful every day that I get to live in retirement, in good health, and I'm able to pursue things that interest me and help others.

    P.S. Great shirt! :-)

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    1. Beatles on Maui...can't get much better than that.

      We don't like uncertainty. So much so that people will stay in uncomfortable and unsatisfying situations rather than change the status quo. That's why retirement is really a leap of faith, and why there is always a period of unease before everything becomes clear.

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  8. Bob, I watch for your posts and read them with great pleasure. Some I agree with totally, some, perhaps not so much. All give me some satisfaction.

    This one particularly good because it resonated with me almost as if you had written it directly to me.

    I retired June the 7th - high paced, demanding job, the whole drill. I have not been a very good retiree, I keep thinking there should be more but haven't even tried to find it. Most of my days seem kind of dull to me. Some of my friends tell me, "that's just how it is". Others seem to have no problem, and are surprised when I say something negative. My wife, while supportive, retired 7 years ago so she has found her groove and is probably surprised that I haven't.

    After reading this I realize I am likely very normal. I'll get there it is just a slow and individual thing, nobody can do it for me.

    For example, I am not nearly as frantic about money, generic brand shopping is no big deal and my needs and wants are way, way down. I have some good pensions and retirement funds and have come to grips that, living in a high tax state (CA) means high taxes. It also means we are 15 minutes from our children and our grandchildren which has been an unexpected boon, so yes, we could move somewhere else but don't want to give any of that up.

    Anyway, I still am not quite in that "retiree sweet spot" yet but I can see that is will happen. That is a good thing.

    In the meantime, thanks again so much, whether you meant that blog just for me is not important, I have taken it to heart.

    Rich

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    1. While I was writing it, Rich, I was channeling your thoughts. Wouldn't that be scary!

      What you are enduring is very normal. In fact, if someone slips instantly into complete satisfaction after leaving full time work, that means they should have retired years earlier or had an absolutely miserable job.

      Lowered desires and wants, particularly materialistic ones, are also pleasant developments. We learn how little it really takes for us to feel happy. Acquiring something just to own it seems to occur much less often. As you note, being close to family now takes center stage.

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  9. Bob,
    I had a sign made for my office years ago that read: "Learn from the mistakes of others. You can't possibly make them all yourself."
    Thank you for your timely post as I am now 3.5 months into long anticipated retirement. Always looking forward to your new thoughts and observations.

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    1. Welcome to this new phase of life. There will be disappointment and problems because retirement is just like every other time of life, except you have more control and options.

      The will be times of joy and excitement, too. If you play your cards right, those are the experiences that will begin to take place more often.

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  10. Excellent post, spot on in every way. Had you written it for me to read before I retired and started on my own quest of discovery, I might not even have had anything to blog about!

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    1. Ha! Oh, I'm sure you have much to add to our ongoing sharing community. As you have probably discovered, learning from others is something a blog allows for everyone: readers and blogger alike.

      I will say that I wish a blog like this existed 18 years ago when I left the working world behind. There were serious gaps in non-financial information available in 2001.

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