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.