It seems like more and more of our relatives, friends, neighbors and colleagues are stepping forward and announcing their leap into retirement. Heck, the thought even enters our minds on occasion – especially after a stressful, frustrating or aggravating day on the job. Given we are the oldest state in the nation, with the largest proportion of citizens 50 years of age and older, the topic of retirement is likely to be on the lips, if not in the minds, of a lot of Mainers.
We would encourage everyone to consider a few things before making a decision as important as this one.
For many, the thought of retirement means reaching the finish line, a rite of passage they have been anticipating for a long time. For others, retirement is less about a well-earned ticket to a life of leisure and contentment, and more about an inevitable sense of loss and the feeling that a planned and predictable life up until this point will now bring uncertainty and inevitable boredom. The latter remains especially true for those who have seen themselves as traditional family providers and breadwinners. For those workaholics among us who have defined themselves in large part by their professional and workplace identity, retirement may well represent a new and unfamiliar world. We suggest it is those who need to be especially mindful of preparing carefully for the change.
On average, men decide to retire at 64 years of age and women at 62. We can all expect increased opportunities and options for retirees in the years ahead, since large proportions of us will be healthier, more educated, and more mobile than any generation prior. The only thing that will stop us from making the most of our “golden years” in large part will be ourselves.
It has long been thought that women, more than men, are able to embrace their later years with enthusiasm and optimism. Women can say their children are grown and that they are now established in their community with a rich network of friends and confidants to support them in making the most of their “golden years.” Men, as a rule, have not created and nurtured equally supportive networks of friends for themselves, and after leaving their jobs oftentimes quickly lose contact with their closest male (and female) working counterparts. Take note — that is why the retirement years can be more challenging for men if they have not prepared adequately.
Why is there so much turmoil during a time in life that should bring so much happiness? There are many different theories on why we tend to “rediscover” ourselves and choose different paths to travel at this point in our lives.
First, we are no longer daily caretakers for our children, so for many, the label of parent, in the traditional sense of the word, no longer applies. Second, we are no longer workers or bosses or leaders, so we may experience a kind of identity crisis because we don’t have the day-to-day responsibility of tending to issues in the workplace. That means, like it or not, we can now concentrate on our own personal needs and wants.
For those considering moving into this new phase in life, what steps can we take to maximize the likelihood of a successful transition from worker and/or parent to retiree?
We propose four simple rules of thumb:
Retirement Rule #1 – Remember to plan for your future
Any reputable retirement counselor should make it clear that successful retirement planning is more than just a financial affair. Yes, insuring you have the needed assets to live the quality of life you want is very important. But preparing adequately for your physical, social and emotional well-being is also important. We suggest you try to plan for a future that provides you with as many of the benefits as possible that were important to you in your work life, including: a sense of identity; a role and function to play; opportunities for social interaction; some structure and regulation to each day; financial security; and a source of meaning.
Retirement Rule #2 – Be true to yourself
Sit down and have a heart-to-heart with yourself. Ask, “What do I want to get out of what could be as much as one-third of my life outside of the workplace? Can I afford to retire? Where do I want to live? Do I want to travel? How will I spend my time? Do I want to be close to family? Do I want to volunteer my time in the community or hold down a part-time job?” Don’t assume anything at this point in your life. Give yourself the freedom to try everything all over again as if it were the first time, or determine that you are going to embark on experiences yet to be tried. Listen to what others have to say, but listen most intently to what your inner voice is telling you.
Retirement Rule #3 – Be adventurous and explore
Now that you have had a conversation with yourself, what have you determined will be your first big adventure? Or maybe it is a more modest undertaking, like renewing your library card and catching up on all those novels you have been meaning to dive into, or dusting off that old mountain bike sitting in the garage, or learning to brew beer or whittle small models of wildlife. It’s all good. For many, it means revisiting or creating your “bucket list” of goals, dreams, hopes and simple pleasures yet to be realized.
Finding out who you are as a non-working person does not mean you need to take a round-the-world trip that costs tens of thousands of dollars. You can find new and interesting things to do right in your own backyard. It is great if you have a friend, spouse or partner to share in these new adventures, but if you don’t that is OK, too. Part of this phase of life may be finding out that you are OK with trying things on your own. You may also find that after trying out retirement for a little while, part of your exploration is deciding you still want to work. You could decide to start a new business, go back to school and learn a new trade, or take a course just for the fun of it. You could work part time, which is the most popular form of employment for older adults. Recent polls indicate that 63 percent of older adults plan to continue to work in retirement.
Retirement Rule #4 – Allow yourself to make mistakes
View retirement no differently than learning to parallel park, cross-country ski, or prepare an awesome meal. You will likely need to practice to get it right. Sometimes you will make the right choices and sometimes you will have missteps. But just like parallel parking, you can always take another shot. Don’t be discouraged if you have a hard time finding your way in the beginning. This is a very long journey — it probably took you many years to feel comfortable in your career, and you should allow yourself the same latitude now in this phase of life. Those standing on the threshold of retirement can expect to live up to a third of their lives as so-called retirees. That’s plenty of time to learn how to get it right. The most important part is to enjoy the ride.
Retirement Rule #5 – Stay connected/Stay apart
We’re offering advice here that may sound contradictory. First, many people miss the companionship of co-workers once they retire, especially if they live alone. Although they may appreciate the quiet alone time, we are social beasts and isolation isn’t healthy. So, once you fill up on the novelty of sleeping in and doing things on your own, consider reconnecting with friends and family and making new connections through classes, book groups and clubs of all sorts. If you’re married or partnered or living with family members, do fun things with each one of them. But the “stay apart” advice refers to the fact that your spouse may appreciate some of their “alone time.” Your retirement can stress them if you’re always hanging around and they’re not used to it. Be careful not to shadow them like a lost puppy when you’re bored or you will drive him or her crazy. Get out on your own once in a while.
Dr. Len Kaye is the director of the Center on Aging and Professor of Social Work at the University of Maine. Dr. Cliff Singer is chief of Geriatric Mental Health and Neuropsychiatry at Acadia Hospital and Eastern Maine Medical Center. Read more and submit your questions at agesmart.bangordailynews.com.