You mastered your career. You raised your family. Retirement, that chunk of life set aside to do what you want, when you want is just around the corner. For so long you envisioned it as the finish line, but the truth is that retirement marks the start of a whole new life, one where your old routines won’t apply.
We talked with some experts on retirement to get their take on common mistakes people make when preparing for retirement, the challenges they’ll face when it begins, and tips for getting the most out of your new post-career world.
Avoiding Common Mistakes
Dr. Steve Sass is Program Director for the Financial Security Project at Boston College’s Center for Retirement Research and the author of several notable books on finance. He claims many people don’t understand how much the retirement landscape has changed since our parents entered it. “With the reduction of social security payments, pensions and more, it is rapidly becoming a very different world where you not only can not depend on a paycheck but you can not depend on any regular payment sufficient enough to cover your essential needs.” Sass advises that those facing cash shortages be ready to investigate alternate solutions for adding to their liquidity, including downsizing homes or reverse mortgages.
Binging on new-found freedom can be another misstep. “Enjoy yourself but don’t change your life that drastically, at least not initially,” cautions Jack Tatar, author of Having the Talk: The Four Keys to Your Parents’s Safe Retirement and four other books aimed at educating people about retirement. “Try to maintain as much of your routine as possible. Maintain contact with friends and maintain budgeting disciplines. Have the talk with your children and family about what your plans are. Communication with family is important.”
As your transition draws closer, make sure you know the new financial terrain and are prepared to navigate it with the same sensible approach you’ve always taken.
Preparing for New Challenges
After a successful career in finance, Sydney Lagier retired at the age of 44. In addition to being a contributor to the Wall Street Journal’s Encore section, she writes a popular blog entitled Retirement: A Full-Time Job. She warns that a different income structure and an end to setting alarms aren’t the only changes coming your way. “Probably the biggest challenge is creating a new identity for yourself. After decades in the workforce, so much of our identity is wrapped up in our careers. It’s usually the first thing people ask when they meet you: ‘What do you do?’ That question becomes an incredibly hard one to answer when you first retire. Most of the other difficulties are really tied to this challenge–who are you going to be now that work doesn’t define you? Figuring out how to structure your time, figuring out what your priorities are, figuring out how you are going to replace the social contact of the work world–they all come back to this question.”
Dorian Mintzer, M.S.W., PhD and Board Certified Coach, runs the Revolutionize Retirement website. She is co-author of The Couple’s Retirement Puzzle: 10 Must-Have Conversations for Creating an Amazing New Life Together and a contributor to Live Smart After 50!, Not your Mother’s Retirement, 65 Things to do When you Retire and a few other retirement related books. Mintzer advises people to be ready to take action against inaction. “There can be an initial honeymoon stage of not having to do anything, but most people tell me that that wears off fairly quickly. Then there is a sense of ‘who am I without my work identity?’ In addition, most people thrive if they feel they are part of a community, or part of something that matters.”
As life enters this new season you may find yourself clinging to the habits and skills that got you this far. Dorothy Sander, the author of two books on aging and founder of the award-winning website Aging Abundantly, teaches that those who embrace change will get the most out of retirement. “I’m not sure any transition can be entirely smooth. You can’t prepare for what you do not know and have never experienced. The person who acknowledges that retirement is a challenging transition that may not be easy and is willing to embrace the discomfort and all the growth and self-awareness that it brings will gain the most from the experience.”
Tatar also stresses the personal growth potential that come with retirement. “It can be an opportunity for you to learn some things that you can pass on to others. It’s a time to maintain contact with others but also a chance to make a jump start on those personal interests that you have.”
A New Era for Your Social Life
You may need to learn new social skills, says Mintzer. “Community, social interaction, joining new groups, etc. are all very important. For some people, the work community was the primary place for interaction and connection. Many people say that it’s harder to meet new friends when you’re older and don’t have school, children or work in common.”
Mintzer offers resources to combat these issues. “There are some wonderful lifelong learning programs available, or courses within your community, or volunteer opportunities. Many communities also have support groups for people thinking about retirement or venturing into it. It’s important to find new arenas for social interactions.”
But no matter how much we prepare, Lagier reminds us that even the best laid plans are subject to change. Retirement, one of the biggest changes most people face in life, is no exception. “Structure, activities, social life–you can plan as much as you want before you retire, but the truth is, you really don’t know how to manage this transition until you get in there and start living it.”
Take Your Time to Have the Time of Your Life
Time marches ever on, and if you aren’t already at retirement age you will be soon enough. By checking yourself for common planning mistakes, readying for the economic and personal challenges that will come at career’s end, and being ready to meet change head on, you can ready yourself for what can be life’s most rewarding phase!