An intriguing find once emerged from a RAND Corp. survey on Americans and their working conditions. It turned out that 40 percent of employees 65 and older had previously retired, but something lured them back to the working world.
In some cases, financial troubles might have been the cause. But often the reason is that people neglect an important component in their retirement planning. They don’t think about what they will do with their extra time, or how they will give their life the meaning and purpose work provided, says Patti Hart, co-author with her husband, Milledge, of The Resolutionist: Welcome to the Anti-Retirement Movement (www.antiretirement.com).
“Money is certainly important, but it’s not the only thing that determines whether your retirement is a success,” she says. “It may be that you are financially ready to retire, but are a long way from being emotionally ready.”
The Harts offer tips for figuring out when to retire and for making sure you’re successful when you do:
- Know your catalysts. Identify milestones or signs that will let you know you are ready to embark on a new post-work life, Milledge Hart says. Yes, that could be when you’ve accumulated a certain amount of savings. But it might also be related to when your spouse quits their job, or when your children graduate college and head out on their own. Maybe your plan is to work until your health gives out. “Knowing your catalysts can mean the difference between successfully transitioning to a fulfilled life after your career is over, or boomeranging back to the full-time workforce simply because you didn’t know why you quit to begin with,” he says.
- Plan ahead to avoid separation anxiety from work. For many people, moving from the excitement and fulfillment of a career to the quietness of retirement is too much, Patti Hart says. They develop a form of “separation anxiety,” longing for their old way of life rather than venturing boldly into the new one. “You need to make a plan for what you want to do in your new post-career life so you aren’t floundering when you get there,” she says.
- Get comfortable with the uncomfortable. At work, people are thrown into uncomfortable situations and have no choice but to face them head on. In retirement, it’s easier to avoid discomfort, but doing so diminishes your confidence, and you miss out on opportunities for personal growth and fun, Milledge Hart says. “It would seem counterintuitive to think that being uncomfortable brings happiness, but it does,” he says. “Go at life as if it’s an adventure – because it is. When you accomplish something you didn’t think you could, you get a jolt of endorphins that drives you to your next challenge.”
- Learn to be your own best friend. Even when people want to try a new hobby or activity, they sometimes are afraid to do it alone. “In retirement, you might not have the social network you once did,” Patti Hart says. “You may long for a good friend you can rely on.” But if you think about it, she says, you already have that friend – yourself. So as you prepare for retirement, be ready to go solo on occasion. “When you get to this stage, you will often find that some things on your list are on your list alone,” she says. “No one in your universe shares your interest or has the time to join you. That’s all right. If you are going to continue to grow, you need to sometimes feel like you did something completely on your own.”
“Don’t convince yourself that in retirement you are going to be destined to a life of watching evening game shows and baking pies, unless of course that is what you love to do,” Milledge Hart says. “My advice is nothing is off limits, so reach for the stars. Look forward rather than backward, and embrace the new you.”
Patti and Milledge Hart, co-authors of The Resolutionist: Welcome to the Anti-Retirement Movement (www.antiretirement.com), spent more than 30 years as executive leaders in numerous technology and investment banking businesses