The Emotional Impact of Retirement

For many of us, our retirement planning has been about ensuring that there is enough money to see us through. More often than not, we give scant attention to the emotional impact of retirement.

Retirement used to be a 5 year, post work, holiday comprising a generous mix of golf, gardening and grand-kids. Now it is a 20 – 25 year, third phase of our life; a time to do all the things we didn’t have time to do because of our busy-busy lives. But when we look at those 25 years, two scenarios arise.

One shows people like Jane Fonda looking fantastic at 70, Noame Chomsky challenging the status quo at age 85 and God only knows how – Keith Richards alive and well and rocking at 69.

The other picture isn’t so rosy. We see photographs of “old people” living in retirement homes, sitting in the corner,  waiting day after day for someone to come and visit – the days stretching out ahead with nothing to do – just waiting to die. We fear the physical degeneration, wearing nappies again, needing someone to wipe our bum; and Alzheimer’s is an ever present dread. As for having enough money – most of us don’t!

That scenario is too scary to contemplate so we close our mind to it. We are the Baby-boomers, the most goal directed, positive-thinking generation in the history of the planet – so naturally, we see ours as the first scenario. We’ll be fine – and if things don’t turn out too well we can always “make a plan”.

But, let’s get real for a moment. Wishful thinking isn’t going to “cut it”. Retirement is a major transition and it needs some respect.

It begins with an Ending – the end of being needed at the office, the end of our social group at work, the end of our status at the office, the end of our authority and ability to take charge, the end of having deadlines that must be met and the end of getting a regular, decent salary.

That ending drives us into a period of inner contemplation – without my status, position and title – who am I? What am I going to do when I don’t have anything to do? Those aches and pains; what are they, what’s happening to me? Perhaps I’m not immortal after all!

“If I’m not made of steel, what is my retirement really going to look like? What is the vision I have for my retirement?” Our emotional preparation needs to consider several factors.

 Physical health – without that, our other plans become significantly more unlikely. A high, bad-fat diet at 40 is going to come back and bite us at 60. Coach-potato, television watching weekends at 50 are going to translate into poor mobility at 65. A high stress, lack-of-sleep career is great preparation for that heart attack at 58. Not to mention our sexual health – how do we ensure that we enjoy an active sex life into old age? Right now is a good time to get some physical activity, eat properly, lose some weight and get a good night’s sleep.

Mental health? Use it or lose it! Watching television 5 hours a day “dumbs us down” – what are we going to do to fire-up those brain cells? And anticipate that some level of depression will set in as we adjust to our new living circumstances.

Financial health – if we have enough, fantastic! If not, what talents and skills do we have that could supplement our income in retirement. We should start now so we can test the water before the pressure is on?

Combating loneliness – where we decide to live in retirement is extremely important. Moving to a cottage in a seaside village may sound romantic but it will take us away from friends and family – and the truth is – it’s difficult to make new friends after 65. It is also important to discuss how retirement is likely to affect our relationship with our spouse – where we used to be away at the office for 10 hours a day, we are now going to be together 24 hours a day. That might be a little overwhelming for both of us.

 Broadening our horizons –  travel, further education, volunteering and creative activity all enrich our life and a “bucket list” does wonders for putting fun back into life.

Finding our passion and a sense of purpose – what’s going to get us up in the morning with a sense of anticipation? Without purpose that 25 year retirement starts looking like a jail sentence and our life expectancy dramatically shortens – to less than 5 years.

And finally – we are not immortal. We have to face bereavement and death. We understand the importance of our last will and testament, but equally important is our living will. How do we want to die? Modern medicine sees more and more people dying in intensive care. Is that what we want? If not, we need to specify what we do want – and not leave it to our family to make those decisions on our behalf.

 

For most of us, the last time we had to make such life forming plans and decisions was when we were teenagers – it was that teenager who decided what career we were going to follow. It would be interesting to see how different those decisions would have been had we been properly prepared. So, now is our opportunity to properly prepare for this 3rd phase of our life – childhood, adulthood and now, retirement.

 

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