Retirement – from hero to zero in 24 hours!

Yesterday you were a person of influence and power, today you are an old-age pensioner.

Retirement sells us a dream of idyllic days walking sun-kissed beaches, drinking exotic cocktails at sunset. And in the background, is the fearful image of us sitting alone, staring into space, sick and waiting to die. Either way, our useful life is seen to be over. But it doesn’t have to be like that.

There are 4 major life changes that we go through in our lives, and how we prepare for them has a major impact on the direction our life takes. But preparation is not something that comes easily to us.

The end of childhood and the start of one’s career. Consider that our careers were chosen by an 18 year old and we had to live with that choice for the next 40 years. Career guidance at school offered limited choices so many (most?) young people then, did little research into what skills and knowledge would be needed in today’s world.

Parenthood and total responsibility for another. Again, some couples planned carefully for taking care of children, but many didn’t; the images of babies and happy smiling children lulled us into a false perception of what being a parent entailed. And there were many of us where the decision was made for us through an unplanned, unwanted pregnancy. So we did the best we could.

Mid-life and questioning the meaning of one’s life. 20 years on, we were in a job that didn’t fulfil us, our children had grown up and were about to leave home and we had, or hadn’t, fulfilled our dreams. The inevitable question was “now what”? If we were lucky we knew the answer, but for most it was a rude awakening and many of us did stupid things to “find ourself”.

Retirement and the start of old age. Retirement used to last for 5 years and then we had the good grace to die – so it really was a time to lay back and enjoy the sunshine. A few of us used to beat the odds and live to 90, but we were the exception. Now, with modern medicine, most of us can expect to live to 90. That is 25 post-retirement years.

Consider that with each of these changes we could have done some preparation to make the transition a little easier – more often, we didn’t and got side-swiped by the unexpected. The trouble is, for the first 3, we had time to put things right, to stop the bus and start again – and it became “valuable experience”. We can do that with retirement as well, but it’s harder. The sins of our poor lifestyle choices in our youth catch up with us, our good health is not “a given”, we may have been careless in our relationships with friends and family and without our “career-friends” loneliness comes a-knocking, and for most of us, money is going to be a problem.

So, where to from here? Try this little quiz.

  • Do I have a plan for how I want to live my retirement?
  • Do I do some physical activity 5 – 6 days a week?
  • Can I put on my shoes and tie the laces without sitting down?
  • Can I put on a pair of jeans standing up?
  • For men, is my waist less than 102 cms? For women, less than 88 cms?
  • Do I eat a balanced low cholesterol, low sugar diet?
  • Do I drink lots of water?
  • Do I get 7 or more hours of sleep a night?
  • Do I see friends at least once a week? Am I socially active?
  • Have I sorted out my wills, insurances and estate?
  • Do I have some plan for supplementing my savings so they last into my old age?

If you answered NO to any of the questions, your preparation for a fulfilling retirement is incomplete. But you are not alone – very few people prepare properly for their old age – we spend more time thinking about a 2 week holiday than about a 25 year retirement.

A sense of purpose is foundational to how we prepare. Staying physically fit is only compelling if we have things to do and places to go. Staying mentally alert is only compelling if we continue to serve others. Staying socially connected is only compelling if we have ideas to share.

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