For many, the idea of retiring is the American dream. Yet this “dream” is one of the most stressful life events. The main reason is that retirement takes a person (and a couple) out of the comfort zone they occupied for years to reach the point where retirement is a viable option. To wit, monthly paychecks are now replaced by other resources – e.g., pension, Social Security, and investments – which need to last the rest of one’s life. Is there enough?
On the personal side, the successes and relationships formed from work are no longer part of the retiree’s day-to-day existence. Instead of defined roles and responsibilities, the wage earner is cast into a state of needing to fill the day with other activities. Often, there is a partner/spouse who had created a world apart from the wage earner, and this person, too, must adjust to changes in an established routine.
The pressure to perform in retirement is as great as the effort taken to make retirement possible. The idea of the “golden years” was a marketing concept generated in the 1950s as a way to ease a workforce out of jobs where they were no longer physically productive. The promises of luxury and leisure became the enticements to bring people to the next step.
Yet in practice, this next step of golf and travel -- and idleness – were not as idyllic as proffered. Suicide rates spike after retirement, and divorce rates skyrocket. The unhappiness is not because it’s bad to accumulate wealth and no longer need to work; rather, it’s because a person’s identity becomes so intertwined with work that when taken away, there remains a giant hole to fill.
Instead of thinking of retirement as an end-all, our suggestion is to look at retirement as another step on your journey. Instead of entering the box of what others say a retirement should look like, ask yourself a simple question: what would you do with your time if the amount of money you made no longer mattered?
This subtle shift in perspective will empower any of us, no matter the stage we find ourselves in career or in life. The change merges retirement into the idea of financial independence – where what follows is a new beginning, not an end. Financial independence, then, becomes a key to unlock possibilities. The shift generates an energy where creating, and building, and preparing are action steps to parallel one’s current career. What awaits you are excitement and anticipation, instead of idleness and bucket lists which are too often about crossing things off rather than enjoying.
Are you thinking of starting a business or new career? Start a class tomorrow. Perhaps you want to work part-time – but want less of the responsibility. Great! Heck, even if you want to golf or travel – go for it, but enjoy it on your terms. There is magic when you remain in control of your future. As you reimagine what is possible and move in that direction, mortality becomes less the destination – and instead, becomes nothing more than an interruption in a life well-lived.