The table has been beautifully set and the aromas from the kitchen are so alluring. The wine is chilling and the flowers in the centerpiece are both exquisite and pungent. You’re all ready to sit down and enjoy, but something is missing.
You’re not hungry.
Even though we design the most technically competent retirement plans, account for all the possible unexpected events, both internal and external, and buffer for those things that will come out of left field, no retirement plan is ever complete unless we have a very intimate conversation about what you will do with 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year.
Yes, this sounds silly at first, but think this through. Your life for the last 30 or more years has been scripted by the work week, the weekends, the two-week vacation and the occasional paid vacation days. Take that all away and you are left with a blank slate.
So now what will you do to fill in those days?
At first, the fact that the alarm clock does not need to ring will be bliss. Sleep in because no one is telling you otherwise. When leisure becomes your life’s work, you will need a vacation from that. Really.
It sounds really freeing. And it is. But human beings are not programmed to be in isolation for too long. We are social beings. Maybe not at the pace we were when we were working full-time, but certainly our connection to other humans is vital to our mental health.
That reality is the most frightening to those who will retire with enough in assets to be able to support their income needs for the rest of their lives.
We used to frown on those who had to work to maintain their lifestyle, whether it be for the “extras” or to supply the basic needs. We are finding that the need to be gainfully employed is not such a bad thing anymore given the longevity of retirees. It used to be when manual labor was the norm for most of us, retiring left us with used-up bodies, spent from years of physical demands. Not so much these days. (For related reading, see: Why Working After Retirement Is Good for Your Health.)
The information age has made so many of us slaves to our desks and to the devices that support our job descriptions. We can make time for our physical fitness and we are eating better. In general, our health is better than our parents’ health. We can look forward to at least 15-20 years of active life after age 65. That’s 10 years longer than our parents. (For related reading, see: Retirement in an Age of Longevity.)
All transitions are scary. Inherently there is a feeling of loss from what we are leaving and for some, joy in what we are going to. In all the years of my advising people in anticipation of retirement, the “where we are going” usually blurs the grief they feel—but don’t acknowledge—at the loss of position, social status, being part of a team, saying goodbye to friends made at work, the support people they saw every day (the mail delivery guy, the UPS person, the clerk behind the counter at the newsstand, the barista at the coffee shop) and maybe even the boss. They feel it but are loathe to admit that it does hurt. It is a real loss. And in its absence, people often expect their spouse to fill that void.
And then we get to the matter of how to retire and keep your marriage alive.
The incidence of divorce in people who are retired has tripled in the last 20 years. I think you can figure out why. Stay-at-home spouses become crazed at the thought of a husband or wife who will be underfoot all day and night. That domestic partner has developed a life of his or her own, which does not include babysitting a now-retired executive who is looking for something to do. How many times have I heard, “I wish he would go out and get a job. He’s driving me nuts!” (For related reading, see: Retirement: The One Thing Couples Shouldn’t Do Together.)
As important as the financial design of a retirement plan is, the practical design of what you will do in retirement is just as important. Just because the money is there does not mean the planning is complete. And this new station in life will require as much thought as choosing a career path did when you started out.
Think of those who you would say have a successful retirement. What do they do with their days? Are there components of their lives which you admire? Can you create something like that for yourself? If that person is part of a couple, how do they blend their separate and joint lifestyles? Is this something you would like to do with your own marriage? (For related reading, see: Top 5 Things to Do When You Retire.)
What are the experiences or pursuits you loved to do when you had free time? Can you expand on them now?
A well-planned retirement has at least six components. To find out what they are, come back for my next chapter.
The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.