Learning from those disappointed with their retirement

Portrait of an angry senior man outdoor
Image:philipimage/ Bigstock.com

Retirement doesn’t always work out for everyone. That became obvious in research by Michelle Pannor Silver from the University of Toronto and author of Retirement and Its Discontents.

For her research she interviewed dozens of former doctors, professors, CEOs and homemakers who saw themselves as retired. All of them found the transition to retirement challenging.

She recently spoke about her findings to Next Avenue.

The retirement party as a turning point

For many the problem began with their retirement party. 

‘One man, an academic physician, described it as being more like a funeral; he felt like he was sitting there and people were talking about him as if he had died and it was the end of his life.’

As he was listening to this he thought about the things he was still working on, still wanted to do. He felt that his best work was ahead of him. This scene helped him decide to focus on his research. ‘The party sealed the deal.’

Men, women—couples and singles

Some homemaker women talked about the loss they felt in retirement because ‘they no longer had to do the thing that was their calling in life.’ 

This life-calling approach was similar to what physicians felt. Some physicians also added that they missed the ‘lack of adrenaline rush that they used to have.’

Then there were married homemakers who had issues with their husbands being home all day. The norm had been broken as ‘suddenly their husbands were interested in tinkering around the house or expecting lunch.’

One surprising thing was: ‘I didn’t find that married people seemed to enjoy retirement any more than single people, but there was a societal expectation that they should.’ 

Have a plan and work the plan

A longer life expectancy means that people do need to plan for the 20 to 30 and, perhaps, more years they may live

Silver’s advice is twofold: ‘Have a financial plan, but also a non-financial plan.’

Not having a financial plan may lead to a restricted retirement. The lack of a non-financial plan—what you’re going to do in retirement—can mean no direction or purpose. Direction and purpose are important for life satisfaction. 

And transitioning is important: ‘Don’t say, “I’ll be at my job and do 110% and then at retirement zero, stopping cold turkey.”’ She urges finding ways to make a smooth transition.

Preparing for retirement

One of the problems retirees face is that society sees retirement in these kinds of ways: ‘It’s either lying on the beach or playing the most boring game of bingo just waiting to die.’

Retirement can be much more than this, must be more than this: Silver advises that people coming up to retirement should begin by making a list of things they enjoy in life.

And this is not only about what you currently enjoy. ‘Maybe [it’s] things you enjoyed as a child and always wanted to do, like wanting to play piano or be a good cook. It doesn’t have to be something you’re good at; just something that interests you.’ 

Then ‘channel the energy you used at work’ into those kinds of things. That will be energy well spent.

Bruce Manners is the author of Retirement Ready? and Refusing to Retireand founder of RetireNotes.com

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