Not everyone is happy in their retirement, that’s the message from an ABC Radio National program talking to individuals about their retirement.
There are lessons to be learned from their experience for both retirees and those preparing for retirement.
Jennie Deneefe retired aged 63. However, her first year ‘was just the most awful, awful year. . . . I couldn’t imagine the future. I wasn’t imagining the future with any purpose. I wasn’t a mother [her children had left home]. I wasn’t a teacher. Who was I? What was I?’
‘What’s the point? Who would miss me? Why am I here? Why am I bothering?’
Robyn Drew retired at 57 from a large bank. ‘It soon got boring, actually. I needed to extend my brain a little more than what retirement was going to offer me.’
Lorraine Eldridge retired at 59 from her decades-long teaching career. She had watched her husband retire a few years earlier and he ‘seemed to slip into being at home and spending his time at home quite well’.
Her experience was different. ‘I wanted to retire. I was happy to retire. I felt as though I had done my best, but then I had to feel as though I was still meaningful; [that] there was something for me to do’.
Preparing for retirement
I wish I could give you a three-sentence solution to make sure you have a successful retirement. Life is too complex for that to be realistic. What I can do is give three pointers that can help you think ahead.
1. Plan beforehand what you’re going to do in retirement. There’s a formula for this that has proven helpful: 1/2 + 1 + 5. Think about what you want to do in the first six months of your retirement (this is usually easy). Then think about the first 12 months. And then, long term, what do you want to achieve in the first five years?
2. Begin doing some of what you want to do in retirement. What is it you’re passionate about that you want to continue in retirement? What is it you want to begin in retirement. Can you start on this before retirement? For instance, if you want to be a great photographer, can you start a photography class now to prepare for then?
3. Plan to live a life of significance. Joshua Becker, author of The More of Less, is right when he says, ‘Rarely do people look back on their lives and savour their professional achievements. Instead, they celebrate the impact they have had in the lives of others. Give yourself much to look back and celebrate’. Retirement gives you time to impact on others—significantly. Who will that be?
If you get to retirement and find it isn’t working for you, do something about it.
Jennie Deneefe sought help from her GP and a psychologist. She enrolled in U3A (University of the Third Age) where she joined a book club and took courses. She also volunteers at a food service for the homeless.
‘I feel fantastic,’ she says. ‘Because I’d spent 30 years in a routine, that’s the thing that, when I retired, was missing. . . . My advice would always be to people thinking about retirement to really think about their interests outside their job’.
Robyn Drew decided to go to university and retrain in a new field—nursing: ‘I found it really stimulating. I had to extend myself greatly’. She also found herself mixing with a new group of people, something she says she’d been missing out on in retirement.
She still works, part-time, as a registered nurse at a local nursing home. ‘I just find that it keeps my brain active. And I enjoy the challenge of it’.
Lorraine Eldridge took up some part-time work to regain a sense of meaning in her life: ‘It just made me feel valued as a person’.
What’s your story?
Your story won’t be their story—it can’t be. But their stories can help you look at options in your situation to help you adjust this time of your life into something that’s meaningful and valuable.
The bottom line is this: If your retirement goes bad, don’t give up. Look for options that will lift it to something meaningful for you. That may take thought, experimentation and creativity, but it will be worth the effort.