Yes, you can fail at retirement, but that’s OK

Image: sidarta/

It’s true. You can fail at retirement. On the negative side, ‘it seems that the rate of failure in retirement is escalating,’ reports Robert Laura. 

On the positive side: ‘In a weird way, it’s portrayed as a good thing. There are no red faces or bowed heads when people say, “I tried retirement but it didn’t work for me.”’

And that’s OK.

Then there’s a gender bias, says Robin Ryan: ‘Some women [fail at retirement], but certainly, many more men become a failed retiree.’

Michelle Silver, author of Retirement and Its Discontents, says that many retirees are just that—discontent. In her study of retired doctors, professors, CEOs and homemakers, she was surprised by the number of CEOs who couldn’t wait to find some fulfilling paid work.

Perhaps more surprising was the fact that homemakers considered themselves retired when their homemaking would still continue in some ways. Many of them were also unhappy in their retirement.

Perhaps more surprising was the fact that homemakers considered themselves retired when their homemaking would still continue in some ways. Many of them were also unhappy in their retirement.

3 point solution to the problem

1. Don’t retire

That’s stating the obvious. You don’t have to retire. Even if you have to leave your workplace, you could actively search for another job—or create one of your own.

Not retiring can come in many forms: 

  • You may want to continue working where you are after your retirement age
  • You might want to cut back on the number of hours you work a week
  • Perhaps you could cut back on the number of days you work a week
  • Is it possible to work week on and week off? Or so many  months on and off?

Of course, any of these will require negotiation, but the last three allow you to cut back on hours to have more freedom while still having the security and structure a job gives.

Another possible option is to take your work skills and create your own job—within your industry or outside it. 

2. Plan your retirement well

By this I mean more than the first six months. I say this because the first six months can seem like an extended break where you do some things around the house, go on a trip, catch up with family and . . . What then?

Try these questions: Who do you want to be in your retirement? What do you want to do? What new things do you want to attempt (develop new skills, hobbies, experiences)? How can you use the skills you’ve developed over the years in a life satisfying/affirming way (this doesn’t have to be for money)?

Do you have a bucket list (not everyone does)? That could be a good place to start.

It may help to imagine you’re going to live to 90—which is a possibility—what do you want to look back on at 90?

Ryan reckons you should start something new now, before retirement. Her suggestions include: joining a new club; a sports league; or begin serving at a service organisation.

She adds that it’s helpful to be making new friends and be involved in new activities before leaving work to ‘help you transition faster and easier.’

3. Test drive your retirement

Take some time to test what you might want to do. Retirement coach Peter Black discovered that taking a year off helped him decide what his retirement would look like. Not everyone can do that.

But you can probably take a month off, stay at home and treat this break as if you were retired. What will you do? What do you find brings satisfaction? What’s in your community that you might want to be involved in?

No one is a failure if they ‘fail’ at retirement. It simply says that’s not the way they want to spend those years. They find purpose and fulfilment within some kind of workplace. 

However, with some thought and planning—some of it outlined here—you should be able to work out whether that’s you or not. You may find yourself saying, ‘Retirement is not for me.’

And that’s OK. 

Bruce Manners: the author of Retirement Ready?, Refusing to Retire, and founder of

Category: Attitude, Retirement, Working

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Retire Notes