Retirement Planning Redefined

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By Colleen Torell, JD
September 10, 2019

I just googled “retirement.” The first three results were articles focused on financial planning; beyond a Wikipedia definition opening with a downer of a reference to “the withdrawal from one’s position or occupation,” the results page was filled with salary calculators, a link to the Social Security Administration page on retirement benefits, and advice on how to “achieve” retirement through a singularly financial lens.

Informed, long-term financial planning is essential to secure important retirement outcomes — those that meet both planned and unanticipated events; however, to prepare for an optimal, healthy retirement we must also invest effort in building paths to satisfaction and fulfillment in life spheres that transcend the piggy bank.

Here are some key areas for exploration that deserve to be on equal footing with financial analysis. Each question and follow-on discussion will build on the preceding one to help flesh out some of your unique best options.

Once you retire from full time employment . . .

                                    . . . how will you define yourself?

While members of the work force we define much of our identities by our jobs. When striking up a get-to-know-you conversation with a stranger chances are we have an urge to anchor ourselves in large part by using our professional role.

Retirement indicates a transition to something less than full time work, and sometimes no paid work at all. What will you add into your life to help redefine your current identity? Fast forward and picture yourself meeting someone new. If they ask what you do rather than saying “I used to . . .,” how will finish the sentence “I am. . . “?

                                    . . . how will you spend your day?

When the workday routine ends many feel adrift at sea. Our lives on the job are defined by what needs to get done on behalf of a larger organization. You have a general sense of what others expect you’ll do each day to get closer to the finish line; much of our existence — our to-do list, our physical presence, our attention — is spoken for on some level.

After a lifetime of working, it is only natural that we dedicate part of our new-found freedom to pleasurable things that we either didn’t have time to do, or had to pack into the moments between work responsibilities. Part of the romantic vision that some assign to retirement is that it is one long vacation.

Vacation during our work lives gives us a chance to break away and do something different, usually for a week or two. What if there was no return-to-work date looming? We humans crave novelty so there should be enough variety in our lives to meet that basic need. Having too much of a good thing like prolonged leisure may disappoint, unless we introduce diversity in how we spend our time.                           

                                    . . . how will you connect with the world?

This question has two parts. First, even if you wouldn’t consider everyone you work with a friend, the workplace and job responsibilities naturally create a swirl of social interaction and human connections. Once you turn away from the built-in social network of team members, colleagues and clients where will you find a replacement for the basic human need of social engagement?

Second, how will you feel connected on a more philosophical level, to something beyond yourself? Whether it’s spending time in nature, studying your spirituality, volunteering or engaging more deeply in your community needs, using our time and talents in engaging with the world satisfies our need to be a part of something outside of ourselves.

                                    . . . how will you balance your needs with those of others?

Our personal lives bring many of their own obligations. Whether it’s as caregiver or as partner in a relationship, parts of our lives are dedicated to addressing other people’s wants and needs. What will you commit to doing for yourself? First, and most importantly, take time for self-care so that you can bring the best version of yourself to whatever you do. Preserve time for your hobbies, new learning opportunities, formal education for things that are of interest rather than must learn for our jobs.

If you have a hard time saying “no”, then I urge you to start practicing. You may be tempted to fill your dance card, however, one of the benefits of retirement is taking the time to do the things for which you never had time. Prioritize service for others that you feel are must-do’s, and give yourself time to settle into your new chapter before you commit yourself to the nice-to-do’s.

                                    . . . will you want or need to work?

People who return to paid work after retirement don’t all do so because they need the money. For some, primary motivators for seeking work could be that they crave socialization, a sense of structure, intellectual stimulation or a way to remain active. Regardless of your current retirement plan you may want to be prepared for an eventual job search. Craft a resume that shows your accomplishments in relation to the role you’d like. Keep track of start and end dates from prior roles for easy reference when filling out applications. If you’re on LinkedIn stay engaged in light-touch ways that keep you connected virtually with those in your circles.

Transitioning to retirement poses challenges for many, today more so than ever. People are living longer, healthier lives and recognize the value of continuing to stimulate the mind. The key to success is redefining the notion of retirement: finding new ways to connect with personal passions, contribute to the community and lead a fulfilling life. With the trend and emphasis to bring one’s whole self to work, we should also consider the whole self when thinking about retirement.