Retirement. Now What

Retirement is something that most people look forward to in their working lives: no deadlines, no dressing to company standards, and no handling endless paperwork. It is living life more on one’s own terms. But if it is not planned with a degree of care, it can be much less than the dream it was meant to be. It is something that I have seen both personally and professionally as a financial planner.

On the personal side, I have watched my father struggle with his retirement years. He was the kind of man who lived to work. It is what defined him, and it is how he spent his days. So, when it came time for him to end his consulting business, he struggled. He had little in the way of outside passions to give his life purpose or intent. When he was younger and fitter, he played tennis and golf, rode his bike, and swam in the ocean, but this pretty much ended as his body slowed and aged. He has no hobbies or ways to engage himself. My mother struggles to fill his day or get him to do much more than play computer solitaire or obsess over his investments. As a family, we are not sure what to do and how to help get back the wonderful dad who always seemed so full of activity and life.

As a professional, I have seen similar struggles. Many years ago, a client of mine was on the cusp of retirement. He was beside himself with anticipation of no longer having to work. He was the senior legal counsel for a high-profile company that was frequently involved in complex and antagonistic lawsuits, and could no longer take the stress of it all. Financially he was in great shape, and he could fulfill all his life plans. Indeed, we asked what he planned to do in retirement. He said his days were going to be packed – golf, travel and reading meaty history books. But, as time went on, he ended up dreading his days. He found that he had whole hours with nothing to do – yawning gaps of time as he called them. He could only go out to travel so many days a year, play so many rounds of golf, or read so many pages in a day. He missed the broad social life that work gave him. He said he was on the verge of depression, and we could see it in him when we met. His old energy was gone.

The good news is that he eventually recovered his zest. He rediscovered his love of bridge, and he found part-time work helping small businesses manage nuisance lawsuits. He scheduled things so that he was occupied both physically, mentally and socially throughout each day. It was a more purposeful, social and enjoyable life. He had time for golf and reading, but it became about so much more for him.

So now it is a question I ask every client: what do you plan to do in retirement? I push them to think of the days and the hours and to move past just the dreams of endless travel and golf and to have activities that are fulfilling and that they can age with. Develop hobbies and activities that give you a social network, that you enjoy both mentally and physically but are realistic for when one’s faculties fade. With any luck, your retirement will cover many years – some very healthy, others less so. But you can still find meaning, purpose, and time well spent in all of it. Be mindful of the days and weeks ahead and plan for it as carefully as you would your finances.