Recently, I ran across a list of frequently asked questions about retirement that I found a little bit alarming. Two of the questions that really struck me centered around whether or not retirement causes depression and whether or not retirement can ruin your marriage. I spend much of my day talking with clients about their dreams of their life in retirement, and I can tell you that no one that I’ve ever worked with in 20 years comes to me with the idea that they’re going to be depressed in retirement or that they are going to have their marriage fall apart as a result of having retired.
Recognizing What Retirement Is – And What It Isn’t
Yet it seems, given the fact that these are frequently-asked questions, that certainly can become the case. As such, I would like to discuss a little bit about how I believe these very unfortunate situations can be avoided. For many people, the view of retirement is that of a vacation that they go on and they never come back, but I believe that is a skewed perception of what retirement is meant to be like. And I think that folks who go into it with that mindset have a higher likelihood of running into some of the troubles that the FAQ referenced.
Retirement originally was a period of time after you’ve worked that really you lived out the rest of your life, in a lot of cases, whether it was on a family farm or working with helping to take care of younger generations. Years ago, prior to some of the social programs that have been developed to help folks in retirement, it really wasn’t for a long period of time. Our average life expectancy was a great deal shorter, and so you were retired for five or 10 years before you passed away. We just didn’t live until our 80s and 90s the way that we do today.
True Retirement Needs Goes Beyond The Dollar
Now, however, retirement for some people can be longer than the amount of time that they worked, and so developing a plan for that above and beyond the money is incredibly important. When I talk to most people about retirement, what they really want isn’t necessarily to never work again. It’s to spend their time doing things that allow them to find purpose, that they enjoy, that are meeting their innate needs on a very personal level. Most of the folks that I know who come to retirement have a lot of areas of their work that they miss. Many found great fulfillment in their jobs and struggle with the reality of retiring from the relationships that they have at their work, or some of the fulfillment that they get, they just want to be able to do other things.
Now, my guess is that those who haven’t prepared for losing those relationships, losing those connections, and losing that purpose, are absolutely the folks who end up with issues like depression and marriage problems because they weren’t psychologically prepared for retirement. There’s a big difference between being prepared financially and being prepared psychologically. I believe that the key to a fulfilling retirement is really to have been planning for and almost living your retirement for many years before you actually quit going to work. The key to a successful work life is doing something that you love, building meaningful relationships, and finding purpose in your work.
Never Be Too Prideful to Shift Gears
If you find yourself as someone who is missing one of those pieces, then honestly retirement probably isn’t going to provide them for you. So waiting for retirement and grinding out a 30-year career is a slow death in a lot of ways. When I was right out of school, I taught sixth grade the first year. I had a class of 22 twelve-year-olds, and I was 22, and it was rough, to say the least. And I always thought that a lot of that had to do with the fact that my youth and just discipline was hard. But after about nine months, when it came time to renew or let the administration know whether or not we’d be coming back, I decided that I wasn’t going to teach school the next year. I was going to find something different to do. I didn’t enjoy it.
And one of the things that struck me was how many individuals, whether they were teachers, administrators, or whatever, came to me and said, “I wish I could get out. I wish that I could do something different, but I’m too far in now.” And we’re talking about those in their 40s who had another 15 years or so before they could get their pension. And that means that they essentially were committed to spending another 15 years waiting to get out of a job that they didn’t like to be able to go off and enjoy retirement.
Finally Finished – And Flustered
Now, think about it. If you spent 15 years waiting for something, putting off joy, not being able to do the things that you wanted to do, in some cases not finding your purpose, and waking up every day going to a job you didn’t like, and all of it was to get to this magical point where you didn’t have to work. And then you retired and found that your days were emptier than you thought. You didn’t have the relationships any more than you had, and you hadn’t prepared for it. I think it’s pretty easy to see how, for some people, retirement could be depressing. And so I think one of the keys to being happy in retirement is to start now living the life that we want and not put ourselves in a position where we’re expecting retirement to be this oasis that once we get there, things are going to be good. I think we’re setting ourselves up for failure to expect that retirement is going to make things better. I think we’re putting a little bit too much pressure on retirement frankly.
Instead, I think a better plan if for us to live today in a way that makes us happy, that helps us find relationships and fulfillment, and to plan our finances now to not only prepare for later but to do what’s necessary today to live the life that we want. There is no reason to wait on 65, 62, 70 to be a time when we can start living that life that we want.
Coming Together in Retirement
In regard to the second concern, I believe having a plan to look at can help with some of the relational implications. One of the biggest things, a fear that I heard from spouses, is the notion that one of them, let’s say, has been a homemaker taking care of the kids, and the other one has gone to work for 50 hours a week (and you probably know people who are this way), who joke about the fact that they don’t know that they’re looking to spend that much time together. They love each other, but they’re accustomed to their partner having things to do, and they’re concerned that there’s not going to be enough for them to do or be able to relate to each other in the same meaningful way that they desire.
Retiring From vs Retiring To
And this kind of speaks to me to a concept that I’ve always talked about, about retiring from versus retiring to. Retiring from is the idea of you don’t want to have to punch a clock or ask someone else for a vacation day to be able to do something with your grandkids. You want to retire from that. As important as that is, it is equally important to our health in retirement for us to have something that we’re going to retire to. If we want to have our mental health be solid in retirement, if we want to have our relationships and our marriages be solid in retirement, it’s imperative that we spend time now preparing financially and emotionally to retire to our ideal life.
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Don’t Just Plan It – Live It
I think the retirement, frankly, should be a continuation of an ideal life that we build and live now. And we can build a plan for that financially and otherwise that takes into account the kind of life that we want to live, and if necessary, make any financial changes now to allow us to do that. How long would you work in a job, or how hurried would you be if you were working in a job every day that you loved? If you work with people you enjoyed spending time with if you did work that you found fulfilling, would you really be in a hurry to retire?
I don’t believe that you would. And so by making changes now to correct any issues that you have in your work situation, in your relationships, you can make the financial sacrifices if necessary to be able to do the things that you want to do now without having to wait and hope that someday it’s going to be better. You can make it better now. We can make whatever plans and changes need to be made so that you can begin living your ideal life now.
A couple of things that are going to happen from that is you’re going to quit waiting for retirement. And so when the time comes that you have more things to retire to than you do to retire from, it’s a pretty simple transition. Retiring to family obligations or things that you want to be able to do. Retiring to do work that is part of your purpose and your mission, whether that’s charitable work or otherwise, being able to spend your day doing things that are important and of value to you, you’ve got something to retire to. And so I think that shifting from a retire from mindset to a retire to can really position us to be prepared for a retirement regardless of how long it is where we can be happy and fulfilled and make sure that we are not ending up being those folks who are depressed, whose marriages fall apart.
It is often that folks come to a financial advisor expecting us to crunch the numbers and say how much we need to save and really put restrictions on their life. I think financial advisors get a bad rap in that regard as if our job is to tell our clients to save everything and to never spend money and to not do the things that they want to do. On the contrary, a good financial advisor’s job is to listen to your goals and dreams, is to understand what it is that you’re trying to do, what your purpose is, and then help provide ideas and solutions to help you do that, both now and later.
And at least in my case, oftentimes, it’s not always about the money that you save, it’s about the money that you invest, not just financial investments, the investments that you make in your family, in your relationships, in the charitable organizations, religious organizations that are important to you. Investing isn’t just in financial instruments and using your money for things other than joy or potential joy really in the future and foregoing everything today, in my mind, certainly doesn’t set us up for a long and happy life. I think that now is the time to make some changes to create a plan for the life that you want to live forever, not for later. And by creating a life plan that encompasses both your finances as well as your purpose and what’s important to you, you can begin living a life today that you’ll be happy to retire into. And the best part is you don’t have to wait until you’re older to be able to do it.