Read an Excerpt
Excerpt from Chapter 1: Creating the Foundation for a Smooth Transition
Conversations between people approaching retirement often follow along these lines: "I'm not sure what I'll do when I retire, and I'm too busy now to even think about it." Paying your children's college tuition, home mortgages, catastrophic medical expenses, and other obligations may push any thought of retirement far into the future. Other people procrastinate because they think they have too few outside interests such as athletics, travel, and hobbies to keep themselves occupied. Some have an addiction to the work routine or a stressful home environment that keeps them from calling it quits so they can still get out of the house every day. And some have the need to retain the power and discretionary spending that gainful employment provides. Thus, plans for retirement often remain vague and only marginally thought out. This lack of planning might catch you off guard if you're forced to retire due to an unanticipated career interruption such as failing health, business failures, enterprise downsizing, layoffs due to outsourcing and mergers, and so on.
With so many variables it is not surprising that most people stumble into retirement with little or no forethought. But planning for retirement is very worthwhile. The earlier you start, the greater the chances are of finding out what makes you genuinely happy,
and creating the infrastructure and environment to pursue your own special Camelot for the retirement years.
Expectations vs. Reality
To some, the word retirement conjures up an image of wide-open pastures with cows grazing on lush grass under a sunny sky. Some people think of retirement as a one-way ticket to utopia, an immediate relief from onerous work and stressful demands. Still others may characterize retirement as a return to a carefree childhood or, perhaps, expect the exhilaration of finishing a marathon, reaching the peak of the mountain, or receiving the trophy for winning the tournament. For a CEO, it might be akin to being kicked upstairs to the position as chairman of the board.
Retirement comes with high expectations. Indeed retirement offers many immediate pleasures. Who can object to a flexible schedule with no deadlines and uncluttered time? Or relief from supervision and reporting to your superiors at the firm? And every day is a holiday?
Each of us brings a complete set of circumstances to the threshold of retirement. Our personalities don't dramatically change, the family does not suddenly come together, your golf handicap probably won't change, and personal assets will not increase unless you have a golden parachute, stock options, or deferred compensation from your place of employment. What retirement does do is give you a "time out" in which to reinvent yourself. Remember that retirement has no standard rulebook to follow; you must create your own blueprint or roadmap. It is not surprising that this momentous change in orientation from the routines of work to the amorphous luxury of self-direction can be disconcerting. With ambiguity always comes some measure of ambivalence.
In reality, the early years of retirement are often a turbulent stretch in life's journey. Perhaps more than any other period in life, this milestone pushes your envelope of social change and personal adjustment. Your schedule of daily activities is scrambled. New roles and relationships alter the landscape and muddy the comfort zone of familiarity. The changing of the guard often carries with it the message of "you are a has-been" that may threaten your identity and feelings of self-esteem. Plus, the retirement years coincide with the downward slope of mental and physical capabilities. And this challenge must be coupled with the residual feelings of loss from leaving your friends at the workplace behind, surrendering your position to someone new (and likely, younger), and losing your paycheck.
The emotional adjustment to retirement takes time, and each retiree settles in at a different rate. On average, several years are required to achieve a satisfactory new equilibrium and comfort level. You must be patient during this natural transition period and give yourself the slack to flounder and backslide from time to time.