Bruce and Jitendra had planned for their retirement about five years before Bruce was ready to leave his job as a school principal. Many of their friends were either retired or facing retirement and provided the couple with good examples of both what to do and not to do when it came to making the transition from a regular work life. “I was amazed at the number of my friends who reached their retirement and basically had no idea what they were going to do once they got there,” Bruce commented. “Jitendra and I told ourselves that we are going to take this opportunity to get everything out of this new life—we were going to make it an adventure.”
For the past five years, they had taken a month in the summer and “practiced” retirement. “We were initially concerned that we might find it difficult to change our mindset once we actually retired,” said Jitendra. “I knew from my work as a psychologist that making a major life change such as retiring is a lot more stressful than most people realize.”
Looking Inside Yourself
What is your mindset when you think of retirement?
Successful retirees are generally optimistic people who believe that they can control parts of their lives. They seek out new opportunities to learn or experience new things—they refuse to give in to an attitude that focuses on aging as negative or that retirement means that you are “near the end.” The key is their attitude towards whatever life has dealt them, including their ability to control their attitude!
“If you are distressed by anything external, the pain is not due to the thing itself, but to your estimate of it; and this you have the power to revoke at any moment.” Marcus Aurelius Antonius
Financial planning clients and their advisors often assume that there is a template for the “ideal” retirement which is that you want to walk away from work with enough money to do all of those things that you always dreamt of doing when there was never enough time. This is one of the reasons why retirement planning often becomes a financial planning exercise. The false belief is that as long as you have enough money, you can happily retire.
The problem with that is that people focus on having enough money and ignore figuring out how they want to feel or think.
With this model in mind, many pre-retirees that we talk to tend to see their retirement future as a series of weekends strung together over a period of 30 years. In our workshops we advise participants that the keys to retirement success are actually no different than the keys to life success—i.e. the way you view yourself and your place in the world will determine whether you are able to maintain a happy retirement life.
Roy: “I have now been retired from my job for nine months. The guys were asking me the other day how I like it and I told them that it was like having a continual holiday from work. I just love it…I can golf every day and no one tells me where I have to be or where I have to go. Actually, though, I’ve found that after six or seven days of golf in a row I’m burnt out and I spend the next day on the couch. The other thing I notice is that I’m not using my mind very much and that I’ve got a nice spare tire around my waist. But, those are the only negative things…Hey, I’m only sixty and I have a lot of time to work out all of the bugs in this retirement thing.”
Roy looked at his pending retirement as an opportunity to play golf. His planning had zeroed in on what he wanted to do, not how he wanted to feel. While there is nothing wrong with building a bucket list, remember that it is your outlook on life and the way that you look at the world that will drive activities, positive mental health, relationships, etc.
Therefore, retirement planning is more about conditioning your mind for retirement rather than taking an activity-centered approach.
Who are you?
It is really important for both my clients and me to understand how they view themselves as they enter into retirement. Often when I pose the question in my initial planning session with my clients I will ask them, “Who are you?” Many think that I am actually asking what they do for a living. I will get responses ranging from “I am a lawyer,” “I am a manager,” “I work in manufacturing.” Generally, men will more likely define themselves by the position they hold or what they do. Women, on the other hand, are more likely to define themselves in terms of the roles they fill, as in “I am a wife, a mother, a daughter,” etc.
In setting your goals and priorities for this next phase of your life, it is a good idea to clarify the present roles that you feel you play as well as future roles that you wish to play. By understanding who you are and where natural talents lay, it will be easier to decide where you want to go and how you want to spend your time in your retirement. How do you see yourself today? What is your self-image? Which parts of you are most important to you?
You are who you are—Continuity theory
“When we retire, we are going to do a lot of new things,” confided Mary at one of our retirement planning sessions. “I have never painted before and I think that I can use my time to take art lessons and start painting.” Her husband Bob was also excited about the new things that the couple could do in the future. “We have put down a list of all of the things we have always wanted to do and our goal in retirement is to make sure that we do each and every one!”
That sounds both ambitious and exciting! There will be others who could do the same thing and will successfully add a whole list of new things that will become part of their day-to-day lives as they move through the first stages of retirement. Whether Bob and Mary embark on a new exciting life has more to do with whether they are “self-starters” or “other-directed” than whether they have more time.
To get a sense of your likelihood to do a lot of “new” things in retirement, look at your past life and assess whether you have done a lot of new things in the past. Some people continually look for adventure and are open to new opportunities; others will always find excuses or impediments to adding some zest or change.
Psychologists have used the term “Continuity Theory” to describe how we are generally consistent in our attitudes, beliefs, expectations, and habits. The theory is based on the premise that human beings do not like change or dissonance in our lives; when we embark on something new or we change our situation, our brains find ways to restore normalcy.
The theory has also been applied to the natural process of aging. As we age, we keep the same personality, relationships, and “our way of doing things.” The strategies that older adults use to process getting older are often rooted in their past experiences.
Simply put, you are who you are.
That doesn’t necessarily mean that you won’t do new things, just that it is less likely unless you create the positive habits needed to undertake them. Generally, it doesn’t “just happen” simply because you now have more time in retirement.
Joseph F. Falbo, CFP®, AIF®, CRC® is an independent LPL financial advisor that helps grow and preserve clients’ wealth using cutting edge, customized, and comprehensive strategies. With over two decades of experience, Joe helps clients to pursue and retain the lifestyle they want in retirement. To discuss your retirement goals or any financial topic you want, schedule a 20-minute complimentary call. To learn more about Joe, please visit falbowealth.com.
The opinions voiced in this material are for general information only and are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual security.