Are you ready to jack it all in?
- 20 October 2019
- 5 mins
When we plan for retirement, our main focus tends to be on our finances.
Very few of us think about the emotional and mental challenges that retirement brings.
Here we look at ways in which you could prepare yourself for the third stage of your life.
When we plan for retirement, our main focus tends to be on our finances and whether – and how – we can maintain our lifestyle. We might also make plans for where we’re going to live: whether we want to upsize, downsize, move to the sea, move to a different country. But the one thing we don’t plan for is what we’re going to do with all the free time we now have on our hands: 2,000 hours a year for potentially twenty or thirty years. Our focus is on our financial health rather than our mental health.
The green green grass isn’t always greener
When most of us think about retirement we think about the freedoms it brings: freedom from getting up at dark o’clock, from commuting, from the rat race, from toeing the corporate line. A veritable Nirvana. However, for many it isn’t the dream they expected. Retiring is a huge life event and can bring a lot of emotional crises, chief among them the loss of identity. For many people their career identifies a large part of who they are. For them, leaving that identify behind when you leave the workforce can be very difficult. And when you have become accustomed to spending hours at the office it can prove difficult to turn off your work-mode switch and get used to a more laid-back or relaxing lifestyle.
Our top five tips
1. Prepare your relationship
The first few weeks of retirement can be both exciting and challenging for a couple. Whether one or both of you have been working, your pattern of life will change. It can be helpful to take time together to plan and prepare for this phase of life so you can have a shared vision of how to make retirement enjoyable.
It would be deeply disappointing if one of you dreamt of downsizing to a city-centre apartment close to cultural, retail and epicene opportunities while the other wanted to drive across Europe in a campervan. Stopping along the way to fish for your supper.
So each make a list of everything would love to spend time doing, whether together or separately. Share your lists and circle the activities you have in common. It is important not criticise the other person's ideas; listen with an open mind and support their dream even if it does not tally with your own. Independence is important in retirement: we must not lose sight of our individual identities. Finally, agree the things you would like to do together and one or two things you might want to do separately. But remain flexible: you will hopefully have a long time ahead of you and your first three activities might all be achieved within the first year. But it is good to start your retirement with some things to look forward to.
2. Stay active and create new routines
When you’ve been working very hard and you’ve been working long hours, you tend not to have had any time for hobbies. Yet feeling good about yourself, your achievements and your ability to manage new challenges is essential if you are going to make the most of this phase in your life. The University of Alicante has issued a report saying that people over 50 must be prepared for retirement and – since we’re all living longer and staying healthier, too – we must look to retrain, keep learning and look towards what it describes as a “dynamic third age”*. Museums, lectures, and concerts can be inexpensive ways of keeping your mind alert and interested. Make a list of all the museums and galleries in your area and make it your mission to visit all of them. And when you’ve exhausted the local ones, look further afield. A slightly more expensive option could be to look abroad. If there is a particular exhibition you would really like to see, turn it into a city break. Start thinking about a hobby or interest that you would like to pursue; preferably one that requires you getting out of the house and socialising. Join a keep-fit class or rambling club. Because all these will help with top tip number 3...
3. Find friends
Few of us realise the social benefits of working. Not just after-works drinks on birthdays, Fridays and Christmas, but the day-to-day chats that happen across the desk or at the coffee machine. Humans are social animals and have a psychological need to feel close to others. Staring at four walls will not satisfy that need. Join a club, take up an evening class, or simply invite a neighbour in for coffee. Consider volunteering: you still have a contribution to make to life. According to Age UK** a TV or a pet is the main source of companionship for half of all elderly people in Britain. One eighth of the elderly feel cut off from society, and 10% feel that they are always or often lonely. Ahead of retiring think about your social circle outside of the office and think of ways of increasing contact with non-work friends to prepare yourself for when you give up work.
4. Have a makeover
There can be a strong temptation to “let yourself go” when you no longer have to put on your habitual armour to face the world. Instead, see this as an opportunity to escape the confines of the corporate world reinvent yourself and emerge like a butterfly from its chrysalis. Feeling great about yourself can boost your positivity. And now a surprising tip:
5. Go back to work!
Sylvia Goldstaub cynically described retirement as twice as much husband on half as much money. And it’s true: you now have all the time in the world to do all the things you’ve always promised yourself (like traveling) but at a time in your life when you have a reduced income.
*“Towards a dynamic third age”, Bru, Ruiz and Ruiz, University of Alicante, 2016 ** Evidence Review: Loneliness in Later Life, Age UK, 15 July 2015
A TV or a pet is the main source of companionship for half of all elderly people in Britain.
Taking a part-time job not only gets you out of the house and creates a routine, but it can also supplement your finances and help you meet more people. But as this might tie you down to regularised hours, you might consider turning your skills into a part-time business by becoming a consultant. This gives you more freedom to arrange your year into blocks of working and blocks of doing the things you enjoy.
And finally our top five warning signs - here are five questions to ask yourself:
Do you have nothing special to look forward to when you wake up in the morning?
Are your best friends at the job you just left?
Is your personal identity wrapped up in the title of the job you had previously?
Do you not have any great reason to leave your house during the day?
Do you wish you weren’t retired?
If you answer yes to any of them the chances are you have not prepared yourself mentally for retirement.
What were your thoughts about retirement when you first started work? Was it something that happened to 'old people' and not to someone like you? How does this make you feel now that it is about to happen to you? Don't let outdated and stereotypical images of ageing cloud your attitude to retirement. This stage of your life can be as active or leisurely as you want it to be. The important point is to be excited by what you're heading toward – not what you're leaving behind. If you don't have something worth waking up for each morning, then you're setting yourself up for disappointment – a disappointment that's all too common for many new retirees. Recapture your youthful spirit of adventure because you're freer now than you were back then. Not only do you have the freedom of being your own master, but you also have more financial freedom. And more wisdom and understanding. Your retirement is limited only by your creativity. This is the time to rekindle forgotten dreams, long ignored values, and passions suffocated by career responsibilities. Many psychologists recommend retiring gradually, going to a part-time schedule or doing consulting work, before stopping work altogether. This gives you the best of both worlds while you adjust to your new life. The new free time can be spent investigating new hobbies or rediscovering old ones.
Any views expressed are our in-house views as at the time of publishing.
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