By Morf Morford
Tacoma Daily Index
Even if you are not thinking about retirement, you should be.
Even if retirement is years, maybe even a decade or two away, it should be, to some degree, on your radar.
In pre-pandemic times, 10,000 Americans were retiring every day.
That’s a lot of us moving into different stages of life, with very different demands, challenges and expectations.
10,000 Americans every day are downsizing, travelling, establishing encore careers, taking classes and a thousand others variables once they are free from a defining work schedule.
It might be easier to thing about what retirement is NOT, instead of what it is.
Retirement is NOT like vacation.
In retirement you have a different relationship with time.
Vacations are usually defined by how much time you have, and this seeps through every minute, conversation and experience.
The realization that you are not going back to work is something you can’t prepare for until you are retired. And it can be incredibly disorienting.
A couple years ago I attended a retirement planning session.
One major point was about budgeting.
The session leader pointed out that, for working people, most of our spending is on Saturdays, and, as he put it, “when you are retired, every day is Saturday.”
But people I have talked to who have been retired (or even semi-retired) tell me that money is not the issue – time is. Yes, “when you are retired, every day is Saturday.”
In retirement, the primary adjustment is getting used to, or making sense of a span of time without a set structure.
You might find your daily rhythm shifting. You might get up or go to bed earlier, or later.
Not only do you retire from something – and its all consuming schedule – you retire to something.
The biggest decision, at that point is to figure out what you want to do with yourself and your life.
No book, no workshop and no blog or television special can tell you.
You’d be horrified by how many people don’t know who they are or what they want to do once they step out of the “have to” set of obligations of working.
And the fatality rate of recent retirees is horrifying.
One study showed a huge percentage of those who had recently retired had died within eighteen months.
Living without a purpose can be more demanding than living within an intense work schedule.
Retirement is that time when you decide what you want to do.
What are some of those things that the budget or time constraints of work kept you from?
Work, more than anything else, is a routine. Work defines our days, our weeks, our vacations and our schedules.
Retirement opens up those schedules and routines and allows, even demands that we answer some key questions about ourselves;
What have you always truly wanted to do when you grew up?
What, at this point, and maybe any point in your life, really matters?
What is the best use of the one most precious resource of all – time?
What can I do that matters now, and just might, to someone, matter in the future?
It seems that everyone has a bucket list of things they think they will do in retirement.
The reality is that most of those things will evaporate or lose their appeal as they come into sight.
Most of the rest you could complete in 6 months.
After you’ve finished your bucket list you basically start over and have to figure what to do next.
Besides losing the structure of your day and week, when you stop working, you lose the casual and familiar social contacts of the people you worked with.
You might not be “friends”, and may or may not see them outside of work, but still, they know you and you know them.
There is also the problem of loneliness, if not isolation, because everyone else you know is working.
You have to be comfortable with being alone if you retire before everyone else. You will need to actively and deliberately plan things to do with other people.
Within a year you will lose touch with many of the people you worked with and saw and talked to on a regular basis, if not every day.
Retirement doesn’t cost as much as you thought.
But before you retire you should track and project your expenses and estimate future obligations – and fantasies.
You might find that there are two categories of life; those things you actually want to directly experience (like travel) and those things you’d rather fantasize and dream about (like travel).
Keep in mind that there are three basic categories of expenses, regular daily expenses, predictable yearly expenses, and unexpected expenses.
Be sure to set aside an emergency fund.
Learn to live within your means and enjoy what you already have.
Your pace of life will probably slow down. Appreciate and accept it.
Accept your new life. Don’t regret your past life. It’s over and gone.
Understand that there is both financial independence and retirement. If you are financially independent then you are (in theory) in control of what you want to do each day.
If you want to continue “working” and collect a paycheck or add a bit of structure to your day, or week, that might be liberating and defining in its own way.
If you want to make a contribution to your community, without the contractual obligations of employment, consider volunteering for an organization you support.
Doing something for others is an enduring and powerful way to increase your sense of belonging.
Your limitations may change, you will probably have more tolerance (and empathy) for some things, and less tolerance for others.
What some people say will mean much more, and what other people say may mean much less.
The most important thing to do when you retire is to reclaim or re-define your sense of purpose – your “why” of getting out of bed in the morning.
Once you retire, your alarm may not get you up, but your own vision for the day should get you moving.