Retirement. What does the word mean to you?
By definition, it describes the action of leaving one’s job or ceasing to work. If you’re early in your career, it may bring into focus your IRA or 401(k) and that magic number you think it needs to be before you can spend more time on hobbies and passions. If you’re a couple decades into the workforce, it may conjure visions of cashing in the stress of the rat race for some well-deserved travel and R&R. For the financially unprepared, however, it may bring feelings of doubt and anxiety. And for those on the cusp getting ready for the big day they’ve planned and saved for their whole career, it can be especially exciting as all the hopes and dreams are about to become a crystal clear reality.
The day comes! The speeches are big and the celebrations are huge. Freedom. You no longer have to report to work every day. No more deadlines or worries. No more answering to customers or bosses or employees. You finally have time to do all the things YOU WANT TO DO!
Euphoria! Jubilation! Triumph! Uh-oh … Boredom?
Wait, what? Did that just say boredom? Yes, it’s hard to believe that something planned and yearned for over so many years can lead to boredom, but it happens more than most admit. If you’re retired and battle with bouts of boredom, know that you’re not alone. If you’re getting ready to retire and can’t imagine being bored, recent studies show that for the first time ever, more than half of retirees are unhappy in retirement and a record number are not satisfied at all. Silver lining: you can address it and you can change it.
Many folks on their own, or with the help of an advisor, have done a very good job with the financial side of retirement planning. Yes, a solid comprehensive financial retirement plan is THE essential building block for providing a secure retirement. In the end though, it is just advanced math coupled with smart estate, tax and insurance plans. That only answers the questions of when you can do it and how you can pay for it. That’s where most folks end the plan, including professional advisors.
However, a job gives you more than a paycheck and when it’s over, it’s more than just the money that stops. A career gives you something to do and people to see every day (even if it’s not what we want to do most or who we want to see.) With a loss of purpose and socialization now identified as the leading causes of retirement unhappiness, the evolving role of the financial advisor will need to help address the what to do, the where to do it, and the who with whom to do it … before you retire. (If you’re already there, it’s not too late to rethink tomorrow!)
How does time, the most scarce and valuable resource when you’re working, become the biggest challenge when you are retired? Think about it. For most people, their free time more than doubles without a career. How many cruises can one take? How much golf can one play? What do you do after the dream house is built? This seems most pronounced on business owners and high-level executives who also lose their identity of position, responsibility and control in the transition to retirement. Parents often get their first taste of this when their children leave home, commonly referred to as “empty nest” syndrome … although not a clinical condition, the feelings of loneliness and grief are no less real.
While only you can define your purpose, we can raise the topic to get you thinking about retirement beyond the numbers and offer a few exercises that will help define your purpose and identify your social circle. The firm Jackson National partnered with the author Richard Leider (The Power of Purpose, et al.) to do some great work in this area. The four exercises below are a good first step in rediscovering or redefining those non-financial who, what, where and why questions that help bring happiness to life when you have the time and security to pursue it:
Exercise #1 – People:
On a sheet of paper draw a circle and put your name in the middle. Now draw eight circles around the YOU circle like spokes. In each circle, write the names of people – other than family – that you interact with a couple times a week.
Now cross out all the names connected to work or your career.
Work is a huge network of social interactions. That leaves a void when you stop working and can lead to feelings of isolation and loneliness. How are you replacing that?
Exercise #2 – Place:
Why do you live where you live? Was it the best place to raise a family? Did your career take you here? Do you have extended family nearby?
It may be the perfect place to live, but you may value different things in retirement than you did getting yourself to this point. Make a list of the top 5 qualities of life that are important to you. Here are some starter ideas:
Arts & culture. Close to family. Cost of living. Good restaurants. Good hiking trails. Good medical care. Near the ocean. Public transportation. Age diversity. Snow. Taxes. Four seasons. Entertainment.
Exercise #3 – Passion:
Plan to use your new-found time in retirement to rekindle your passions or discover new ones. Start by listing anything you’ve ever wanted to do – your dream list. Add something that’s always fascinated you or sparked your curiosity. Finally, jot down things that you’ve always wanted to be good at – a new mastery list. Keep the list in sight. Which ones are you going to do this year?
Exercise #4 – Purpose:
This exercise requires more effort, but in the end, you will have a statement of your personal purpose.
First, what are your values? Justice, compassion, honor, loyalty, happiness, etc. If three don’t come readily to mind, remember the big universal values. S.H. Schwartz categorized them broadly into: Openness to Change (self-direction, stimulation), Self-enhancement (hedonism, achievement, power), Conservation (security, conformity, tradition), Self-transcendence (benevolence, universalism), and Spirituality. For more ideas, you can also review Scott Jeffrey’s list of 200 core values.
List your top three values – we’ll call them V1, V2 & V3.
Next, what are your strengths? Identify your top three strengths like humor, designing things, being patient, solving problems, giving care, etc. Only you know you but if you want a bigger idea list, you can find one here.
Write these down, too – we’ll call them S1, S2 & S3.
Now, what do you care most about? Think about the groups you care for the most and have the closest affinity. Is it family, your community, the climate, animals, less fortunate, veterans, or something else? Let’s identify the three you things you really care about.
Write your three groups down – we’ll call them G1, G2 & G3.
Finally, combine your values, strengths, and groups. Use the statement structure below to complete the exercise. And there it is … your own personal statement of purpose!
Because I value ___V1___, ___V2___, and ___V3___
I will use my strengths for ___S1___, ___S2___, and ___S3___
to positively impact the lives of ___G1___, ___G2___, and ___G3___.
If you’re planning for retirement on your own, don’t overlook the need to replace more than just the paycheck. If you’re working with an advisor, ask him or her what kind of resources they can bring to dive in deeper beyond the investments. If you’re already retired and finding that it isn’t living up to expectations, know that there is an ever-growing library of resources and groups out there to help.
The best news of all: for those who put in the effort to build a leisure time plan, an active and purposeful retirement ranks among the happiest and most fulfilling time in their life.
Daniel T. Heth, CRPC, CIMA, CEPA is the Founder & CEO of PRESERVE Wealth Management, a boutique registered investment advisory firm that specializes in getting families to and through retirement. PWM goes beyond the ordinary to not only engage the non-financial spouse, but also address the non-financial elements of a successful and fulfilling retirement. Learn more about the process, click here.