Retirement: the oasis on the other side of hard work. A new chapter where the workday grind is replaced by a parade of friends, family, travel and hobbies.
Or so we imagine.
The actual experience of retirement life is not always so sunny. After the novelty of not working wears off, many retirees struggle with unstructured days, the anxiety of living on a fixed income and a loss of purpose. Fortunately, the retirement blues don’t have to last forever. After a few years, most older adults adapt to their new lifestyle and can enjoy it. However, research shows there’s at least one thing that can help you prepare for – and even avoid the slump.
As George Vaillant, psychiatrist and Harvard professor says, “The only thing that really matters in life are your relationships to other people.”
This article offers some insights into why retirement may not be what you expected, and how to get yours on track.
It’s no secret. In the U.S., work is often synonymous with identity. Giving up a career leaves many retirees feeling unsure about their new role. According to the Pew Research Center, 10% of adults 65 and older “feel they aren’t needed or are a burden.” At the same time, Pew found that a third of adults 65 to 74 still “feel 10 to 19 years younger than their age.”
With statistics like that, it’s no wonder that many of the hallmarks of retirement – fewer demands on time and the loss of work’s built-in purpose and social network – produce stress for people who still have so much to offer. That’s why finding meaningful pursuits in retirement is so important.
Melanie Bedell, Vice President, Sales, recommends finding your passion – and points out that you’re not likely to find it in front of the TV. She says to start by asking yourself what makes you happy. “Is it socializing? Volunteering? Spending time with family? Once you identify your passion,” says Bedell, “you can start looking for opportunities to embrace it. Step one: Get off the couch.”
Here are a few suggestions for where many older adults find meaning on the other side of a career.
Volunteering presents an opportunity to share your skills and experience, and to follow your passion.
Whether you join the Peace Corps, pick up litter in your local park, guide museum visitors or read to elementary school children, the world of volunteering is vast. This is your chance to learn something new or to perform the parts of your old job that you enjoyed most – without the parts you’re glad to have given up.
In addition to helping others, volunteering helps structure time that used to be spent at work. It also creates opportunities for older adults to engage with their community and develop a new circle of friends.
Volunteering isn’t the only avenue for sharing your hard-earned skills. Mentoring is another important way to make your knowledge available to a new generation. It’s also a chance to build the meaningful relationships that make retirement fulfilling. Better still, it’s a mutually beneficial relationship.
According to Forbes, young mentees are more likely than unmentored peers to go to college and hold leadership positions. They’re also more confident in their academics and relationships, and less likely to abuse drugs.
At the same time, older adults who are mentors often learn about themselves through the process. They feel more productive, sense they’re making a difference and are more connected to their community. Sharing their knowledge can also help retirees raise their own self-esteem, and connecting with younger adults positively impacts their relationships with their own children.
There are many ways to build a mentoring relationship, including working with at-risk youth, advising a recent college graduate or even giving a little free advice to a neighbor’s child who may be interested in your career field.
Preparing for retirement
According to Bedell, “The biggest challenge new retirees face is unmet expectations. Maybe this isn’t how you envisioned retirement. But lots of things in life aren’t what we expected – that’s when we pivot.”
An important part of confronting unmet expectations is to accept that you may not be able to change your circumstances overnight. Whether your frustrations are financial, social or related to a sense of purpose, pivoting may take time.
One of the best ways to avoid disappointment in retirement from the start is to put things in place before you get there. Continuity – that is keeping important elements in your life consistent even after you stop working – is a key component for successful retirement. Here are a few ways to set yourself up for a smoother transition.
The shift to a fixed income makes having a clear understanding of your retirement finances important for feeling secure as you enter this next chapter.
In addition to reviewing your assets and understanding when to sign up for social security payments, Bedell recommends meeting with a financial planner who will help you determine how to make your savings work for you. Identifying additional streams of income, such as from rental properties, the potential sale of a home or even continuing to work part-time, can all help ease the financial transition.
There are benefits to hanging on to work a little longer. According to the Yerkes-Dodson law, productivity and motivation require some stress – just enough to keep you engaged. For some retirees, the lack of stimulation in retirement can have a similar psychological impact as experiencing burnout at work. Scaling back your hours can provide necessary stimulation and allow the time to add new activities into your life – plus the extra income doesn’t hurt.
Some organizations offer consulting positions, semi-retirement or formal phased retirement programs for those who aren’t quite ready to leave the workplace. If your company doesn’t have a phased retirement program, working after retirement in a bridge job – typically a flexible, part-time job – can provide structure, socialization and income for older adults as they transition to retirement.
Visualize your new life
Trying retirement on for size includes more than a shift in working hours. Just as you trained for your career, knowing what you want to get out of retirement will help you take advantage of its benefits. Spend time imagining what you want your life to look like. If you’re moving on to something you’re excited about, retirement will feel a lot different than if you’re just leaving something behind – regardless of whether you loved or hated your job.
Don’t be afraid to take your vision for a test drive. If you dream of retiring to Florida, try it out for a month. Maybe it’ll be even better than you imagined, or maybe you’ll miss Minnesota snow. Either way, you’re sure to learn more about what you want and how to achieve it in the process.
Get a mentor
At the end of a long, successful career, you’ve got a wealth of wisdom to share. Retirement, however, is a new frontier, and you might benefit from a mentor of your own. Reaching out to a retired friend or co-worker, or even a professional who focuses on the non-financial aspects of retirement, will help you gain a realistic view of what lies ahead and prepare for the next stage in your life.
Reaching out to fellow retirees has the added benefit of growing your community. It can provide a chance to reconnect with people and join them in shared hobbies now that you’ve got the time.
Retirement is who you spend it with
No matter what your dream retirement looks like – from traveling the country in an RV to taking classes on botany – one thing is clear: Who you spend retirement with is as important as how you spend it. “Remember,” advises Bedell, “people belong together.”
At Holiday by Atria, we know life is better with friends. That’s why our communities are built around connection. Visit a Holiday near you to meet a community of new neighbors who can show you the ropes.