The emotional side of retirement
Retirement is more than just hitting retirement age and stopping work. It always has been, but it’s more true than ever today. It’s an exciting time of big changes, but that shift isn’t always easy. Retiring can be as much an emotional journey as it is a financial one.
In a culture that sometimes defines us by what we do, leaving the working world can leave us feeling bereft. This feeling, combined with longer lifespans and the ability to work more comfortably for longer has led to many prolonging their departure from work with partial retirement or consulting jobs. The book The 100-Year Life talks about the joys and benefits of this longevity.
But what happens when it really is time to retire? How does a person cope with that shift in perspective?
According to gerontologist Ken Dychtwald, co-author of the 1989 bestseller “Age Wave,” there are five emotional stages of retirement:
Imagination (Up to 15 years before)
This is the stage where it’s all excitement and daydreams. You might already have a good idea of what your retirement could look like financially and you’re imagining a time of low stress and high fulfilment. During the imagination stage, you are envisioning all of the places you’ll travel, the relaxing mornings of getting up late, the time you’ll have for hobbies and passion projects. If you’re at this stage and haven’t started creating a financial plan for your future, this can be a good time to start. It may help those daydreams feel more achievable and closer to reality. It can also be beneficial to start thinking about how you might like to approach retirement. Will it be a phased journey or will you be ready to make a total change?
Anticipation (3-5 years before)
At this stage, daydreaming is turning into full-blown planning. Retirement is on its way and you need to begin the process of moving towards it.
One way you can make the most of this time is by finding a ‘retirement mentor.’ Throughout your career, you may have had a mentor (or mentors) who helped guide you towards success by showing you what that looks like and encouraging you to ask questions and bounce ideas off them. You can do the same with retirement. Find someone who is living a retirement life you admire and spend some time with them to understand how you can do it too.
Liberation (First year)
The liberation stage is sometimes also called the honeymoon phase. This is when all of the excitement and relief are in full force and it feels like you have the freedom to do anything you want! It’s a stage to be enjoyed to its fullest.
This is when many retirees are focused on spending their time more meaningfully, whether that’s by concentrating on friends and family or dedicating time to hobbies and travel. Some people are even still loosely tied to their work during this period. Others simply let themselves relax after years of hard work.
It’s vital to make the most of this time and appreciate this new world of possibilities.
Reorientation (About 3-5 years in)
Entering this stage means that the honeymoon is over and some of the shine has left the surface of your retirement. After testing the waters, you have probably settled into a routine and have a better idea of how your newest phase of life needs to work.
You may have finished off your retirement to-do list and are looking at how to incorporate more meaning into your day-to-day. This can cause feelings of discontent, but those feelings can be channeled into making positive changes.
The reorientation stage signals that you are ready to start considering your legacy and how you’ll be remembered. Retirement is one of the greatest opportunities you have to reinvent yourself and dedicate yourself to your values. This is a chance to transform yourself and your life into something to be deeply proud of.
Reconciliation (15 years in)
The last stage of retirement is reconciliation. This is the stage where you have created a retirement that feels purposeful and worthwhile. Most retirees at this stage feel contentment and fulfilment. Priorities often centre around relaxation and simplification.
As health problems could become more prevalent during this stage, a focus on health and wellbeing tends to be an overarching theme. Some people move to retirement communities or move geographical areas to enhance their access to health resources or means for independence.
This part of the journey tends to have less stress and fewer anxieties than the earlier stages.
As you can see, retirement can be a tumultuous journey. With all of the emotional ups and downs, it’s important to make the rest of your journey as easy as possible. Financial planning is one tool you can use to help create a smoother transition. When your finances are in order and the stress of fiscal concerns is taken care of, you can more fully dedicate your energy to creating a retirement you love.