Avoiding Retirement’s Dark Side

by | Feb 14, 2011 | Life Aspiration Planning, Weekly Column | 1 comment

A recent online article in Financial Advisor magazine pointed out some disturbing factors that don’t quite support the “golden years” view of life after employment. The piece by Robert Laura, author of Naked Retirement, was titled “The Dark Side of Retirement.”

According to Laura, retirement for too many people is marred by what he calls a “hidden epidemic” of depression and addiction. He suggests financial planners can help clients avoid these pitfalls by paying attention to non-financial aspects of retirement.

For me, of course, Laura was preaching to the choir. I’ve long since learned from my clients that making a successful transition from employment to retirement is about much more than money.

One way to make yourself less vulnerable to retirement’s potential dark side is to think about retiring early. This doesn’t necessarily mean planning to quit your job at age 55. Nor am I suggesting that you start telling all your friends how you can’t wait until you qualify for Medicare and senior citizen’s discounts.

Instead, start well before retirement to think about what you want your life after work to be like. As part of that process, take a hard look at what you actually get from your work.

Most of us receive more than just a paycheck. A few of the intangible benefits our jobs may provide are social interaction and friendships, a sense of competence and accomplishment, mental stimulation, the satisfaction of doing something worthwhile, recognition, and respect.

If work is the only place you get most of those things, however, retirement can leave you floundering. Instead of leaving a job or a career—which certainly can be challenging enough—it can feel like being torn away from the most significant part of your life.

One way to prepare for retirement, then, is to focus on creating a life to retire “to,” long before you say that final goodbye to your boss.

Make sure you have a social network outside of work. Stay actively involved with friends and family. Join an organization, or become more involved in one you already belong to. The key is to build a circle of friendships beyond your job or your career field.

Think about some retirement activities that will give you a sense of competence and satisfaction. This might include hobbies, volunteering, taking classes or teaching them, mentoring, or consulting. You may not have time to participate in any of these activities now, but you can do some research and consider what you’d like to do.

Consider how you will spend your days and weeks when your time is your own instead of your employer’s. I use several worksheets and exercises to help clients clarify what an ideal week in retirement would be. If you don’t make a plan for using your time, it’s surprising how much of it will be used up by other people’s priorities.

If possible, explore options for working part-time for a while, rather than going suddenly from full-time work to waking up one fateful Monday morning with no place to go. If you can, take some extended vacation time and try out a few of the things you might want to do or places you might want to live after you retire. Do your best to make retirement a process of evolution rather than revolution.

Perhaps the most important way to avoid retirement’s dark side is to make sure your work is only one part of your life. If you have a satisfying life outside of your work now, chances are you will have a satisfying life after retirement. You’ll retire “to” something rather than “from” something.

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