By Jeff Johnson
“Look before you leap” was a bit of good advice I received from my dad as I ventured into college, a career, marriage, life. Your own father probably once said something similar to you. It’s pretty simple guidance, but valuable in its wide applicability.
Surprisingly, many people don’t “look” before they leave decades of more structured life to enter a world where, to borrow a phrase, “every day is a Saturday.” While many retirees pay significant attention to the life-income impact of leaving the workforce, sometimes they overlook the non-financial considerations, with a less-than-ideal result.
We’ve all heard about the recent retiree who suffered from poor health – or perhaps something worse – shortly after entering post-career life. Or the person who out of boredom returned to the workforce, earning a fraction of the pay (and prestige) they did at the job they left just a few months earlier. Loss of human interaction, lack of direction, feelings of diminished self-worth, and loneliness are all enemies of a happy life-after-work.
At 63, I’m not retired. But after nearly four decades of working with people, their finances and their plans for retirement, I’ve absorbed a lot and learned much from others’ real-world experiences.
So, look before you leap! Start contemplating your future life – the goal is to gain a clearer vision of what, who, where, when – well in advance of your last workday.
The Weekly Worksheet
For years I have given pre-retirees a worksheet assignment, with directions to consider and schedule what and who will take the place of their workweek. Let’s say you typically leave for the office at 7:30 a.m. and return home at 5:30 p.m., Monday through Friday. This is a significant block of pre-planned time that could turn into a life of boredom and lack of purpose without some advance preparation and thought.
A few examples might be scheduling time for Meals on Wheels with your civic group at 10 a.m. on Monday, Wednesday and Friday; lunch at noon on Tuesdays with your daughter; Thursday afternoon might be an ideal time for golf with also retired former co-workers; Friday at 4 p.m. is hosting the neighborhood happy hour. Feel free to download your own copy of the worksheet.
Intentionally developing a life with intention, mission and connection is the goal here, for every day and every week starting immediately after leaving the eight-to-five world.
Do not wait until after you retire to make this schedule. Here’s why: It’s said that habits form in 21 days. If you retire and flounder while biding your time and waiting to see what happens, you might be setting yourself up to make a habit of being inactive, unconnected and unhappy.
Over the years, I’ve observed that most “happy” retirees are connected socially, serving their community and staying involved with family and friends almost daily. Who will you choose to associate with? Who will replace the interactions you had with business associates, clients and other workday connections? And toward what end? Who are the people you know, and who and where are the people you will meet in your future retirement? Who will you support and who will support you?
One-Time Experiences List
I’ve learned from happily retired clients that they often have a list of things they’ve dreamed of doing for years but didn’t have the time to accomplish.
What will you do when you have the time?
I want to drive the Pacific Coast Highway from Mexico to Canada someday, and I’m working on visiting every Presidential Library. I’ve known many people who have had travel goals, such as living in Europe for the summer, taking an around-the-world cruise, or climbing a mountain in some far-off continent.
Others have service goals in their community, for a religious organization, or at an alma mater, such as raising money or serving on a board. Some want to run marathons, go scuba diving or learn to sky dive (e.g., late President George H.W. Bush). There’s no right or wrong to the list, just something you are passionate about doing, you can plan around, and that will become part of your mission, life and purpose.
Make no mistake that being prepared financially is extremely important and must be carefully considered and planned for years in advance of leaving the workforce and its regular paycheck. An experienced wealth advisor with the right resources and tools can help you feel confident about your financial life in retirement.
Life is about so much more than money, and having a healthy, happy and fruitful retirement is supported by careful non-financial planning alongside a prudent plan for life income.
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