Look Before You Leap: Retirement Isn't For Everyone!

BY: Daniel M. Savage

Ask someone why they’re happily anticipating retirement, and you’ll likely hear plans about unlimited time for family, golf, travel, reading, biking, yoga, the health club, morning coffee, evening cocktails, freedom from stress, and much more. While these happy, idyllic scenarios unfold for some, they don’t for everyone.

Why? There can be steep, hidden costs associated with retirement – and believe it or not, most of them are non-financial in nature. Let’s examine five here.

  • Loss of Structure. Although some people welcome the enhanced freedom that retirement offers, its corollary is often a profound absence of structure. Think: no schedules, no expectations, no obligations. While that may sound appealing, and some will flourish in such an environment, others will find themselves highly anxious as a result.

  • Loss of Purpose. What gets you out of bed every morning? For most, work dominates our days, in terms of percentage of time spent, setting and accomplishing goals, and solving problems for our employers and clients. Unless we can “re-purpose” our lives with some combination of family, friends, interests, and goals, it can be easy to find oneself uncomfortably adrift … bored.

  • Loss of Social Contact. Most people thoroughly enjoy their colleagues for eight to 10 hours a day, and some of them become good friends. Absent continued contact with them or an alternative source of friends, retirement can be detrimental to maintaining adequate social contact. This can be especially problematic for singles without children and/or other family.

  • Loss of Status (Station). This is not about status in the hierarchical sense; rather, it’s about where people fit in with everything and everyone around them. It speaks to questions like, “How will others react to my retirement?” and “Will I still be a meaningful part of their lives?”

  • Loss of Passion. Merriam-Webster.com defines passion as “a strong liking or desire for or devotion to some activity, object, or concept.” Work isn’t a passion for everyone, but it definitely is for some. As with loss of one or more of the other elements above, the absence of an alternative passion – work or otherwise – will be problematic.
So, how will you know if the “costs of retirement” are too high for you? A good starting point is an honest self-evaluation of the above issues that includes probing questions.

Next, make a list of your friends and note how many of them are colleagues, versus non-colleagues. Then ask them the same questions without dismissing their answers out of hand. Finally, try an extended vacation – a month or more – to see how you handle loss of structure and purpose issues.

If you don’t like the answers, perhaps you should keep working and talk to a retirement professional.

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