Are you ready emotionally? Wait … what? Did you spend as much time preparing yourself emotionally as you did financially? I’ve heard some married folks say, “I married you for better or for worse, not for lunch!” That can get a chuckle, yet there is a glaring element of truth to it.
In full disclosure, I am four years away from my planned retirement (and time flies), yet I already have conflicting emotions. How do I leave a profession I’ve dedicated my life to and absolutely cherish? How much of my self-concept is tied to my profession? What should/will I do to occupy my time? Yes, I’ve done my best to prepare financially, but what will it feel like when I no longer have a paycheck coming in? Does my wife really want me around for lunch every day?
Seriously, all of these conflicting emotions should be welcomed as they help us begin shaping our retirement years. Just as any other change in our lives causes uncertainty — graduating high school or college, getting married or divorced, having children or grandchildren, changing jobs voluntarily or involuntarily, moving — we take stock of ourselves at each juncture, step out into the unknown and grow. Approaching retirement is no different. We start our path knowing that it can (and will) change, and most importantly, we are able to change and adapt to it. After all, how many years have we already been planning, adapting and changing? We have a successful history!
Here are three tips I give my clients on retirement emotional readiness:
1. Write down your list of passions.
Write as many as come to mind, and then work to refine and prioritize those into a final list of five. For each of those five passions, write beside it a weekly activity to support it. For example, if a passion is working out, then playing golf or tennis or attending a gym class should be on your weekly calendar in retirement. If your passion is giving back, then find a nonprofit that you respect where you can volunteer weekly.
2. Write down your list of fears.
Again, write as many as you can, and then refine them. Write out an action you will take to overcome those fears. Do you fear losing intellectual stimuli? Then challenge yourself daily in retirement to brain games such as chess, crossword puzzles or another activity to keep your brain sharp. Do you fear a potential awkwardness reconnecting with your spouse with so much newfound time together? Then discuss together the “nice to-dos” you always joked about wanting to do in your earlier years despite being swamped with the “must-dos,” and keep the checklist on your fridge to mark off together. Remember that you now have the financial security to take those trips or splurge on what makes you happiest! (If it’s a big splurge, please consult your financial advisor first!)
3. Write down three adjectives that you would most associate with yourself as a working professional.
These are likely the traits that you will miss most in retirement, so figure out how to get them elsewhere. For instance, if leadership comes to mind, then you likely should find a board seat. A delegator should go volunteer somewhere like Habitat for Humanity where that role is always needed on the job site. A multitasker can easily accomplish that desire with odd jobs around the house.
Sometimes as a financial planner I feel more like a counselor, and that is more than OK! I do have my master’s in counseling, so perhaps discussing finances and retirement emotional readiness is the best of both worlds. And in four years, if my wife isn’t interested in daily lunches, know that my calendar is open and I’m buying!