One of the benefits of having worked as a pharmacist as long as I did was the opportunity to get to know and understand retirees and their lifestyle. What I learned from them has had a huge impact on my thinking about how to get the most out of the mature years. As I interacted with them I used to think that if every person contemplating retirement had a chance to deal with retirees on a daily basis it could dramatically change how they prepare for and live in the retirement years.
One of the most important things I learned from retirees is that there are distinct stages to retirement but very few people understand those stages and therefore fail to plan to avoid them or understand how to deal with them.
In the first stage of retirement, new retirees enjoy the freedom and release of not having to go to work every day. The mind and body go through the process of winding down. This is what I call the honeymoon phase — finally getting to do what you dreamed about doing — having a great time and assuming the fun, finances, and good health will last forever. For most retirees, this stage lasts for about 2-3 years.
In the second stage, fun and games are not as pleasurable or fulfilling as they used to be. This is especially true with former “hard chargers” who loved doing what they did but were tired and looked forward to the freedom of retirement. At this stage, the settled retirement lifestyle starts to take hold. But –most people don’t realize or understand that the traditional settled retirement lifestyle results in “stealth decline” — a decline that creeps in as a result of failure to use the mind and body in ways that maintain youthful competencies. Most people try to “stay busy” but that’s different from having a defined purpose that benefits not just self but for others. Most don’t see the decline creeping in. Also at this stage, health issues that may have been minor irritants before retirement start to flare. And finances at this stage? Money may be going faster than anticipated. Financial statistics are not in the positive column for far too many at this stage.
Contributing to stealth decline is the daily interaction primarily with same-age people. Frequent exposure to the circumstances and mindset of others affects the rate of aging. It is impossible to associate on a regular basis with the same-age people in various stages of decline in a relatively closed environment and not be influenced by them and how they live.
Most retirees in the second stage accept and like where they are in life. Friends, activities, health, and financial issues are what they are. Life continues to revolve around the traditional retired culture with participation in senior activities with senior friends. Little if any thought is given to the future in terms of what could still be. After all, this is retirement.
Stage three can be the most gratifying or disappointing stage of life.
At the end of stage two, many retirees still want more from life and from themselves, but they don’t know what to do or how to do it. If they think about going back to work at previous employment, or something related to it, most likely that’s not realistic because so much of what they used to do has changed. They themselves have changed mentally and physically. Often, a huge part of the change is the devastating loss of self-worth because they are no longer productive. Signs of physical deterioration compound the issue. They are longing for more but unable to find fulfillment. Some have the courage, motivation, and ability to reinvent themselves, but most do not. It’s just reality.
THE BEST STRATEGY
Before retirement, know yourself. The lure of leisure and freedom that comes with retirement is compelling but you can’t allow a fantasy vision of utopia replace reality. Well before you close the door on your work life, KNOW WHO AND WHAT YOU ARE AND WHAT YOU STILL WANT OUT OF LIFE and how you intend to get it.
If you are now retired and if you are determined to get more out of life but feeling stuck, here are some suggestions:
- Extricate yourself from the retired culture and lifestyle as much as possible. Easier said than done? Sure, but so what? Just do it.
- If you can find a part-time job you enjoy, consider it a gift even if the pay is less than you would like.
- Take classes that will teach you a new skill that not only has value in the marketplace but will help you grow and maintain critical cognitive abilities.
- Join groups that are NOT related to age. It may be tempting, to join the retirees “eat and retreat” club but don’t do it.
- Run for public office if interested in politics. You can’t do any worse than some of the clowns presently in charge. If Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden can do it, you can do it, too. At least they are trying.
- Volunteer for work that will take you outside of yourself and put you in contact with younger people. Interacting with younger people can be an extremely powerful way to extend or improve cognitive abilities even if you don’t approve of or understand their thinking or lifestyle. Another bonus: Volunteering is often a great gateway to paid work.
You are so much more than what your chronological age implies. Take the word “old” as it may apply to you out of your vocabulary and references. You have acquired wisdom and valuable experiences that are not outdated. If you still have a desire to create and produce do not allow the culture or tradition to tamp down your enthusiasm or extinguish your determination with thinly veiled suggestions that you are too old or not as competent as you used to be. Listen to your gut and get on with re-tooling your life as you would prefer it to be. After the retirement honeymoon is over you can have a life that is better than ever. Be courageous and go for it. There is nothing to lose and a new life to gain.