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 would dramatically change how people 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 or know how to deal with them.
The first stage of retirement consists of the newly retired enjoying the freedom of not having to go to work every day. This is what I call the honeymoon phase — finally getting to do what you dreamed about doing — having a great time and taking for granted that the fun, finances, and good health will last forever. For most retirees this stage lasts for about 2-3 years.
The second stage heralds closure of the honeymoon phase and the realization that the fun and games are not as pleasurable or fulfilling as they used to be. The settled retirement lifestyle starts to take hold. But here’s the thing –most people don’t anticipate or understand that the traditional settled retirement lifestyle results in “stealth decline” — decline that creeps in as a result of failure to use the mind and body in ways that maintain youthful competencies. Most don’t see it coming. Also at this stage, health issues that may have been minor irritants before start to flare. And finances at this stage? Statistics are not in the positive column for far too many retirees.[hana-code-insert name=’Caffeine Cream’ /]
Contributing to stealth decline is the daily interaction with primarily with same-age people. Frequent exposure to their circumstances and mindset affects the rate of aging. It is impossible to associate with the same-age people on a regular basis in a relatively closed environment and not be influenced by them and how they live.
Most retirees get to the second stage accepting and liking with 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, and that’s fine if it makes you happy.
Then there is stage three. It can be the most gratifying or disappointing stage of life.
At the end of stage two, many retirees still want more out of 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 a realistic option because so much has changed. They have changed as well, mentally and physically. Often, a huge part of the change is devastating loss of self worth because they are no longer productive. Signs of physical deterioriation compound the issue. So there they are, longing for more but unable to find fullment. Some have the courage and ability to reinvent themselves, most do not.
The best strategy is this: 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 to replace reality. KNOW WHO AND WHAT YOU ARE AND WHAT YOU STILL WANT OUT OF LIFE and how you intend to get it well before you close the door on your work life.
If you are now retired and at stage three, 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.
If you can find a partime 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 abilties.
Join new groups that do more than eat, meet, and retreat and are not age related.
Run for public office. You can’t do any worse than the clowns presently in charge.
Volunteer to do work that will take you outside of yourself and put you in contact with younger people. Volunteer work is often a great gateway to paid work.
If you are a woman, stay away from women who focus on being “young” but live in the past. They will drag you down and sabotage your goals.
You are so much more than your chronological age. 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 mind and body and get on with re-tooling 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 everything to gain.