Navigating Your Retirement
“I looked back at the records I’d been making, and I thought I was failing.
I didn’t think I was living up to my full potential.
I just wanted to wind up and throw down.” Iggy Pop, Post Pop Depression
Spring is upon us and for many retirement is just around the corner. Your time card has been punched and it says you’ve logged 25-30-35 or more years and now you are eagerly anticipating the “good life.” But what exactly is the good life; is it your new realty or is it a flawed myth fueled by a short lived “sugar rush.”
You probably have a long “to do list” that includes travel, spending time with the family, immersing yourself in community service and volunteerism, finishing those overdue home projects, a bit of self-improvement or writing that ground breaking book.
History tells us that Chancellor Otto von Bismarck, way back in 1888, established the concept of retirement. In a sense it was an early version of a government stimulus package, intended to create jobs by entitling care from the state to those who were “disabled from work by age and invalidity.” Other countries quickly followed suit setting retirement ages around 65 or 70. But there is one huge difference between 1889 and 2016: PEOPLE ARE LIVING LONGER - A LOT LONGER!
Does that mean we have to cast doubt on retirement? Absolutely not, but it does mean we need to redefine how we stop working. The Japanese refer to it as ikigai, or “the reason you wake up in the morning.” After years in the center of the public eye, it is virtually impossible for us to do nothing and there is an ever increasing body of research that has shown that executive retirees often experience a sugar rush of well-being and life satisfaction immediately after retirement followed by a sharp decline in happiness shortly thereafter. Dr. Elizabeth Mokyr Horner, UC Berkeley, studied cross-sectional data from 16 countries in Western Europe and the US and these results were consistent, regardless of the age at which one retired. It’s called adjustment depression and it’s real; a time when one finds his/herself feeling bored or aimless. Those people who have thrived in an environment that was both competitive and assertive have the most difficulty adjusting to retirement and are often more likely to make impulsive decisions with their time and money. Be mindful that the very attributes that make people successful in their work life often work against them in retirement. Dr. Robert Delamontagne, The Retiring Mind, tells us that once we know that these are areas that cause problems we can craft solutions.
So what is one to do? Plan carefully, the years leading up to retirement should be a time for reflection.
#1 Get your finances in order. My suggestion is to begin tracking your income and expenses (they will be different when you retire) each month, 4-5 years before you retire, and continue after you retire. It provides a monthly chronology and as you get older it’s a convenient reminder for you and/or your spouse. My personal favorite is from Bank of America.
#2 Recognize the need for social interaction. Use your social network and former work network to reconnect and build retirement ties. Invest in your friendships.
#3 Family Dynamics. Almost every prospective retiree talks about spending time with family; aged parents, siblings, and of course, children and grandchildren. For some of use, that might be the absolute ideal because it gives you a comfortable purpose. For others you might just feel trapped when your family (and especially your kids) come to rely on you for on-going day care simply because “you are retired and have time.” Find your balance and don’t be pressured by family to plan a retirement based on the extended family needs, rather than your own needs.
#4 Engagement. If all goes well you are going to live another 20-30 years. Everyone talks about volunteering, but don’t do it just because you think you should! Research from Carnegie Melon, as well as the Sloan Center, tells us that a committed volunteer finds greater retirement satisfaction because it provides feelings of purpose and meaning, and it increases your social network. BUT, if you do it because you think you should then the results are often the exact opposite, with a feeling of being constrained by obligation. And for Pete’s sake, don’t start volunteering half-heartedly where children are concerned; the very children you seek to help, have probably had more than enough disappointment in their lives and don’t need another when you depart unexpectedly.
#5 Self-improvement. If there are things you always wanted to do, then just do it. And don’t listen to anyone who tells you how long it’s going to take to learn the piano, or how dangerous it is to ride a motorcycle, or why you shouldn’t spend so much money on a boat, photography or those new building tools. Fight the naysayers… it’s your time to explore but listen to your body…we are older now.
#6 Writing “THAT BOOK” (I saved the best for last) which will unlock a treasure trove of “need to knows” for emerging leaders. I thought the same as I poured through the archives on transformational leadership, inspirational leadership, motivational leadership, distributed leadership, visionary leadership and the social side of leadership. What I found is that there is plenty out there and I quickly came to the realization that the world didn’t need a book of “Andyisms.” But I couldn’t resist the urge, so I took a Quixotic journey of my own and began to chronicle some of the silly, stupid and illogical things I’ve experienced; some are mine but most come from the words and actions of adults linked to the business we so love, and who purport to be intelligent human beings. (Kids were sacred and off limits!) To date, thirteen chapters have helped me face my demons and include:
Chapter 4: The Millennial Chatroom, profiling new age Board Members and their view on open communication and community relations;
Chapter 8: In this Economy with sub-sections sections entitled “Politicians Just Don’t Want to Pay” “The Senior Blues Refrain” and “Negotiations Will Be Different with This Board”; and of my very favorites
Chapter 9: Who is in the Pipeline with real-world comments, by my doctoral students and aspiring administrative interns who weigh-in on how to engage “stakeholders”; working with “high performing students”; along with deep insights into their “commitment to excellence.”
In the end, retirement should be about you; it should be a time to enjoy, a time for self-reflection and a time to do something that will excite you for another 20-25 years.
I retired to Wilmington, NC in 2014 and quickly found I wasn’t satisfied just playing golf (generally known that I’m not that good anyway) and sitting on the beach. It took some time but after wrestling with adjustment I’ve made in-roads in the community by teaching doctoral courses at the Universtity of North Carolina Wilmington, on HR Management; Government, Law and Politics of Education; and mentoring aspring school leaders. In addition I’ve been appointed to the Watson College of Education Advisory Board, and I also serve as the Vice-Chairmain of the New Hanover County Board of Social Services and as member on the Community Child Protection Task Force. NCASA gratiously extended me membership so that I can participate in conferences and workshops. BUT, nothing compares to the lifetime of great memories with my good friends and colleagues from New Jersey. As far as doing what I’ve always wanted to do - I’m taking my motorcylce training course and have my eyes set on a HD Heritage Softail!