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Statistics paint a rather bleak picture for retirement.  Even with the current economy in a downward cycle and unemployment at a record high, you can still create a happy, fulfilling future in your retirement years.  You can have it all and the formula is not what the financial firms and magazines generally would have you believe…either save more, work longer, or delay retirement altogether.

So, what is the formula for success?  Before giving you the answer, one needs to think more broadly than just how much money you will have and can it last throughout your remaining years.  Obviously, this calculation is important, but more to the point, one has to think about the type of existence that would make you happy regardless of your financial and physical condition.  For success to exist, you need to think more holistically and take account of the following areas:
1. The quality of my future relationships with family, partner or spouse, friends, adult children and even grandchildren;
2. The future state of my health and if I have ailments, how I cause them to have a minimum impact on my lifestyle;
3. The future location and condition of my house(s) and/or rental property;
4. My future desire or need to work for money or fulfillment;
5. How I would like to present myself to others, i.e., how I would present my identity in the post-full time working world;
6. The reputation, persona, or legacy I would want to create and leave;
7. How I would plan to use my leisure time…for entertainment and leisure and/or for service to others in my family or in the community.

If your retort is, “How can I predict any of the above factors when I have so much on my plate today?” You are definitely not alone in this feeling.  And if your other response is, “I don’t think I will ever have the funds to retire comfortably and happily”, then think again!  No matter what the current state of your finances and health, you can achieve a happy, fulfilling retirement.

There are 3 “R” Factors that will provide the conditions for your future success in Retirement.  They are:
1. Re-frame     2.  Re-think     3.  Re-adjust

Re-framing

Re-frame refers to your ability to envision your future in realistic and also positive terms.  Re-framing, in the case of retirement, means re-examining your future living conditions or living arrangements so they will bring you happiness.

Let’s take a really serious situation and see how this operates.  Let’s hypothesize that an individual’s earnings have been cut dramatically or virtually entirely and that their savings have dwindled by 30%.  No longer can they go out to nice restaurants, send their children to a great camp, or take a distant summer vacation together.  On the other hand, they can still have fun and experience the joy of being together in different ways.  They can buy food and go on a picnic to a local park, take in a local movie or borrow a movie from their library and watch it together, plant and care for a garden together, go on a bike ride or hike together, play computer or board games together (like Monopoly, Scrabble, Chutes & Ladders or Charades).  The list is virtually endless on how they can establish a meaningful, happy existence together.  What it boils down to is creating a “can do” mentality.

If you look at the seven areas above, relationships can be maintained and strengthened in times of hardship; exercise can be increased to reduce stress (taking account of ailments); housing can be changed to make it more financially tolerable; money can always be stretched or communal assistance found, and so forth.  What it takes is picturing a favorable, realistic existence and then being mindful and committed to holding that future picture as a goal that could be achievable.  In the case of retirement, the two most important objectives are to create a future that will include meaningful relationships with others, plus a daily sense of accomplishment, or even more importantly, a sense of achievement and fulfillment.

Re-framing your future life in retirement requires answering many questions that you could pose to yourself about what that future retirement picture will look like.  For instance:

•    · What roles do I want to play with my family members, as a friend to others, or to my community, my church, and so forth?
•    · How do I want to be recognized and remembered?
•    · How will I use my leisure time for entertainment, learning and service to others?
•    · Under what circumstances and where will I hope to live or likely be living?
•    · Is there a passion or a mission that I feel needs to be fulfilled, and what constitutes fulfillment for me?

Re-Thinking

Simply stated, re-thinking is the ability to develop a plan (strategy being a fancy word for it) and a set of projects or tasks that will result in the happy future you believe you can realistically create for yourself.  Re-thinking is a process of taking your future vision and breaking it down into “bite-sized” pieces you can accomplish.  This process requires you to plan specific sequential actions that you will take to bring about that achievable, but possibly ratcheted-down future that you know can still bring you happiness.  Here are a few illustrations:

•    · You wanted that beautiful house on the beach, but now that dream is gone.  What about purchasing a small house a few blocks or a few miles inland from the beach?  Or, what about renting a nice house for several weeks instead…no maintenance worries, no property taxes, and you can choose different houses or locations over the years.  If you later come into money, you will have experienced multiple dwellings so you will know more about what to avoid or include in a possible purchase.
•    · The arthritis in your big toe has gotten significantly more painful over the years despite having had surgery to remedy the problem.  No longer can you walk long distances or play tennis.  Instead, how about taking up biking and joining a bike club as your new recreational sport?  Alternatively, how about golf and riding in a golf cart?

Re-Adjusting

Simply put, re-adjusting is taking specific actions to bring about the future retirement world you envision.  Building on the two examples above:

•    · Go on the Internet (Google) searching beachfront rentals in different communities where you would like to rent and determine what is being offered to compare rental rates.  Examine how big a place you want to rent and with what amenities.  Clarify what you can afford.  Visit properties online and/or, ideally, in person.  Make it a “fun” project and invite friends or family members into the decision-making process.  Perhaps, try negotiating for an early rental.  In the end, with proper activity or action, you might find that your beach days not only will be far from over, but actually far better than you had expected.
•    · That nasty old arthritic toe ended your 15,000 step walks, but now you find that you are able (through research and planning) to re-invent a “New You”.  After researching the cost of bikes, you bought a really good one for long distance trips.  You traded in your treadmill for an indoor bike. You put together a mini in-home theater-type set-up to watch movies while riding indoors.  With NetFlix and your DVR you can now see many great movies and shows.  The best part is (after doing lots of networking) you joined a cycle club and really enjoy the others in the club. You are looking forward to that camaraderie during future cross-country trips. You are also looking forward to building up your endurance for doing a great charity biking event of 100 miles after you retire next summer.

In summary, the bottom-line really comes down to thinking “outside-the-box” about your retirement.  The journey consists of discovering new possibilities, choices and pursuing various alternatives or combinations of activities that can truly bring you new-found happiness.  As they say, “Where there’s a will, there’s a way.”

Copyright, Donald Strauss, 2009

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I was having a conversation the other day with my physician. I was indicating how interesting, fulfilling, and stimulating I found my days in retirement. He indicated I could well be the exception, or at a minimum, not in the majority of men who find themselves entering retirement. In discussing this result, we concluded that unhappiness in men does not appear to be the result of a lack of money or poor health. A lack of sufficient funds to live the “good life,” can certainly contribute to unhappiness in retirement but there is more.

My doctor’s observation was that men often see retirement as an end goal, a point of time they have worked for and toward their entire lives. It represents a sort of “holy grail,” something to be attained, like a reward. Once there, whether attained at a specified time, for example at age 65, or thrust upon them through forced termination at an earlier unplanned stage, the result is the same—“Now What?” I have observed that even male doctors, attorneys and business owners who “retire” beyond age 70 bump up against that same question, “What Now?”

Oftentimes the result of this “final” (perhaps not so final) career transition is the onset of depression, or at least a period of months of malaise. Suddenly the “penny drops” and faced with retirement he realizes that he is now beginning a new, dramatically different lifestyle than previously experienced. Thrust into being at home without the structure of going to a job, some men become depressed or irritable and often lose their temper easily. It may take months or sometimes longer to rid themselves of this “funk.” Occasionally, they never remove the disappointment of not feeling challenged or valued, nor do they stop complaining about being bored.

Most often, what is called for is the notion of having to create a “new identity” for themselves, an identity that goes beyond, “I am a retiree.” Truly, for some, that new identity requires a broader use of their talents, in the form of part-time employment, volunteering, providing expertise in an area of interest, consulting, excelling at a sport or cooking, taking on a role of handyman, and so forth.

What men often fail to consider (and there are many exceptions) is that retirement represents a beginning of a time which could last for 20 or more years when they have the freedom to choose a path not previously taken that can give them that sense of achievement, recognition, fulfillment and happiness. It is much like being at the start of their careers in their late teens or their 20’s when they could choose how they intended to fill their days. The difference is that in their youth they knew relatively little about what they could be in for in the years to come. Their choices were often dictated by what their counselors, instructors, parents or their friends suggested or thought best for them. In retirement, men can make choices with fewer consequences to themselves or others. They can try things out to see if they like the results. If they don’t like what they experience, they can try other choices.

One can ask the question, “How can men avoid this period of “blues” in the early stages of retirement?” The answer is to seek a coach or “sounding board,” namely an independent person who can pose questions relating to choices and also make suggestions for an individual to consider. There are many professional coaches that can be hired at reasonable rates to assist with this process. Of course, some individuals prefer to analyze the situation for themselves. For them, books may offer the means to self-assessment. One point worth noting…it is best to undergo this examination of choices before the onset of retirement, but when that cannot be done, the watchword should be, “the sooner done the better.”

So what about women? Research indicates in the main, women have more close friends with larger and deeper social networks for sharing and problem-solving their concerns than men do. Women also appear more flexible regarding career transitions. Perhaps because of the demands of child-rearing, women change their career roles more frequently over the years and therefore generally transition into retirement with ease or with minimum disruption. Bottom line—the biggest disappointment women have is finding they have an unhappy spouse around the house.

Copyright, Donald Strauss, 2009