December 2, 2013 — There’s an interesting new book out that has parallels to the transition from the working life to retirement. It’s “An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth”, written by Colonel Chris Hadfield, one of the world’s most experienced astronauts. The book made us think about how much retirement is like entering a new world. Many of the survival skills you learned in the world of work will be useful. But to succeed in your new environment it might be necessary to master new ones. We are hoping that this guide will be a group effort – that those of you who have already passed through the airlock from the working life into retirement will contribute your wisdom in the Comments section at the end.
First off, recognize that the rules of the game are going to be different in retirement. After a few years in the workplace most people get an intuitive grip on the rules of getting ahead. There you are part of a group working toward a common goal. The group has managers who provide motivation and direction. To succeed you need to master essential skills, then try to provide worth to your employer to accomplish its goals. Discreet self-promotion is necessary so your contributions get noticed.
Retirement is more of an individual than a group activity. The goal – your happy retirement – is individual too. The support you had at work, particularly motivation – is no longer there. Now it is just you (and hopefully your spouse if you have one) against the world. Fortunately, the wisdom you gained during your working years is going to be a big help in retirement. But to be successful you are also going to have to master new skills, plus be your own manager.
An attitude adjustment. This point pertains more to those who were very successful in the world of work. If you valued yourself on the basis of your title, rank, or professional reputation – an attitude adjustment might be in order. Out on the golf course, at the coffee shop, or working at the shelter – no one much cares how much money you made or what your title was in the corporation. Instead, the new currency of the retirement realm is how good a listener you are, how much fun you are to be around, how good a story you can tell, what joy you bring to those around you, how good you feel about the life you are living, etc.
Explore the possibilities. We like to say retirement is a do-over on life. No matter how unhappy you were at your last job, or how much you regret some aspect of your life, retirement is chance to start a brand new life. Please don’t take that lightly – here is your chance to do just about anything you want!
What is it you want to do exactly? A good way to start is to list the kind of things you like to do and make you happy. Do you like working with kids or people? Do mechanical things turn you on? Do you want to help other people? Take up painting or the guitar? Or, do you want to try to master golf or become a yoga instructor? Once you have your list written down and you have talked about it with the people you care about, it will come into clearer focus.
You will need to work on your relationship with your spouse/significant other. Every relationship is different, with 2 different individuals in every one. While you were working you probably had one kind of relationship, based on going off to work and then being reunited for dinner, evenings, weekends, and vacations. But when one or both of you enters retirement, the work part of the equation goes away. Perhaps one person in the relationship has dreamt of spending more time together, whereas the previous arrangement was just perfect for the other. Chances are you and your spouse are about to spend significantly more time with one another than you ever have. If the relationship was solid, that is one thing. If it wasn’t so good, that could be another.
The point is, you and your significant other need to spend some time and some effort working out your new relationship. Good advice we’ve heard: Be gentle with one another. Find your own interests. Work out what parts of the house each of you has dominion over. Communicate about goals and feelings. Listen. What else would you suggest to add to this list?
Everybody needs friends. Many people find their friends at work, in fact sometimes even their mates. After retirement preserving your relationship with your work friends won’t be as easy, particularly if you commuted to a city or move away. But friends are important, so you need to develop a strategy for keeping the ones you have. Working on how to make new friends is important too. Some good advice we’ve heard is to develop friendships with people of different ages. You can make friends in your new activities, neighborhood, church, club, or volunteer or part-time job. Men, who don’t usually have as much success at making friends as women, really need to work on this.
Busy people are happy people. You probably worked at least 40 hours a week up until you retired. That is a lot of time, although you would be surprised how quickly those hours will fill up if you are not careful. The point is you have been given a gift of time – so use it wisely. What are the fun or meaningful things you have always meant to do? Learn a language, tutor a disadvantaged kid, help out in a library, work around a golf course, learn how to sail or knit? Busier people are not only happier, but they are a lot more fun to be around too.
Retaining your sense of worth. For many people their job was a big part of who they were. There was satisfaction in being successful, or or being happy doing what you did. Now that you no longer have that as part of your identity, it could be easy to have a crisis of confidence. Fortunately there is more to life than a job. You can take satisfaction at being a very good grandparent, a wonderful volunteer, or a person who is engaged and interested in what is going on around you. The important thing is to embrace retirement and the person you want to become.
Lifestyle. Is where you live conducive to the type of lifestyle you really want to live? Does that lifestyle mean being outdoors doing stuff you love, like fishing, golf, or gardening? If so maybe you should look for a year-round moderate climate. Or are you more interested in shopping, culture, painting, or music? In that case maybe an urban environment or college town is your best choice. If living your dream isn’t so easy where you live now, perhaps it’s time to think about moving to a place that is more compatible with that lifestyle.
Family and friends. Perhaps you didn’t get the chance to spend as much time as you wanted with your children, grandchildren, or a favorite sibling because of the pressures of work. Retirement is your chance to make up for that now.
Climbing the retirement success ladder. You won’t get a promotion or raise if you rise up the retirement success ladder. But if you work at it and succeed in being happily retired, you will get huge dividends in enjoying the rest of your life; enjoyment from friends, family, and your spouse; and the satisfaction of mastering a difficult new challenge that pays off to your biggest stockholder – you! Enjoy.
Comments: Please share your ideas on how to have the happiest retirement possible. What works in yours, and what could you have done better? Please share in the Comments section below.