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Retirement: So Radically Different from Other Life Experiences

Category: Retirement Planning

September 17, 2019 — A special Retirement supplement in the New York Times was filled with sage advice about baby boomer retirements. The Sept. 12 section had articles on topics like finances, the new retirement, finding purpose, etc. ( See link at end, you might also find it in your library). The experts and retired people interviewed there (some quoted below) sparked a whole raft of new thoughts about retirement. Particularly, it made us realize how retirement is such a different experience from any other phase of life. Retirement might even be harder, mainly because it requires a great deal of self-initiative to do it right. Here are some of our new thoughts on the retirement process.

No ritual. The founder of consulting company Age Wave, Ken Dychtwald, points out that there is a ritual associated with most of the events in our lives, but not retirement. When you started school your mother probably took you out to buy clothes, and the whole family waited for the bus to pick you up. The process of going to college meant you took tests, visited campuses, got counseling, and if lucky, had parents who gave plenty of advice. Graduations were fraught with ceremony. But on the day you retire, you might be lucky to go out for drinks with colleagues. The next day all the trappings and structure of 40 years of working disappear.

“In retirement you are in a class of one; it’s a life test with no text and no teacher”

It’s on you. In college you had an advisor and classmates who all shared a common experience. If you were in the military you had sergeants who told you what to do. In the workforce, thanks to your bosses and mentors, there was no shortage of direction. But in retirement, you are in a class of one, and it’s a critical test with no text and no teacher. Perhaps you have a sympathetic spouse to help. But in the main – the steps you take, the problems you face, the directions you go in – it is just you against the world.

Often beyond your control. In school and on the job how you did was normally a function of how well you applied yourself. But retirement can come suddenly even for the best prepared person. A layoff… bankruptcy… corporate takeover… suddenly you are retired 10 years before you planned. Without adequate savings and a plan for the future, problems lie ahead.

Finding a purpose and new identity. In your working and academic days the purpose was obvious. Study hard, do well, serve your customers, climb the career ladder, fulfill your dreams. Finding purpose in retirement is much harder, and you are the only one who can find it for you. Many people feel lost when they no longer have their occupational identity. They have to find some other north star to be happy. That might come with part-time work, volunteering, sports, bridge, travel. But probably not from watching Netflix and going to the mall. It takes effort to find a new purpose.

Finances. Chip Conley, founder of the Modern Elder Academy, recommends that people in their mid 50’s have a financial reset. He believes that the most successful retirees are those that realistically examine their financial resources, their possible longevity, and their lifestyle aspirations. Doing the reset well before retirement age has many advantages. With 30 or even more years of retirement a possibility, you can change your expense patterns, start saving more money, plan for self-employment or part-time work, and think about or change the lifestyle you want to live. Since financial security is so important to retirement happiness, Conley believes that most people need to work on the skills that will allow them to generate money so they can have an enjoyable, worry-free lifestyle for the long haul.

Isolation and loneliness. Many baby boomers, particularly men, relied on their work life to supply social interactions. Saying hello to the gang around the office, going out for drinks or an outing, or having social interactions with work friends were the bedrock of their social lives. Take away work, and without a special effort, those friends and acquaintances tend to disappear. Men in particular often don’t know how to make friends, and unless they have an active life outside of the home they can become more and more isolated. Which is why so many experts recommend part-time work, volunteering, taking lifelong learning classes, or joining organizations.

Saying you are not going to retire isn’t necessarily a strategy. The downside to saying you are not going to retire is that there is a good chance you might get retired against your will. Catherine Collinson, President of Transamerica Center for Retirement Studies, found in her research that although 70% of baby boomers say they will retire after age 65 or not all, most are doing nothing to help them achieve that goal. Only just over half (58%) are focused on keeping healthy, and smaller percentages are working to do well in their current jobs or keeping their work skills up to date.

The self-employed seemed to have a leg up. Catherine Collinson thinks that boomers who are self-employed might have an advantage over people employed by organizations. They tend to have control over their work schedules, don’t have bosses, and typically enjoy what they do. More and more boomers who want to become self-employed or start a new career are taking classes to learn how to become an entrepreneur or learn a new skill. Want to start over but don’t know where to start? Community colleges, adult education programs, and other organizations are a great source for learning what kinds of programs and skills are available. Organizations like might be an outlet for your existing skills and interests.

For further reading:

After Work, What’s Next (from NY Times Retirement Supplement)

Retirement 101: A 6 part Online Course

Comments? Are you finding retirement to be harder than you thought? Is it the experience you looked forward to for all those years? What advice would you give someone in their mid-fifties on how to prepare? Please share your thoughts in the Comments section below.

Posted by Admin on September 16th, 2019


  1. This is an extraordinary article.

    All of these new experiences involve us making choices that we did not have before, i.e., many choices are make for us by our schools or employers, and now we have freedom of choice.

    I will add another huge choice in retirement, where do we want to live?

    I find the retirement choices overwhelmingly like the book, Future Shock.

    by Everette — September 18, 2019

  2. Everette ….. you have no idea of the choices to come! Insurance, housing type, housing where, near family, 4 seasons, heat, winter, transportation, how-to-spend days. I fight it every day. There are no right answers – just better answers. Best of luck to you.

    by Paul — September 18, 2019

  3. Still trying to get the hang of retirement after 3.5 years. I have had periods of part-time work, do a good bit of volunteering and have joined a gym. Took a few college “for fun” courses. Participate in neighborhood activities like yoga and social events.

    We live in a 55+ community in a beach town and enjoy it when it’s not tourist season. I am fortunate to have a pension; while we’re not affluent, we don’t want for anything.

    Given all that, can I say (without sounding too ungrateful for the good life we have) that I never realized just how tied up my identity was/is with my life’s work. My husband worked for himself and seemingly has adjusted well. Me, I’m still restless but pretty sure I don’t want to go back to work full-time. I’m hoping it’s just a matter of time before I settle into my new normal.

    In the meantime, I advise anyone approaching retirement (especially those workaholics out there, and you know who you are) to do a lot of soul searching before taking the plunge. It is a HUGE change!

    by Laura — September 18, 2019

  4. Laura, Everything you wrote, I lived. I’m still self employed part time simply because I need to for me, I control my schedule and it is not stressful work. I also volunteer where my expertise fits. No children and yes, my identity all tied up into my career. My husband adjusted really easy, but he did not have those workaholic tendencies! We moved to a 55+ community, left Wisconsin arrived in Arizona. Once settled in, I definitely needed to takes steps to create and enjoy a new lifestyle or I could see depression in my future. Got involved with new things: golf, fitness, book club, lifelong learning, tried some crafts, more cooking, more social events, etc. Created enough “girlfriend” activities because even being married 20+ years, I wasn’t adjusting to the 24/7 togetherness deal! Then, able to assist both parents thru end of life. The new community with lots of us in the same boat really helped. I took about 5 years off before I started part time work. I’m now 20 years into it (I quit the high stress career at 44) and it all feels comfortable. Now a calendar that is again pretty full, but with fulfilling things…except for the increasing number of doctor visits! It’s a journey, sage advice you’ve given!

    by ljtucson — September 19, 2019

  5. Hi Laura:

    I work three days per week Mon-Tues-Wed as I need more money before I fully retire, but now I like just working three days a week, I may even decrease to two days once I reach my full retirement age next year. I do not see how people go from 100 to 0 by retiring. A lot of people I know enjoy going into an office or somewhere and knowing they have a place to be. I also volunteer on Fridays from 10AM to 1PM, 2nd and 4th Sundays give tours in a historic property and usher at an 8AM church service every week. I love the diversity and I still have time to do the things I really want or need to do. I think the ability to control ones time is a big issue.

    by Jennifer — September 19, 2019

  6. I have been retired for 5 years and can honestly say I have never been board, had nothing to do or felt lonely. I don.’t work part time and I don’t belong to any clubs. I stay up late if I want and sleep till 10:00 AM if I want. I don’t rush for anything. I love thrift stores so I visit often and, find things that don’t work and fix them. I read, love TV and go to the movies once a week. My husband and I go out to eat twice a week and have some friends we share our time with. We usually go one a cruise once a year. I spend a lot of time enjoying our beautiful yard as well as maintaining it. I loved my work but I don’t miss it at all. Retiring was the easiest thing I ever did. We don’t have a lot of money and didn’t do big investments. There was no big “Master” plan. We get by just fine. I thank God every day for allowing us to enjoy the best part of our lives

    by Nancy K Christian — September 20, 2019

  7. Nancy K Christian you’ve pretty much said the way I feel. I’ve been retired a little longer, did lose my husband last year, & recently had to put our beloved 15 yr. dog down, but life goes on & how you enjoy it depends on you. I have days I’m bored & lonely but they don’t last long. I have close friends I do things with, & I read a lot. I take care of a large house, have several flower gardens, so with those I always have something to do. I also do love thrift stores & hunting for that one item(s) I like though don’t really need – but hell only live once enjoy it! I still travel & am not afraid to do it alone. Like you I don’t have a lot of money or heavy investments, didn’t have any big “Master” retirement plan but I am comfortable with a good State retirement & couple investments, we always saved some so am able to do pretty much what I want & so far am keeping healthy & active. Like you I can say I have not missed work & I was pretty much a workaholic I gave it 110% but never been sorry I left. I am thankful for every day & love life hoping to enjoy a lot more of it and everything it has to offer. The best to you..

    by VTRetiree — September 21, 2019

  8. Nancy, your lifestyle sounds lovely and should give hope to those who have not made hundreds of thousands of dollars in their investment portfolios. You are enjoying your retirement and taking the time to do so. You seem to be happy and this is what anyone would wish for.

    by Jennifer — September 21, 2019

  9. Nancy, so glad your retirement is working out well. That’s the way it’s supposed to be.

    by Clyde — September 21, 2019

  10. DH and I mostly closed our small business 3.5 years ago. It was a couple of years ahead of the original plan, but business circumstances, the opportunity to do so fairly seamlessly, and our own exhaustion moved the timing forward. The wind down process took a couple of years. First we stopped going in on Wednesdays, then Fridays, and finally Mondays got sliced off the list, too.

    We are blessed to continue part-time for a few of the customers we liked best. Working occasionally from home or on the road keeps us engaged in the field we loved but without the daily grind. The money it brings in underwrites our travel expenses.

    Several sets of friends retired a few years ahead of us, and the grass was sure looking green on their side of the fence. After researching how much we’d need to stay afloat, we devised SS and savings drawdown strategies. Yes, we have to be prudent, but there’s enough to get us through reasonably well. Not piles of money by any means, but enough.

    Between our kids and grands, some travel, the glories of the internet and library books, upkeep chores on the house, garden, vehicles and RV, we keep ourselves happily occupied. Are we bored sometimes? Of course. But boredom is hardly unique to this stage of life.

    p.s. Thanks for the NY Times links to that interesting, relevant series.

    by JCarol — September 27, 2019

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