Aug 26, 2008

Plan for Retirement Early

Okay, so let's assume for a moment that I'm right when I say that lots of retirees have trouble filling up their days with fulfilling activities. But how come? If you have never had trouble finding interesting things to do earlier in life, why should it be different after you retire?

My talks with retirees suggest that it's often some combination of the following:

  • A lack of practical knowledge about how to get involved in new activities.
  • Shyness -- often the result of a dip in self-esteem that can accompany no longer having a job. Shy people often become isolated people
  • Increasing insecurity about your self-worth as you age ("Who would want me?").
  • Declining physical ability. People who have relied on their participation in sports both to feel good about themselves and as a way to make friends are particularly vulnerable to becoming depressed and isolated should physical limitations mean they can no longer play.
  • The inability to find a job that really makes use of their skills -- most retired engineers don't want to take tickets at the local amusement park.
  • Unexpected boredom with planned activities. Many people report that by the time they finish their third cruise, they never want to see another margarita again.
  • The (sometimes unwelcome) childcare expectations of your children. If you must care for your grandchildren many hours a day, you won't have much time to do anything else. This can be great if caring for kids is what you love to do, but tough to cope with if it isn't.

Do I have your attention? Great, so tell me -- exactly what will you do when you retire? Yes, that's right -- I'm challenging you to come up with a detailed list. Take a few minutes to write down the things you anticipate being actively involved in. And don't include solo activities such as reading, watching TV, or walking. While fine in themselves, none of these is likely to keep you energized and interested for long.

How long, detailed, and specific is your list? In my experience, too many people list a few vague activities, such as travel, adult education, or spending more time with family -- and then get stuck. Sorry, that's not good enough. Unless you can answer this all-important question with a list of things you are excited to do, learn, or try, you are at risk of being one of the millions of older people whom my friend Stan Jacobsen describes as being at high risk of "spending lots of hours in their favorite chairs contemplating their bodies falling apart."

If you're having trouble coming up with a detailed plan, don't panic, but be sure to read the next entry on this blog.