A successful retirement can be an elusive goal for many people, often because they simply don’t realise what is required to make it a success. At best, sometime prior to stopping work they may have received some financial advice aimed at maximising their financial security in retirement, but other than that the likelihood is they gave little more than vague thoughts to what life would actually be like when work stopped.
As a working person, life is structured, undertaken within a clearly outlined and well understood framework. It could even be said to be regimented, each working day following the last as regularly as clockwork. Life can roll on year after year with barely a conscious thought about the direction it might be taking, apart from the more obvious requirements of parenthood, if that’s the case, and running a household.
Of course many people do pursue hobbies and interests, that take them outside the home and into the company of like-minded people. For such people, entering retirement and the prospect of more time to spend on the hobbies is an appealing thought. From the outset, they will have some structure in their new lives.
Social-minded people also can realistically look forward to retirement as a time to spread their butterfly wings more widely, to enjoy unlimited morning or afternoon coffee sessions, or other purely social outings.
Yet even for these categories of retirees, there may be surprises in store as to how much free time they actually do have on their hands, how many waking hours each day has that need to be constructively filled. All the more then, the concern for people who retire with little or no plan in place as to what to do when work no longer fills up half their waking hours every weekday.
This is why, for those with little or nothing planned to get on with after their work ceases, retirement should be viewed and tackled as a major life project, and not be allowed to creep up and suddenly become a reality with barely a conscious thought. Retirement is as significant in life as any of the other major eras: starting each level of school, tertiary or other further education, commencing work and any subsequent major employment steps, pursuing a social life, then if applicable finding a partner and marrying, establishing a household, and parenting.
Perhaps because it’s the only one of these stages that will simply happen, without any action needing to be taken, that many people approaching this stage fail to give it sufficient thought and consideration, apart from maybe the financial planning.
Yet in reality a great deal more planning should be undertaken. What I mean by planning is giving serious and lengthy consideration to the kinds of activities the prospective retiree might want to do, might enjoyably and productively undertake once their working life has ended. In fact some such activities, apart from hobbies that might have been ongoing for years, can be commenced well before retirement begins, no need to wait for the magical golden watch day.
Whenever the activities might begin, ideally the planning will commence well before retirement, months even years before, whether it is to be a partial or full withdrawal from the workplace.
One of the key factors that should guide this planning is an appreciation of the need to maintain a good level of social interaction in retirement. In fact, social planning is virtually on a par of importance with financial planning.
By its very nature, work invariably involves constant contact with others. They may not always be our choice of contact, but work usually provides a constant flow of people moving through our lives. Take away work, and the people disappear. Hence, the need for social planning, for a range of activities that bring the freshly minted retiree into contact with others whose company he/she can enjoy and be stimulated by.
Pretty much any activity, aside from trawling the internet, has the potential to bring a person into contact with others, and hence contain a social component. Put simply, this component, the interaction with others, is as important as the activity that engendered it.
When contemplating possible post-retirement activities, it is important to think both of the mind and body, to undertake activities that cater to both intellectual and physical needs and interests. A positive, pro-active approach must be taken regarding the task of selecting activities: opportunities to do things, to become involved in activities on a regular ongoing basis will not fall into your lap; you, as the person approaching retirement, must actively seek out activities to fill the gap that work currently fills. And, as noted above, it is a large gap.
For people in a relationship, where a mutual understanding of a largely shared life in retirement exists, the choice of activities might be simple and obvious. This could be attending lectures together, joining a film or theatre club, playing lawn bowls together, becoming grey nomads and travelling the country or world together. If a life largely shared is mutually desired, great, go for it.
On the contrary, if the partner, either still or not working, has no stated desire or intention to make changes to their lifestyle to fit in with the new or prospective retiree, this wish must be accepted and acceded to. Taking a traditional couple, a wife who has been for years used to her own space and freedom, at home and elsewhere, during her husband’s working life, cannot reasonably be expected to suddenly work her life around a husband with a great deal more free time, and this includes preparing meals.
Simply, retirees should not rely on a spouse or partner to provide the companionship he retiree wants and needs to fill the day. If that’s what they both want, have both been planning towards, great. Otherwise, it can be a recipe for real relationship discord.
So how does the prospective retiree start planning and preparing for a life of interesting and enjoyable activities post-retirement? Basically, just think about the things you like to do, things that will use and stimulate your brain, things that will provide regular exercise, and as an integral part of anything considered, things that will bring you into contact others and give you a healthy dose of social interaction.
Activities you are already pursuing, hobbies you are already involved in, might be expanded or added to; interests from earlier years, even student days, might be revived; interests newly developed through the adult years might be delved into; an old hobby or pastime, dropped through lack of time during busy years, might be revived; some part-time work, of a consulting or freelance nature, might be undertaken if available. Think of what you like to do, the things you like to think and learn about, immerse yourself in, for an hour or so a week, or every day of the week.
In all or any of the activities chosen, there is no need to be just a passive observer or listener. Consider how you can actively contribute as a participant, or in a leadership capacity; how you can add value to the lives of others as well as yourself, to make yourself more a focus of attention, if you are comfortable with that.
The whole process needs to be approached in a considered, organised manner, treated as a major life project. That said, there is no need for it to be built up into an unsurpassable daunting task; rather, a process that can be enjoyed, but that will end up with some tangible results, and a clear path of action set out for the months and years ahead.
As can now be appreciated by the reader, I deliberately chose the word ‘tackling’ in the title of this blog, because it conveys the sense of action, in fact pro-action, of taking the initiative, energetically, that is required with the task of developing a plan of action for retirement living. Passivity, waiting for things to happen, for opportunities to come your way, is the wrong approach.
© Copyright 2018 SJ Peterson