For several generations, “retirement” was associated with little more than a well-earned rest after a lifetime of labor. In former years, a person worked until age 65, enjoyed a few years of peaceful relaxation, then passed away a short time thereafter – and that was that. It wasn’t until 1935 that U.S. average life expectancy actually topped 60 years old, and even as recently as 1950 the average American adult could expect to live to just past 67.
How times have changed. Even with recent declines triggered by the COVID pandemic, American life expectancy is now approaching 80 years, and once he reaches 70, a U.S. male can easily expect to live well past 85. That’s a long time to sit in the rocking chair – which is why today’s retirees (and soon-to-be-retirees) are redefining what “retirement” really means.
In this recent NextAvenue article, award-winning journalist and author Chris Farrell examines the basic fact that preparing for retirement is about far more than money in the bank. It really means preparing for the next phase of life, filled with growth, challenge, and satisfaction – or as Farrell says, “evolution, not retirement.” Let’s see what else he has to say.
Money is Important, but Preparation Involves Much More
In his NextAvenue article, Farrell begins, “Planning for retirement and personal finances became practically synonymous with the rise of 401(k) retirement savings plans. Together, they made mutual fund performance, asset allocation and safe withdrawal strategies top of mind for millions of people.”
We appreciate Farrell’s messaging in this section, as he notes that, while sound financial health in retirement is a critical component of peace of mind, many “financially prepared” retirees discover that money isn’t the be-all-end-all of retirement preparedness.
For the rest of the article, Farrell enlists the expertise of Joe Casey, an executive coach and creator of the Retirement Wisdom Podcast. Casey has written a book, called Win the Retirement Game: How to Outsmart the 9 Forces Trying to Steal Your Joy . In it, Casey writes specifically to those whose finances are reasonably healthy. Rather than talk about money, he focuses instead on “strategies, techniques, and research-informed advice to guide people toward finding their goals, purpose and calling(s) after saying goodbye to full-time work.”
What Will You Do with All That Extra Time?
People don’t often think of it this way, but retirement presents us with a LOT of extra time we didn’t have before. Farrell writes, “Retirees suddenly find themselves with plenty of time to do what they want. They have some 2,500 hours available to them each year that previously went toward their full-time job (with a good number putting in even more hours).”
For this reason, time is a real theme of Casey’s book. Casey explains, “Time is the most valuable asset we have. How do you want to invest your time? Retirement is a new phase of life after you decide to leave the world of full-time work, a time to explore new interests and interests they had tried before.”
If your finances are in order, retirement is an opportunity for enormous personal growth and social engagement because people are living longer, healthier, and better educated lives.
“Retirement used to be viewed as a period of withdrawal and decline,” Casey writes in his book. “Now it’s seen as being a period of renewal, engagement, meaningful pursuits, and personal growth. Such change requires a whole new approach to retirement planning, one that addresses the emotional aspects and helps you get smarter about aging well.”
Retirement Is a Transition, not a Destination
For another, similar view, Farrell explores a recent Vogue cover story in which the incredible Serena Williams discussed life after her own retirement from tennis stardom.
“I have never liked the word retirement,” Williams told Vogue. “It doesn’t feel like a modern word to me. I’ve been thinking of this as a transition, but I want to be sensitive about how I use that word, which means something very specific and important to a community of people. Maybe the best word to describe what I’m up to is evolution.”
The connection between Williams’ philosophy and Casey’s is clear. And Casey leans into it by using plenty of sports metaphors in his book.
Fight Complacency with Curiosity
The book’s title mentions nine hurdles to a healthy retirement—such as status quo bias and complacency—and he highlights well-researched tools, takeaways, and exercises to combat negativity, including curiosity, creativity, and social connections.
What’s more, Casey has practiced what he now preaches. As Farrell writes in NextAvenue, “[Casey] took early retirement at age 52 in 2009 after a 26-year career in human resources at Merrill Lynch. The time seemed right to launch himself into a second career, which included earning a master’s degree in gerontology from the University of Southern California. While working as an executive coach, he found that many clients wondered what came next, had been pushed into retirement, or found themselves on the cusp of leaving work behind.”
Casey himself explains his approach. “I wrote the book,” he says, “because I wanted to share what I was learning from my clients and some of the obstacles they were facing and solutions they come up with.”
Exit Your Comfort Zone
“Major life transitions often take longer than expected,” Casey notes. “One reason is that it takes time to experiment and try different activities.” He is definitely an advocate for stepping out of your comfort zone to learn and try new things. While it isn’t easy, it’s critical to self-exploration in retirement, especially since so many retirees have become “experts” in their careers over the years.
It’s important, the article suggests, to step into new arenas where you get to feel what it’s like to be the beginner again. “There are a lot of mental and physical benefits that come from trying new activities or perhaps returning to something you enjoyed when younger,” Farrell writes. “Part of the process of developing a rich next chapter is becoming comfortable with being uncomfortable.”
Casey knows how it feels better than most. “Writing the book was a step out of my comfort zone,” he says.
Explore Many Options for Growth and Enjoyment
It’s vital to enter into new experiences with what Farrell calls an “experimental mindset”, which “helps ease the pressure that many retirees feel to come up with the One Big Thing that delivers purpose and a calling. Retirees often find during their explorations that they land on several meaningful activities, a portfolio of interests, which often includes some work.”
Retirement, according to Casey, should be multi-purpose, because humans are never one-dimensional. Certainly, one of those dimensions involves the maintaining of strong social and community bonds, which is often something lost when we retire. “Work is a community, gossip the lifeblood of the workplace,” Farrell writes. “Colleagues will care if you don’t show up. There are people you like in the work community and people you don’t.” The social interaction of the workplace can be very tough for a retiree to replace.
He adds, “Retirees leave behind a complex web of connections and relationships when they exit a workplace. Thinking about ways to avoid loneliness is critical to building a multipurpose retirement. The time spent building a socially rich and well-connected retirement is well worth the effort.”
This is not a simple process, the article emphasizes. “Recreating community is hard,” says Casey. But in the end, Farrell sums up the mantra that every retiree should have, for maximum health, growth, and self-actualization: “Think evolution. Not retirement.”
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(originally reported at www.nextavenue.org)