Retirement Hell or Retirement Heaven: Author Says the Choice Comes Down to Self-Awareness, Making the Right Decisions
If you’ve listed to Rajiv Nagaich from AgingOptions for any length of time, you’ve heard him say repeatedly that 70 percent of people fail in retirement. By failing to plan ahead, they end up broke, a burden to their loved ones, and often facing the grim prospect of unplanned institutional care. That sounds like “retirement hell” to us. But the author of this NextAvenue article, Toronto retiree Mike Drak, has a somewhat different definition, as his article, called “How to Escape from Retirement Hell,” explains.
The first time we read this article in early 2021, we were intrigued, so we thought we’d bring Drak’s perspective back for another look here on the AgingOptions blog. Let’s see if you agree with his definition – and cure – for Retirement Hell. Spoiler alert: we found the article interesting, but incomplete.
Sudden Retirement Can Bring Disappointment, Anxiety
“Full-stop retirement may not be the fun, relaxing ride you thought it would be,” says Drak, author of multiple books on retirement. “This can be not only disappointing but downright anxiety-provoking, and it can give you that same sick feeling in your stomach that you get from riding a roller coaster.” He writes that the ride is pleasant at first, “starting off on a slow, steady incline. The view looks quite nice and things are feeling pretty good — until you hit the sudden drop straight into Retirement Hell.”
This unhappy phase of retirement, he says, can bring on “twists and turns that seem never ending. When you think the ride is about to end, suddenly you get hit by another curve.” But eventually, he advises – with self-awareness and effort – the scary part of the ride ends. “Thankfully, at some point things start to settle down and you start the long uphill climb out of Retirement Hell.”
The Ride is Harder when Retirement Was Someone Else’s Idea
In Mike Drak’s case, although his article doesn’t explain the details, he was forced into retirement, which made the experience more frightening. “Being unprepared for retirement often leads to Sudden Retirement Shock, which is Retirement Hell at its worst,” he says.
This experience can happen to anyone, particularly these days. “People who experience the scarier ride are the ones who, like me, were pushed out of their job or who enjoyed their work and identified too much with it and have a hard time letting go,” Drak writes. “When the choice of when to retire is taken away from us (that is, made for us), the ride through Retirement Hell will be scarier and longer. Take it from someone who knows.”
Drak writes about what he calls the Three Stages of Retirement. While his model seems over-simplified to us, it may provide helpful food for thought. Let’s take a look.
Retirement Stage 1: The Honeymoon Stage
“In the Honeymoon Stage, when retirement begins, you can sleep in or golf as much as you like,” Drak writes in NextAvenue. “People in this stage start knocking things off their to-do lists. It feels great to get things accomplished and be as free as a bird. This feeling of retirement bliss generally lasts up to a year before the new reality sinks in.”
For many, however, this halcyon period of bliss quickly begins to fade. “Once they have completed everything on their list, growth-oriented retirees often find that they need to find something else to do, and this is when the trouble starts. Without a bigger plan or a purpose, they start to slide down to Retirement Hell, the lowest point in the Big Retirement Dip.”
Retirement Stage 2: Welcome to Retirement Hell
In his article, Drak uses the clever phrase “Retirement Hell” to mean that period of adjustment when all the sense of identity, self-worth, and social reinforcement that stemmed from one’s profession is taken away. “Although a life of leisure can be rejuvenating for a little while,” he warns, “even growth-oriented retirees can start to get antsy and begin looking for something more interesting or fall into a state of general malaise and emptiness without the source of satisfaction and accomplishment they used to get from their work.”
His definition of Retirement Hell seems to us like a bit of a grab bag. Here’s an abbreviated list of the dozen or so events and attitudes that Drak says can be part of this sad phase of retirement:
- Alienation from family
- The death of your marriage – or the perpetuation of a marriage that’s unhappy and unfulfilling
- Too much television, too few friends
- The need to keep working jobs you don’t like, just for the money
- The stress of living on a fixed income, when your world feels like it’s “shrinking”
- Obsession about your old job
- Sleepless nights due to fear of running out of money
- Anxiety over the inability to meet your medical expenses
Retirement Hell: A Sense of Loss, and A Feeling of Vulnerability
Drak writes that failure to prepare for retirement “often leads to Sudden Retirement Shock, a feeling of being incredibly lost and vulnerable, which is Retirement Hell at its worst. Your heart isn’t into hobbies and activities that used to bring you joy and you begin to wonder if that’s all there is.” He paints a gloomy picture of life becoming “empty and meaningless,” and he warns, “If you can’t find a way to manage your retirement shock, depression will eventually set in, robbing you of your energy, vitality and self-esteem.” This, we know, can have dire consequences.
The NextAvenue article also suggests that living in Retirement Hell leads to isolation. “Most of the people in your life can’t seem to understand what you are going through,” he says. “So, you give up trying to make them understand and instead look for ways to dull your pain: drinking too much, eating too much, shopping too much or becoming somewhat of a recluse are common escapes. Living like this, though, for a prolonged period, will make the situation far worse and could be dangerous to your health.”
Drak sounds the alarm here for those who feel themselves slipping into isolation and depression. “This is something you want to nip in the bud before things get out of hand. It is best to talk to someone who understands and has already gone through what you are experiencing. The pandemic scared us and opened our eyes to the reality of how empty and purposeless life can be when we don’t (or can’t) plan for it. We need to use that fear to motivate us to prepare properly for whatever route we choose to take.”
Retirement Stage 3: Escaping from Retirement Hell
Here’s where we take issue with Mike Drak: his prescription doesn’t quite match the problem. “To escape from Retirement Hell,” he writes, “all you need to do is become a Retirement Rebel and start doing the right things for you. Before you know it, you will be in that other, better place—the place you deserve to be. Self-awareness is the way out of Retirement Hell.”
To one extent, he’s right. We can “create momentum” by “taking small steps” and making daily progress. “Start to exercise and eat better, watch less TV and eliminate the things that keep nagging at you,” he says – hard to argue with that. “Make a list of the little things you need to do and start doing them. Completing and deleting them from your list will make you feel good.”
These steps are just the beginning, he acknowledges. “Escaping from Retirement Hell requires more effort in the long run,” he advises. “You need to put some structure and routines back in your life, find suitable replacements for the work friends you lost, create a new identity for yourself and find new purpose.” The key, as many others have said, is to have “a good reason to get out of bed in the morning” – a sense of purpose. Without that, decline is inevitable.
That’s all good advice. But as we take a look at some of the aspects of life he characterizes as Retirement Hell, we can’t help noticing that a LifePlan addresses most of them. Are family relationships a problem? Are you afraid of running out of money? Are you worried about being overwhelmed by medical costs? These are just a few retirement fears that a LifePlan can help alleviate. We’re not suggesting it will be easy, quick, or absolutely stress-free – but we believe you can avoid Retirement Hell. Let Rajiv Nagaich and AgingOptions show you how.
My Life, My Plan, My Way: Get Started on the Path to Retirement Success
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When it comes to retirement planning, most people focus on one fairly narrow issue: money. Financial planning is an important component of retirement planning. However, people heading towards retirement often make the mistake of thinking that a little financial planning is all that’s required, when in fact most financial plans are woefully inadequate. What about your medical coverage? What if you have to make a change in your housing status – will that knock your financial plan off course? Are you adequately prepared legally for the realities of retirement and estate planning? And is your family equipped to support your plans for the future as you age?
The best way we know of to successfully blend all these elements together – finance, medical, housing, legal and family – is with a LifePlan from AgingOptions. Thousands of people have discovered the power of LifePlanning and we encourage you to the same. Make certain your retirement planning is truly comprehensive and complete with an AgingOptions LifePlan. Age on!
(originally reported at www.nextavenue.org)