As financial advisors one of the primary things we do is help people prepare for retirement. For most advisors, that is accomplished by helping clients build up and grow their retirement accounts in order to make sure the client can afford the standard of living they want when no longer working. Most also help the individual develop a realistic financial plan to ensure they don’t outlive their retirement. Once, the math works out the advisor proudly reports to the client that yes, they are indeed ready to retire.
But are they really?
I’m not sure when exactly this occurred, but at some point, in the past several decades we have reduced the decision to retire to a simple math equation that only factors in anticipated expenses and anticipated assets. While it is true that finances have a significant part in someone being able to retire. It plays less of a role than we think in someone being ready to retire.
The fact is the act of retiring is a far more emotional one than most people realize. Because of that, most people do not consider all of the ways in which they must prepare themselves before leaving the workplace.
I believe there are three emotional elements that must be addressed before a person can successfully retire. Those three items are a Sense of Security, a Sense of Identity and a Sense of Purpose.
The first of these three I have already mentioned. That is the financial aspect of retiring. Obviously, before someone gives up their greatest wealth building tool, their income, it’s imperative that they develop a realistic plan for how long their money will last. But, I generally recommend developing a full financial plan that not only examines the numbers of it all, but also the emotions. Questions like What will it feel like to see your life savings slowly disappear over time? Or how will you react if volatile markets cause your balance to drop by 25% in a short amount of time? Will you be emotionally ok when you come to the realization that you don’t have the ability to work more to make back money you have lost?
These are questions that should be asked. However, too many advisors don’t because it’s often not in their interest to call attention to the inevitable reductions in balances most retirees will experience or the roller coaster ride the stock market will inevitably produce. For a person to really be ready for retirement they need to come to grips with the emotions they are going to feel as their wealth changes over time.
Your account balance isn’t the only thing that can change after retiring. Your self-perception may too. That’s why I believe your sense of Identity is a second area that must be considered before retiring. Often, we can find ourselves being defined by the work that we do. He’s a lawyer, she’s a teacher etc. What happens when you’re not that thing anymore? Those without a secure identity outside of their job title often suffer from depression according to psychiatrist Steven Wengel. He points “for most people, their career serves a number of needs that we all have”. People who do not plan for how those needs will be met in retirement are likely to struggle. https://www.nebraskamed.com/primary-care/health/mental-health/finding-your-identity-after-retirement#:~:text=A%20recent%20study%20found%20that,Wengel%20says
A recent study by the National Library of Medicine found that 28% of retirees experience depression, which is substantially higher than older adults who are still working. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC9288177/ This tells me that there is something inherent to working that we as humans need for contentment. I believe along with the identity it provides a person it also provides the third fundamental area that must be addressed before retiring, your sense of purpose. God created mankind to be producers. It’s in our DNA. A sudden shift from feeling like you are contributing to society, to feeling like you are not, can be devastating to your overall happiness.
That’s why I believe an answer to the question of what is going to bring you purpose when no longer working, must be found before leaving the workplace. Those who are most successful in retirement participate in activities that add purpose to their daily life. This can be things like volunteering at their church, or non-profit. It can be becoming involved in a social club or community organization; it can even be taking on a part-time job in an industry they simply enjoy. Whatever it is, without something that gets you out of bed in the morning and makes you feel like you are accomplishing something of value your retirement will not be as rewarding as it could be.
If you are nearing retirement, I strongly suggest you consider these three emotional components to a fulfilling retirement and really ask yourself if you are ready. Bring these questions to your financial advisor as well. If they have the close personal relationship with you that they should, they can help you work through these things and help ensure you are really ready for this new life of retirement.
(Past performance is no guarantee of future results. The advice is general in nature and not intended for specific situations)