The first thought about retirement is always, “Do I have enough money?” That’s important, but other questions are just as essential.
Most of us will leave work with our health and as much as 30 years ahead of us. How are you going to thrive for those 30 years?
If you’re normal, you’ll proceed from “Well, duh…” to “Yikes, this is hard!” before you know what you need beyond whether you have enough money.
- WHO AM I…REALLY?
One of the most important things you can do to prepare for retirement is get to know yourself. Typically, the identity we carry through career years comes from what we “do for a living”–even if that’s in support of someone else and you’re not getting paid for it. When that work stops, the related identity goes away. Who are you then?
There are lots of ways to find out. Books. Long walks in the woods…or on the beach. A life coach. You may need to use several types of resources and then try on different versions of this new “you” to get to what feels right. Realizing you don’t know isn’t a red flag either. It’s the key for the lock on the door into finding out.
We don’t all do this the same way. Some of us find it easy to look at the introspective stuff. Some of us would rather have a root canal. Find a way to look at it that works for you. What’s really important to you? What would your ideal day be like? How much of what you’re already doing do you want to keep doing? What’s missing that you’re sure you need to add? If these questions paralyze you, you’re not alone. Make yourself start anyway. If you need some ideas on ways to go about it, here’s a list.
- WHAT’S REALLY IMPORTANT?
Ask that question again and again. When you do, throw out your first three answers and then ask again. By this point in life, we’re heavily conditioned to what others (boss, spouse, golfing buddies, society, whatever) have decided is important. Take the time to really THINK about this. Then put the thinking aside and try to get to what you FEEL. What’s really important to you? Really important? This is where your sense of purpose dwells. Purpose is not a martyr thing either–it’s the bridge between your own joy and the larger world. Purpose is a critical piece of living this part of life well. If you don’t know where to start, try these.
- WHAT AM I GOOD AT–THAT I WANT TO KEEP DOING?
You’ve acquired skills, interests, and experience that can guide you toward what you’ll find worthwhile once you retire. Some things you need to let go of. Some are deeply a part of you and need to remain in your life in a new way. You’re the only one who can decide which is which. Until you know that, you don’t know what kind of life is going to make sense after you walk out the door.
- HOW DO I MAKE IT ALL FIT TOGETHER?
When you use what you’re good at to do something that’s important to you, you blossom. Life is more interesting, compelling, and fun when you do it that way. It also makes you more fun to be around. But doing only “service” isn’t the answer. The last third of life is about balance–something meaningful you’re putting effort into along with the relationships you want, the fun you want to have, the time to relax, etc. You’ll be happiest if you find a way to help with something beyond your own comfort that’s also part of savoring your life day after day. Each of us has different specifics for this balancing act. You’re the only one who can figure yours out. And I may as well tell you now: it’s not “Set it and forget it.” You’ll do this again and again.
- WHAT WILL IT TAKE TO MAKE THAT HAPPEN?
Sailing around the world solo takes different planning and resources than helping the local nonprofit refurbish bikes for disadvantaged kids. Retirement is a transition. Transitions take resources. You may need new tools, knowledge, or an entirely different network. Figuring out where you want to go with your life once you retire gives you what you need to prepare to do that systematically. Knowing all this before you retire makes deciding the “when” easier, too. But if you don’t get that far before you leave work, you know exactly where to start when you do–with figuring it out.
- AND MANY MORE….
There are many other questions, all more or less relevant to you specifically. How does your significant other fit into this? What responsibilities will you continue to hold? What’s the situation with your geography? What kind of limitations do you need to either find a way around or make peace with?
It’s easy to opt out of what you don’t like, but that’s not what this stage of life is meant to be. What do you want to get INTO?
Video: Smart Retirement. (This has been around for a while but it’s still on target.)
To help decide if you are ready to retire: Before the Door…