Retirement on Your Horizon? Considerations of the Pandemic ’s Ripple Effects

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While leading retirement seminars for pre-retiring professionals over the past 10 years, I have observed diverse levels of readiness, attitude, and concern toward this major work/life transition.

Some professionals are looking forward to exploring new activities and projects, whereas others worry that their lack of personal interests or hobbies could leave them adrift in retirement. Similarly, some pre-retirees are excited about specific post-retirement plans they’ve made with their spouses; while others are uncomfortable about the prospect of spending significantly more time with their significant other.

The pandemic’s impact on retirement

As part of the need to reconsider many things and apply course correction on their plans in this pandemic time, pre-retirees may be thinking differ­ently about the timing of that major work/life transition ahead. On a wide spectrum of divergent views, some may have felt restless and bored with a likely recent slower pace and social isolation, and will be newly deter­mined to work for more years than previously anticipated. For others, the slower times may have been conducive to a re-evaluation of core values – what matters most – family, health, or other important matters. As prior­ities may have shifted, those pre-retirees could feel called to retire sooner than originally planned. Wherever you are on that spectrum, your plan­ning or readiness is likely to have shifted in one direction or another.

More than ever, we realize that while your financial planner/advisor is essential to planning for optimal financial readiness and ongoing security, we know that retirement is not just about numbers. As well-expressed in a featured article in The Atlantic last summer, retirement is an “entirely new stage of life … it’s thrilling and liberating … and, possibly… a bit frightening.” As a generation, I would say that Boomers are called to re-engage instead of merely retiring.

Re-engaging means finding a new or renewed meaningful purpose in a balance of leisure, wellness, and social activities. This concept appeals to Boomers, and it first requires engagement in a thought­ful process of reflection to identify purposeful endeavours and re-define your personal identity as distinct from the professional one you’ve embraced for 30 or 40 years.

Finding new rhythm and purpose, and avoiding a common pitfall

A gradual retirement typically lends more ease and flow into the process of re-engaging. When that is not possible however, pre­paredness is even more important to help avoid the disorienting feel­ing that can result from suddenly having to make good use of about 35 to 50 hours of unstructured time each week.

I recall a client – a manager who’d retired from the public sector – saying of her first year of retire­ment: “I had to find my own rhythm.” She meant that she had to first learn to become comfort­able slowing down from the hectic work pace she’d become accustomed to. Once she adopted a more mindful pace that was con­ducive to self-awareness, she was better able to make proactive, well-considered choices and get involved with interesting activities and projects. With new habits and routines reflecting what mattered most to her, she was intentionally re-engaging the new currency she now had in greater abundance: time and energy.

In the early stage of “retirement,” many retirees explore their new­found freedom by travelling for enjoyment, but this is less appeal­ing now during the pandemic. Over time, however, most eventu­ally realize that they won’t be truly fulfilled by living as if on perpetual vacation. That’s when the need to deliberately design a balanced lifestyle based on core values and motivators becomes most evident, lest there is a risk that depression might gradually settle into one’s body and mind. With paralyzing physiological symptoms, depressive states usually equate disengagement from others, which further exacer­bates that downward spiral.

The backbone and heart of re-engagement

To help counter the risk of depres­sion, we need to know that, as Nelson and Bolles explain in their timeless book What Color is Your Parachute? – For Retirement, there are three main dimensions of a happy lifestyle in retirement: meaning, leisure, and engagement.

While leisure activities are the things we do for fun and pleasure, engaging activities are those that require some focus and skill, and may offer an enjoyable challenge. Meaningful activities, such as volunteering for a cause, help us feel that we are part of something greater than ourselves, and that we belong to a community of like­minded people. These kinds of activities also offer protection against social isolation, which is increasingly found in research to be a significant physical and mental health hazard.

“Re-engaging with backbone” also means developing the disci­pline and proactivity needed to prioritize your health and develop an active lifestyle. Having more time in retirement does not mean that you’ll automatically become more motivated toward your well­ness and fitness needs. I recall a newly retired accountant who said he’d exercised daily while working full time, but in retirement, he was hardly getting to the gym twice a week and was missing the stamina he previously had.

Let’s remember that without our health, and the energy we get from an active way of life, we cannot realize our heart-dwelling dreams. Whether you intend to learn to play a musical instrument, learn a new language, mentor others, or visit the country of your ancestors, avoid painful regrets by discover­ing and acting on those aspirations. Otherwise, you may talk with your spouse about “someday” dreams in vague terms only to realize that time is passing as you get side­tracked by various menial daily or short-term tasks, or by the demands of others.

Re-engage the best years of your life

The importance of being well-prepared for what could be the “best years of your life” cannot be overestimated. And it needn’t be daunting. These days there are professional retirement coaches available with informa­tion and tools to help you deeply reflect on and envision your best future. This will lay the ground­work for a passionate, joyful, and fulfilling re-engagement in life after retirement. ■

 

Isabelle St-Jean, RSW, PCC, RTC is a registered social worker, professional certified coach, certified retirement coach, registered therapeutic counsellor, and the author of Living Forward, Giving Back: A Practical Guide to Fulfillment in Midlife and Beyond. She leads online retirement seminars for professional communities across Canada, as well as providing one-on-one coaching to help pre-retiring professionals successfully navigate the major work/life transition of retirement. For more info or to visit her website, go to: www.inspiredmomentum.com