Retirement is a challenging time. In fact it is considered one of the top three stress points in our life. Consider all the significant life changes we experience in our late fifties and sixties:

  1. We stop working. Work keeps us busy, connected, motivated, active and gives us a sense of purpose and worth that is almost impossible to replace in retirement. Many of us grieve over its loss.
  2. Our children may have left home. We are suddenly empty nesters. Our children which have provided us with focus and purpose are now independent. We are just the two of us.
  3. We may downsize. We move from a big shared space to a small shared space. We may leave the community that we lived in for the last thirty years or more. We will need to rebuild our connections.
  4. We have tons of free time. What do we do with it?
  5. Our parents may be ageing or sick and need our care. We fear their loss and we hurt at their demise and decline.
  6. If partnered we need to ensure that we both want the same thing from retirement – the same amount of time together and apart, the right balance of shared and independent interests
  7. We need to make sure we have a strong friendship group. We need to keep social and initiate and get out and about.
  8. We need a strong set of interests – if work has been what defined us and was our main interests then we need to find a replacement, fast, before we retire.

Here are some example retirement conversations:

‘I have worked hard for forty years. The friends I had when I was young have gone. I have relied on my wife for our social life and now as I approach retirement I look around and realise that I don’t have many friends and I don’t have many interest outside of work. I think retirement is going to be really lonely. I am scared of it.’

‘I would like to keep working. I love my work. But I can see that my employer wants me to stop and I see the younger ones behind me keen to move up the ladder. I don’t necessarily want to work as hard as I have done, but would like to continue in some part time or flexible way but my employer is not open to that conversation and I have looked around for other jobs in my field that might provide that flexibility and I just cant find them. I feel as though I am being ‘put out to pasture.’

‘My husband makes not effort to reach out and socialise and build friendships. He has been retired three years and unless he comes with me to do something he just sits at home and quite frankly I don’t want him with me all the time. He needs to get his own life going.’

My wife is obsessed with our grandchildren. It’s all she lives for. She babysits them all day when our daughter is at work and then goes over and sees them a couple of nights a week too. If they go out she insists on looking after them even as though they offer to get a babysitter. She won’t go away because she says they need her. I love my grandchildren too but I just think she needs to pull back a bit. I was hoping for a retirement with at least some together time but I never see her.’

‘I say life is for living. We have the money and I want to spend some of it but my partner wants to save it all. Our kids encourage us to have fun and enjoy this time of our life. To spend the money wisely to have some great experiences but I can’t get him to budge. So when our friends go on trips and us to join them we say no. When we are asked to the theatre we say no because it is too expensive. My friends have stopped asking us.’

‘I have moved to a smaller place. I thought it would be fun to change suburbs too. I wanted more of an inner city life where I could walk to the cafes and restaurants. Trouble is, I don’t know anyone around here. My friends are all back in the old place and most of them won’t travel into the city to see me. I need to find new friends locally but I’m an older guy and its now easy to simply start chatting to someone in the cafe. In fact it is a bit creepy.’

‘Before I retired I had a few retirement dreams. Things that I had always wanted to do in retirement – write a book, do the UK walk, learn to play the piano. They were my top three. So I started on each of them. I was really fired up, but then one by one they fell away. I got bored sitting in an empty room everyday trying to write my book. I played squash when I was young and my knees are shot so a long walk across the UK simply wasn’t going to work. And after a few piano lessons I relied that this as not for me. So now I’m left with nothing.’

‘The day I retired I woke up looked at my calendar and realised I had nothing on for the entire day. I flicked to the next day and the next and the next week and the next month. All empty. I literally panicked. I froze. After years of having a packed diary I literally had nothing to do. I remember we had a retirement guy come into the office to talk about retirement. That was about five years before I stoped and he told us that we needed to plan and be retirement ready. Don’t leave it to the last day. Find things to do and build connections whilst you are still working, things that you can take with you into retirement. I didn’t listen. This is really scary!’

But … we can with the right approach address these issues and live a truly great retirement!

The good news – a happy retirement is almost always possible. All these issues issues can be addressed or avoided. But in reality, and this is a big shock for many of us, a great retirement requires lots of planning, communication, research and ongoing work. It doesn’t just fall in your lap. It is no state of nirvana. Like all stages in life it has its ups and downs, but with the right approach it can be arguably the best time of our life.

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