Many of us are counting down the years until we reach the age of retirement. Some of us will decide to pursue an encore career while others will explore new hobbies and interests. With life expectancy on the rise, gerontologists are now calling retirement a new chapter in life. And while research shows that retiring can improve our health and overall life satisfaction, it’s also a big transition, one that requires careful thought and planning.
Q&A with Sharon Smith-Swan
To get us thinking about how to successfully thrive in this next chapter we talked to certified life and business coach, Sharon Smith-Swan. Based in West Vancouver, B.C., she works with men and woman on the brink of retirement, successfully guiding them through this time of transition. Welcome, Sharon.
Q: Retirement planning. How important is it? And what are the keys to retiring well?
A: Retirement is a transition. My philosophy is that any transition in life is a second chance. In the past, people retired for leisure; they felt they’d earned it. But we live in a different world now. To be successful in this new stage of life, it requires careful thought and planning in six areas:
1. Career and Work
Ask yourself, how will you transfer or carry forward the sense of purpose and meaning you got from your work into your retirement years? What are the ideal activities you’d like to pursue?
2. Health and Wellness
What are your current habits and what is your state of vitality? What are your goals and objectives for wellness as you move forward? How’s your attitude? And what resources do you have available?
3. Finances and Insurance
It’s not just about financial planning and making sure you have enough money to do what you want to do. It’s also about whether you feel knowledgeable and confident enough to handle your finances well.
4. Family and Relationships
What flexibility will you need as you transition? Do you have caregiving responsibilities for aging parents, adult children or grandkids?
5. Leisure and Social
What leisure activities do you want to do? Where are you going to live? Do you want to downsize your home? Where do you want to travel? What hobbies do you want to pursue?
6. Personal Development
This is one that people struggle with before and after retirement. It involves life meaning and personal education. However, there’s somewhat less pressure when you’re retired because you’re not seeking personal development for money or ego. You’re doing it to find purpose in your day.
Q: What are some of the common issues people struggle with once they’ve retired?
A: The first is having a sense of community and belonging. Feeling like somebody cares about you and that you have someone to care about, whether it’s people, animal or causes. The second is relevance, feeling like you’re not obsolete and that you still count and can contribute and participate in the world. And third, anticipation: something to look forward to in the hours, days and weeks ahead. One area that clients commonly struggle with is boredom. That’s typically because no planning has taken place and no research done to determine how to find pleasure and meaning in retirement. Another common struggle — and it may sound like more of the same — is that there’s nothing to look forward to. This happens particularly if people allow themselves to retire into leisure with no plans.
For the average person, these feelings of boredom typically begin 6 to 18 months from the day they retire. They’ve traveled, seen all the church steeples and done all the cruises — now what?
People are living another 25 to 30 years after they retire. The first 10 years are usually the healthiest; the years you need and want the most money for. The next 10 are more about maintenance; you’re not spending as much money but you’re content. And then there’s the last 10 — and depending on your health, genetics, habits and attitude — they can be the most expensive years and potentially the most challenging, especially if you become ill.
Q: For retiring adults contemplating a second or encore career, what are some of the things they should think about before they get started?
A: To be successful in a encore career, you should consider these four things:
1. The Objective
Be clear about why you’re continuing to work. Do you want to just fill time or do you want to find meaning and make a little money too? Or do you need to supplement your income?
2. Do Your Research
See if you can “test drive” your encore career before taking the plunge. Consider job shadowing someone who’s currently in a similar role or ask for an informational interview. Also, be clear about if you want to leverage your current experience and skill set or if you want to try something new.
3. Performance Goals
Determine how important performance is to you. If you’re a type-A personality, you’ll need a performance component and you’ll want to be able to measure your progress and goals.
4. Consider Your Health and Vitality
What kind of shape are you in now? Do you need some time to rest between your current career and new career? And, even with all that research and planning, I still counsel clients to manage their expectations because there are always unknowns that come up. It might be around health, family or just things turning out differently than you expected. Try to be open and be flexible.
Q: If someone reading this is struggling in retirement, what can they do? What should they do?
A: I encourage clients to think about their childhood or younger years. What did you enjoy doing back then? How did you spend their time? What interests or hobbies did you get the most pleasure from? I love having these conversations because they say, “Oh yeah, I remember I used to do that,” or “I always wanted to try that.” This way, they’re moving forward. It’s a good first step to discovering, or re-discovering, what excites and motivates you.