When my husband, Chris, retired three years ago we looked forward to the freedom that not working offered. The lack of a schedule was exhilarating at first. But endless hours of unstructured time became tyrannical.
For many recent retirees the experience is filled with highs and lows. The loss of all the aspects of working that we take for granted (identity, contribution, structure, community) can be demoralizing and depressing. That is why contemplating, researching, and planning for retirement long before your last day of work is essential.
Countless clients of mine tell stories of the shock they experience when they realize their career is over. The retirement counseling they previously received primarily focused on the financial aspects of retirement so they are blindsided when they experience symptoms of grief after quitting their jobs.
Baby boomers need a comprehensive and holistic approach to retirement which, sadly, is often lacking. “No one told me it was going to be this hard,” a client told me in our first coaching session. “I didn’t expect to feel such a loss of self-esteem.” Another, after reading my book, decided to sell her home and move to her dream retirement location long before she planned to retire. She called to thank me after settling into her new locale. “If I had tried to do this 10 years from now it would have killed me,” she said.
A move to a new location sounds like fun. But it also means leaving long established friendships, professional relationships, and the comfort of familiarity. In a new community we are the outsiders and have to work at finding not only friends, but doctors, dentists, hairstylists, handymen, and other service providers. This can be overwhelming and exhausting and push our already fragile egos over the edge.
I was not prepared for the increased demands on my time that my husband’s retirement imposed. Before his retirement I had total freedom in how I spent my hours when my husband was working. In our relationship, that was no longer the case after he retired. Chris’s self-esteem took a nosedive after he stopped working. It required effort on his part and support on mine to restore his self-confidence. Neither of us was aware of or prepared for the discussions and disagreements that eventually led us to retirement détente. The need for time together and time alone was not obvious at first but became increasingly apparent.
It may seem oxymoronic but discipline and structure are required for freedom in retirement. You may have to fight to preserve your financial and emotional freedom – especially when unexpected events occur such as an accident, ill health, a change in relationship status, or unexpected financial outlay. But if you want freedom in retirement sacrifice is required.