Here we are, full of life, maybe even feeling full of youth, and close enough to be thinking about putting all this energy into retirement. Fast forward to the U.S. economy, 2009…which is another way of saying, Not so fast, pal. You may want to retire, but you have to work. That’s what psychologist and executive coach Bill Roiter writes about in his book Beyond Work: How Accomplished People Retire Successfully. He says, you can do both!
No doubt about it, these are very tough times. You are in the minority if your retirement finances have not taken a twenty percent hit. How can you think about retiring when you watch your financial security drain away? Working longer and harder than we had planned is a very real possibility. We are being forced to re-consider retirement. Putting off a planned retirement is likely, and this a bitter pill to swallow. When we equate retirement with not working, not retiring is the only option we have. The truth is, though, that you can retire even while you are working.
The act of retiring, of stopping work, is but one of many events that occur as we enter our late 50s and early 60s. During this period, our forty-year focus on work success gives way to a greater emphasis on our financial, physical, social, and personal well-being. Think back to your early 20s, the time you became a young adult. Taking a job and/or raising a family were some of many adult actions you took. Dating and marriage, experimenting with interests and hobbies, finding a place to live, managing your own money, and taking responsibility for yourself were the challenges and opportunities of the time. Forty years later you are again making decisions about your work and finances, and for your social and personal life. As work was one piece of our early adult growth, so it is again today as we enter this new chapter of adulthood.
Whether you retire from work or decide to keep working, you continue to grow, into your 50s, 60s, and beyond. You can work while also taking on the challenges and opportunities of the retired adult, or as I prefer, the ‘new adult.’ New adults grow past career ambition and focus on personal satisfaction and meaning. This new time of life is not defined only by your work life.
If you know how, you can begin your “retirement” now, even as you work.
Over the past five years, I have found that six out of ten of my pre-retirement clients think that they may work, for money, after they retire. Generally about four out of ten people do continue to work after they formally retire. This is especially true for professionals (doctors, lawyers, accountants, professors) and for business owners who retire by working less and living more. People leaving corporate and government types of jobs tend to look for enjoyable activities – which can include work – after they leave their employer. The ‘retired’ people who work for money are great examples of how you can work and still move ahead. So take heart: although you may have to work, you can continue to build your new adult life.
Transitioning from the forty or so years as a career-focused adult to a new adult begins with a clear shifting of priorities. A man I interviewed for my book Beyond Work (Wiley 2008) described this change as “putting myself in the forefront, in the place work used to be.”
I recently talked with Joe, a 62-year-old supervisor at a manufacturing company, who has seen layoffs occur all around him while his 401(k) is a third less than it was a year ago. He and his wife Amy had planned to retire from their jobs in about six months. Retiring fully is no longer an option, yet they will continue with their plans as much as they are able. He has been happily involved with his town’s Little League since his oldest son joined 32 years ago. He had been asked to take on the lead role once he retired. While he will not have as much time to devote to the league as he would have if he was not working, he still plans to be a great leader, especially now that his oldest grandson is joining the league. Amy will also keep her job at a doctor’s office and will pursue her retirement travel planning, although in a scaled down way. Joe and Amy’s plans have had to change but they have not packed them away for good.
Their lesson is one that can teach all of us. Part of retiring, of becoming a new adult, is a new focus on finding personal fulfillment from life outside of work. Both Joe and Amy have moved beyond career ambitions. For them, that part of life is complete and professionally they have accomplished most of their goals. Now, Little League and traveling are the activities on which they want to spend more time and gain more energy. While financially they are not able to dedicate themselves fully to those things, emotionally they make up a greater part of their lives.
Our finances are one of four challenges and opportunities we encounter as we become new adults. If your finances are compromised, focus on building your physical, social, and personal well-being. A successful retirement depends it.
What to do about retirement when your finances require you to work? Most importantly, you do what you must do and work. Also, talk with a good financial advisor at least once to get an objective view of your situation and what you need to do. And, use this time to strengthen your physical, social, and personal life. Start concentrating on your passions. Now is the time to do more of what you can do and worry less about what you cannot do.
You can continue to work as you ease into your retirement so long as you focus on other things important and meaningful to you. Confidence is your key to success. Confidence is an attitude, and if you know where to focus your energy, you can improve it. I invite you to take the 20-item version of Retirement Confidence Profile at www.beyondwork.net to learn where your retirement confidence is strong and where it is weak. You can then choose one or two areas you could improve. The more you improve, the better your life will be as a new adult, even during these trying times.
Bill Roiter, Copyright 2009. Used by permission of the author.
Bill Roiter’s new book, Beyond Work, is available at Amazon.com.