When should you retire? Does this question puzzle you as much as it does me? I’ve been thinking/worrying about it for the past four or so years.
Of course, this assumes you’re lucky enough to still have the choice(!) Many seniors are forced into retirement before they wish — due to health issues, family issues, or rampant ageism.
When Retirement is Forced on You
A quick poll of several female friends of mine found the following reasons why they retired — even though they didn’t want to(!):
- Husband came down with pancreatic cancer
- Husband went into the hospital with colorectal cancer and other problems
- Husband became unable to care for himself due to Alzheimer’s
- Job ended and new job interviews disappeared when they figured out how old (60-ish) she was
(Gee, it seems as if being married is a risk factor for women having to quit work before they want to!)
When You Can Choose Retirement
Depending on your situation, there are potential problems you’ll want to plan to avoid — before you make the retirement decision. Here are my best ideas for different scenarios.
If you don’t like your job
Sounds like this would be an easy choice, doesn’t it? As soon as you can afford it, you’d retire. But… not so fast! Your job isn’t just a source of money and irritation — it’s also:
- A social network
- Something to do for several hours a day
- A source of price and satisfaction (in your own competence)
Don’t quit until you know how you’ll replace those benefits. For example:
- Do you have other retired friends? Those with a job won’t have much “hanging out” time for you.
- Do you have at least two very intense hobbies? Or causes you want to help/promote? Have you set up what you will do with hours that can drag on and on with nothing particular to do?
- Have you got something lined up that will keep you feeling competent & good about yourself? As we get older, and especially once you retire, it’s easy to feel you are disappearing. Becoming not only invisible, but also irrelevant. Something you can take pride in doing will counteract those feelings.
Are you married or living with someone?
Don’t assume your already retired spouse will be delighted to have you underfoot the entire day. While it’s easy to plan great things you can do together once you’re both retired, it’s the day-to-day always-there aspect that can threaten a marriage or any relationship.
While I’ve seen a few joined-at-the-hip happy retired couples (ok, really, only one), it’s much more common to see happy couples who spend a large part of each day doing their own thing.
Don’t retire until you know with what you’ll be filling at least 4-5 hours of the day. (No, golf isn’t enough! Plan to play golf every day if you want. But what ELSE will you do?)
Are you single and living alone?
My first suggestion here is to know yourself.
Are you a very social person? Do you have lots of friends and lots of personal conversations on the job? If so, you will need to replicate that sense of shared-goal friendships some other way. Volunteering for non-profits that matter to you is one way to go — as long as it happens several times a week. Churches, senior centers, and non-profits who help your community can give you that daily contact you need. You could even find part of it with a part-time job — which would also earn you some extra cash.
If you’re more of a loner, do not believe all the hogwash being promoted by publicity-hungry psychiatrists these days — that you will get sick and die quicker without lots of social connections. I’ve thrown more than a couple of such books across the room in disgust.
That doesn’t mean we introverts can sit in our houses alone all day and be happy. (Or maybe Ted Kaczynski was happy — while he wrote ranting manifestos and sent bombs in the mail to people he didn’t like?)
The easiest social replacements (other than a few close friends) for a loner are more activity-based. You had acquaintances you worked with. Now you need acquaintances you are with when you do your new retired-person activities. People you meet at the gym, the pool, or walking the mall. Wherever you plan to exercise. (You ARE making plans to exercise, right??)
There are also acquaintances to be made with your hobbies. At your volunteer work for non-profits. At your new part-time job. At whatever new obsession you will develop that will give purpose to your days after retiring.
Marlene Jensen is a 73-year-old full-time marketing professor. Previously she was a VP at CBS and ABC and spent decades as an entrepreneur and pricing author/consultant. Sadly, none of these prepared her for the onslaught of marketers who now think her daily interests/needs consist solely of hearing aids, wheel chairs, adult diapers, medi-alert buttons, medications, and bath tubs you walk into.