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Creating Your Retirement Identity

Too often, one of the most important preparations for retirement is neglected: understanding what you do want to do and maybe even more important, who you want to be, post-retirement.

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What issues should i consider before i retire?

Most of us know at least one person with some kind of retirement “countdown clock” app. These people can glance at their smart phone and tell you how many months, weeks, days, and even hours are left before they are done forever with the 9-to-5 routine. In fact, it’s pretty typical to look forward to retirement as a time when we are finished with things: finished with going to the office every day; finished with deadlines and quotas; finished with the pressures that go along with running a business or managing a team; and so forth. It’s natural to look forward to having more time for yourself, for your family, for your favorite hobbies, or for the causes that are most important to you.

But there’s something deeper that is often overlooked: who you want to be in retirement. For too many people—and especially those who have built standout careers or successful businesses—retirement can come with a certain loss of identity. The day you stop working, all the familiar markers that you used to navigate the days and weeks are gone. You’re off the map. You can find yourself singing along with George Harrison: “what is my life?”

And though it may sound a bit like a stereotype, the potential for identity confusion in retirement is often higher for men than for women. Especially for Boomers and those slightly younger, most cultural expectations for men are built around career. Think about how many times you find yourself talking to someone you’ve never met and asking them, “So, what do you do?” The day you stop doing whatever it is that you used to say in answering that question can be a very disorienting day.

Upgrade Your “Operating System”

This is not to say that entering retirement has to involve a complete 180-degree shift in how you approach life. Some people approach retirement somewhat like upgrading their computer or smart phone: they’re still running the same programs, but using them differently. One example of this might be dropping back to part-time for a year or two, rather than halting work altogether. This might give you a chance to see how you deal with having a bit more time on your hands while staying partially involved at work. In other words, it can feel less challenging to figure out how to spend your afternoons five days a week than reconfiguring your entire schedule. Another way of putting this principle into practice might involve using some of the same skills you’ve honed during your career, but applying them to a volunteer position. You’re still “you,” you’re just “doing you” a little differently than before.

Re-evaluate Your “Why”

Simon Sinek sold thousands of copies of his book, Start with Why. In the book, Sinek make a profound observation: once you understand why something matters, you’ll do whatever it takes to figure out “how.” The same thing applies in evaluating your retirement identity: first, discover your “why”: the idea that captures your imagination; the thing that grabs your interest; the cause that fills you with a sense of purpose. The fact is, as human beings, we require a sense of purpose. Whether we get that from volunteering, from mentoring younger persons (like grandchildren, for example), or simply from maintaining connection with others, we need purpose the same way a train needs an engine.

Stay Plugged In

And speaking of connection, one of the most important ways to discover and cultivate your retirement identity is to sustain a robust network of connection with other people—both those closest to you and also more casual acquaintances. Psychologist Susan Pinker has conducted research in the places in the world where people tend to live the longest and evidence the most fulfilling lives. Her findings on the top indicators of a long, healthy life might surprise you. More important than diet, more important than habits like smoking or drinking, more important than even blood pressure or exercise—though all these things certainly matter—the two factors most highly correlated with a long life were the quality of an individual’s close relationships and the individual’s level of “social integration”: the degree to which they interact in person with a variety of people throughout the day. In other words, the two most important things you can do to maintain a healthy sense of yourself in retirement are 1) staying connected with the people closest to you, and 2) maintaining an active web of personal interaction with the people you might see at the coffee shop every day, or the people at your place of worship, or the kid who sacks your groceries every week, or some other person who occupies a peripheral—yet critical—position in your circle of acquaintances.

Talk about It

It sometimes goes without saying—but shouldn’t—that the struggles around adjusting to your “new you” in retirement often require talking with someone. Especially if you share your life with a spouse or life partner, you need to open up about what you’re feeling, what you’re thinking, and what you plan to do about it. Such a conversation might start something like this: “I’m thinking about volunteering at the food pantry once a week. What do you think about that?” Or, “What would you think about us taking ballroom dancing lessons?” Or something else. The point is, your adjustment to retirement—or lack thereof—affects your partner, as well. Especially for men whose wives are either also retired or who—like many Boomer women—spent most of their “working years” running the household instead of going to the office, it’s important to consider how your adjustments will impact those closest to you.

At Milestone Money, we care about so much more than our clients’ investments. We believe that a successful financial plan must accommodate the individual’s emotional, physical, and intellectual wellbeing. To learn more about how our fiduciary standard of care empowers our clients to pursue their most cherished goals, please visit our website.

What issues should i consider before i retire?

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Life is full of financial milestones. We pay for college, we get married, we start businesses. But the most important financial decision we will ever make is when and how to retire. Milestone Money helps you map success to and through retirement.

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