This blog accompanies Episode 3 of The Retirement Oasis Podcast. To listen to the podcast, you can visit your favorite podcast platform (Apple, Stitcher, Podbean, etc.) or go here:
The overarching theme of this “Designing Retirement” series is that retirement today looks quite a bit different than it did in the past and it can be an amazing period in one’s life.
In the previous blog and episode, we talked about three facts about planning for retirement today and we put forth a definition of overall well being in retirement.
We are living longer and have better health in our retirement and thus have many more years in retirement than our grandparents had. Since the ‘Third Act’ of our life is likely to be longer, we need to plan a little more thoroughly. Because we have this great opportunity to craft our ideal retirement in ways that have not been available before, we need to plan a little more thoroughly. Because we don’t have the pensions that our grandparents had and our financial and tax situations are more complex, we need to plan a little more thoroughly.
Let’s take a refresher about the three components of well-being in retirement. They are the financial components, the health component, and the inner well being or fulfillment components. Before we even get to inner well being or fulfillment, we need to have the foundation laid with our finances – making sure we have “enough” for our goals – and we need the structure of our health – connecting our definition of a fulfilled life to what our health will allow us to do. Once we have the foundation and the structure, we can build out the rest of the retirement house by focusing on our inner well being.
We will cover more details about the categories of well-being in future episodes. These include Play/Leisure, Connections, Renewal, and Work. There is a lot of fun and exciting stuff to talk about in each of those areas and we will in do that in future episodes.
For today, we are going to make further observations about crafting ideal retirement and keys for achieving well-being in retirement.
Encouragement For Defining Your Fulfilled Life in Retirement
When we’re thinking about making a change in our life or starting something new, sometimes our self-talk can be less than helpful. We want to give you some encouragement around the idea of defining your fulfilled life in retirement.
Encouragement #1 – It’s never too early or too late to begin thinking about the ideal retirement. The sweet spot to begin thinking about these retirement issues in a more specific manner may be when you are 10 or 15 years from retirement. Not only should you consider certain wealth enhancing strategies as you approach retirement, but understanding the lifestyle choices and the associated financial tradeoffs become even more important.
Moreover, it will be helpful to think through these issues since it might prod you to redesign your career or life even in pre-retirement or it may help you begin to figure out if you need to make adjustments – financial and non-financial -- to reach your ideal retirement.
Encouragement #2 – It’s never too early – striking the today v. tomorrow balance is the key for pre-retirees. However, even though some retirement decisions are more time-sensitive the closer you are to retirement, this does not mean that you should not begin thinking about these retirement issues in your 30s or even your 20s. Much of financial planning involves life planning and making decisions about what a fulfilled life in retirement looks like as well making decisions about how to use your finances to improve your life today. Such life planning issues are just as relevant to those in their early years. Being intentional about getting financially secure, having good health, and living a fulfilled life is important at any age, needless to say. Striking the right balance of living for today versus tomorrow is especially important and impactful in the early years and arguably requires even more short-term and long-term analysis than those that are approaching retirement.
Encouragement #3 – It’s never too late – you can make adjustments in retirement. Similarly, it is never too late to take more of an intentional approach to focusing on your well-being in retirement. Even if you are already retired, it is never too late to take a step back and re-assess what retirement is for you. Just as many of you may have made mid-career transitions, you can make adjustments in retirement. In fact, this might be easier and more motivating for the retiree to make because they may now have a better idea of what may or may not be working. If you are stuck in a rut, you can get out and put another spring in your step with the right mindset and activity.
Encouragement #4 – In retirement, as in life, the seasons will change. Along those lines, it’s also important to remember that our activities and views of retirement can change over time, whether we develop different interests or are forced to make changes due to health or relationships, or other factors. We don’t need to worry about living just one type of retirement or making mistakes in retirement. This suggests that not only should we remain flexible in retirement, but it also suggests that retirement can involve a certain level of experimentation.
This is not to say that you should just throw things on the wall and see if they stick – indeed, proper reflection should be done. However, it is often hard to truly nail down our ideal retirement at the get-go because retirement is truly a season of life that is unlike any other.
Encouragement #5 – Be open to new opportunities in retirement. Along those same lines, it is important to be open to new opportunities. You may discover a gift that you did not know you had, there may be a new person or people in your life, technology could change some opportunities for you. Regardless of what you plan for retirement, retirement is still a journey with many unknowns – much of which will be exciting options that you never considered.
Encouragement #6 – Your retirement is unique to you. And, your retirement is unique to you. This goes without saying, but it is a very important point. Just as we may have gotten caught up in living the same type of lifestyle as our neighbor or relatives during our working careers, we may run into the trap of merely living the lifestyle in retirement that we observed in someone else. Are we doing what our parents did because we think that’s what retirement is like? Are we doing what an older sibling is doing because that seems natural?
We are not just influenced about what retirement looks like form friends or family. In today’s consumer age, we may find ourselves leading a life that the marketing geniuses want us to live. We get caught up on what the ads tell us we should do, feel, and act. Take a step back and more fully reflect on your values and your inner self when you plan your unique retirement journey. As Nelson said in What Color Is Your Parachute, living in alignment of your core values allows you to authentically say “I lived a wonderful life, and I did a good job.” (Nelson, et al., 2010 p. 55). It’s your life, and the encore stage can truly be the most unique of all of the stages of life. It’s up to you to create the music you want to play and listen to.
Encouragement #7 – Know yourself. While I will later argue to put the past behind us and to not allow limiting stories to define us, I will be referring to shedding the past negatives and not letting any negative events define us or define our future. On the other hand, the past can be important in understanding who we are. By looking back, we can understand our strengths and what we are passionate about. What has stirred us up in the past and what will likely stir us up in the future? By revisiting our past in this manner, we are able to understand our gifts and our calling for our retirement years.
This can take a more practical perspective and require that you look at your strengths and weaknesses as well as your education and skills. You can ask yourself other questions such as what would get you to spring out of bed in the morning? Are you constantly seeking more information about it? When you see others doing it, do you look with significant interest? Do you lose track of time when doing or thinking about it? (Spector, et al., 2018 p. 158). At a deeper level, determining what we enjoy requires us to “listen to the sounds of our souls.” (Johnson, 1999 p. 51).
Encouragement #8 – Variety is the spice of life – experiment in retirement. While we should understand our past, I would caution us and argue that perhaps we are still learning about ourselves in our retirement years. Doing a variety of activities and engaging in a variety of pursuits in retirement can bring fulfillment alone. “Variety is the spice of life” can certainly apply to retirement. Don’t be afraid to experiment.
Encouragement #9 – Dream and visualize. Getting to a fulfilled life does indeed involve using our gifts and moving forward with our calling. However, action will not happen unless we visualize and dream about our future.
There are various mechanisms that experts have recommended we utilize to dream about and plan our future retirement. Some have said to imagine an ideal day or ideal year and describe it. Others have said to write a play about our future retirement and don’t hold back on the degree of the play. You can always scale back as necessity dictates. Again, we will explore more exercises and approaches to creating that dream scenario.
Encouragement #10 – Don’t Let Fear Get In The Way. It’s not merely dreaming that is fulfillment. It is the actualization of these dreams. As many a psychologist would say, don’t let fear get in the way of action of your retirement dreams. It is said that action is the enemy of fear (Leider, 2013 p. 121) so having your dreams become a reality in retirement requires action (despite the fears that we all have).
Adopt the Right Attitude as you Create a Fulfilling Retirement
We hope you found encouragement in our list of ten encouragements. Speaking of being aware of our self-talk, another key to finding fulfillment in retirement is adopting the right attitude and mindset as we approach and live out our retirement years. If I had to choose who would have the most fulfilling retirement among ones with the best financial resources, the best health, the best family, the best looks, or the best attitude, I would choose the one with the best attitude every day. There are a number of mental frameworks we should adhere to in living out our retirement years.
Put the past behind us. We need to understand that we don’t have to live in the past as we head into the retirement. While it is good to understand our past as it will help us make sense of some of our decisions, it is important to not let the past shape our future. Most studies show that it’s our attitudes towards past events – and not the events themselves – that have a bigger impact on ourselves. As author Tim Brown said in his book Redirect: Changing the Stories We Live By, we can reframe our past narratives in a way that will lead to more hope and optimism for the future. (Bellah, 2019 p. 35).
As a society, we tend to have this notion that as we approach retirement, we already are who we are and that can’t change. We think that our past events define us. This is exactly the wrong attitude to have because it is so untrue. We are reading more research that tells us we can re-map our brains by adopting new attitudes and building new habits. Retirees can still grow and adapt and make a meaningful impact. It’s not too late for the retiree to embrace their future and live for today.
Adopt a growth mindset. Along those lines, having a growth mindset in retirement matters. Dr. Carol Dweck says that having a mindset that believes we can improve our abilities can make a significant difference in our level of success – in contrast, people that have a fixed mindset believe they can’t change their abilities and thus are not willing to learn and grow. Even more importantly for those nearing or are in retirement, we can shift our mindsets to develop a growth mindset that will ultimately allow us to have a more fulfilling retirement. (Oehser, 2018 pp. 1-2). To have a growth mindset requires us to avoid telling ourselves stories that are limiting. We need to be mindful of those stories only to be able to understand how those stories can negatively – and incorrectly – control our attitudes and behaviors today.
Keep the right mental attitude in retirement despite setbacks. You may have heard this stated as resiliency. When we visualize our ideal retirement, we generally think about all positive aspects of retirement and envision all bliss and happiness. The reality is that there will be ups and downs despite our best planning, efforts, and intention. I know we kept saying throughout this episode that this can be the best time of our lives and our mantra was that the world is our oyster; however, reality can hit us in the face and knock us down. We may develop health issues, go through a divorce, lose a loved one, suffer financial setbacks, etc. In retirement, we are not immune to setbacks. However, just as we said earlier about our distant past, our attitude towards events will often be bigger than the events itself.
This is not to say that some of the life events we experience in retirement can certainly seem devastating. They indeed are. Nevertheless, by understanding that these life events are often a normal part of the season of life that we are in can help us bounce back from those events and still live life with hope and fulfillment event though it might need to be re-defined.
Be adaptable to changes in society. Even outside of life events particular to ourselves, we all have witnessed numerous changes to society in our lifetime. The pace of change seems to consistently accelerate. Those nearing retirement may suffer what Richard Johnson calls the “change saturation syndrome” – by the time they get to retirement, they may tell themselves (and the world) that they have had enough change already. It is important to not deny change, but embrace it and adapt. (Johnson, 1999 pp. 85-86).
Adhere to the motto that age is only a number. It’s also important to not be defined by your age. If we look at ourselves through the lens of our chronological age, we will be tempted to fall back into the traditional role of retirement or may set artificial boundaries on what we can do. Today, the biological age is more relevant. Today’s 70 may be yesterday’s 60. This focus on biological age will also have the added benefit of focusing on our health. I like how author Richard Johnson explains that we should strive to become ageless and approach the concept of “youthfulness” – or, an “attitude of vitality, freshness, and honesty that brings color, life, and love to a person.” (Johnson, 1999 p. 119).
I was recently inspired by a Clint Eastwood quote that may be familiar to some of you, “Don’t let the old man in.” What if you didn’t have a birth certificate and didn’t know how old you are? Just keep moving, planning, doing.
Even if our biological age is considered past our prime and we do slow down, there is a certain attitude that we can develop to live a fulfilled life even in our later years. It can be an attitude of gratitude of our life and an appreciation of our present life more than ever before. (Johnson, 1999 p. 121). For those of faith or some sense of a higher power, it can be a magical time and it can even allow us not to be too anxious about growing old, today.
So, as we said in our previous blog and episode, defining an ideal retirement is unique to each of us. While we need to plan ahead and think about how we will spend our time in the retirement domains of Play/Leisure, Connections. Renewal, and Work, we have to plan ahead regardless of our age. At a minimum, we should start to think much more intentionally about retirement about 10-15 years away. We need to be nimble in retirement and have the right mindset as we approach and go through retirement. Having the right attitude is so key – having a positive mindset will allow us to ditch our past baggage and look at retirement with a fresh perspective. Adopting a positive mindset will also help us visualize things we might have otherwise thought impossible and will also allow us to overcome or bounce back from some of the setbacks that will hit us in retirement.
 For an interesting look at the “5 Stages of Retirement” concept and how our retirement journey is not linear, see Spector’s discussion in more depth. Such stages are said to include the following: Anticipation, Honeymoon, Disenchantment, Rejuvenation, and Fulfillment. (Spector, et al., 2018 p. 55).
 One interesting approach is to focus on your senses and ask yourself what would you lose most if you lost one of your senses. In “Living a Sensory-Driven Life” by Retirement Coach Brenda Carrico, Ms. Carrico stresses living in the moment and taking in all that our senses allow us to. Living in the moment does not have to mean living exciting and adventurous moments. We need to be inquisitive in the moment. Ms. Carrico suggests to “revive (our) sleeping inner child” and let out that part that asked why is the sky blue and the grass green. Brenda Carrico. The Retirement Challenge. “Living a Sensory-Driven Life”. Pp. 158-173.
 Retirement coach and author Larry Jacobson lists several fears you may encounter as you approach retirement: the fear of losing what you have, fear of losing who you are, fear of not having enough time, fear of not knowing how to do something, fear of not having a big idea for your retirement, fear of not knowing what you want, fear of commitment, and the fear of making decisions. He lists and coaches on ways to overcome the fear and use it to your advantage. pp 25-28. (Jacobson, 2019, pp. 25-28).
 Oehser discusses how it is beneficial to acknowledge the stories from the past that we tell ourselves; the stories can either lead to the positive possibilities with a growth mindset or they can lead to a fixed mindset that leads to unproductive behavioral. (Oehser, 2018 pp. 6-7).
 For a good overview of resiliency and why it is needed in retirement, see retirement coach Laura Riddle’s s explanation in The Retirement Challenge. (Riddle, 2019 p. 239).''
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