The reality of retirement living is often quite different from our dreams or expectations. Though we may dream of the day when we can sleep until noon and spend the day as we choose, after an initial “honeymoon” period, retirement living poses many unexpected challenges and also many new opportunities. This article discusses problems that many retirees may face, and what they can do to resolve those issues.
Problems You May Face
Retirees generally lose contact with fellow workers soon after leaving the job. On the rare occasions that you see them, such as the annual Christmas party, awards dinner or reunion, they tend to look cheerful and sporty, perpetuating the myth that retirement is one continuous holiday.
Unless you have planned for a changed lifestyle, there is danger of getting into a rut. Typically, on a day-to-day basis, your built-in “alarm clock” wakes you at the usual hour, but there is no need to dress or go anywhere. Weekends become indistinguishable from workdays. You may feel disorientated, out of sync with the rest of the world.
Simple tasks that were always done on time go unattended. You think, “Maybe not today.” The joy of having the tennis court to yourself or catching an afternoon show may even turn into guilt.
Feelings of loneliness and isolation are common in retirement. For example, lunch can become a problem. At work, lunch was always a welcome break, a time to get together with colleagues, or meet with new prospective clients. Now, you may find yourself alone and in need of companionship.
During our workdays we interact with people outside our social circle, but if these interactions are not replaced, we may end up relating only to a small group of family and friends.
Retirement can be challenging to relationships, too. Couples find that long-established ways of relating to each other may change dramatically. Prior to retirement, even if both parties work, the home typically remains the domain of the woman only until the husband retires. After a man retires, he may become interested in parts of domestic life he never cared about, and his wife may view this as an invasion of her domain.
A stay-at-home wife may feel that her husband’s retirement not only intrudes on her private space, but actually increases her workload, adding more meals to cook and more shopping to be done. Increased time together forces couples to face issues their previously busy lives let them avoid. If the wife continues to work, a retired man may also become depressed over the loss of his breadwinner role.
Loss of Professional Identity
For many people, the most difficult adjustment to retirement living is the loss of professional identity. Our work role is extremely strong, often forming our central defining core. We play many roles in life, but are mostly defined by our work. When asked “What do you do?”, we typically respond with how we make a living. We don’t say, “I am an avid gardener, a conscientious grandfather, a member of my community board, a chess player, a sister, a basketball referee, …” In retirement, it is these latter roles that become more prominent.
After a lifetime of work, your need to be productive, recognized, challenged, and social, will not disappear the day you retire but must be met in new ways.
Things You Can Do to Make Retirement More Enjoyable
Fortunately there are many opportunities to meet these needs. You can start a new career, work part time, go back to school, volunteer to help others, immerse yourself in a hobby or the arts, or do several of these things. Finding satisfying ways to pursue your interests and employ your skills can make retirement a very satisfying time of life.
Continuing to work is the most widely recommended strategy for today’s retirees. It can play several roles. For one thing, it can help restore your sense of being productive and making a contribution. In addition, given the fragile economy and the always-continuing rise in prices of almost everything, working adds to your financial security, and may provide additional benefits offered by your employer. Furthermore, continuing to be employed may also provide you with the ability to delay claiming your Social Security benefits. Each year you can put off taking Social Security, your benefits will rise by about 8 percent. However, benefits do not increase beyond age 70.
Going back to school is another alternative that can give you something new to learn and do. It can accomplish a number of things, e.g., relieve the boredom that tends to set in during retirement; provide you with knowledge to start a new career or start up your own business; study subjects you never had time for before; and provide you with the opportunity to make new friends.
All in all, it will take thoughtful consideration and a plan of action to adjust to the new retirement realities.