Retirement Comes in Many Flavors

December and January are popular months for retirements. I retired in 1993 at age 56 and have some thoughts to share on this important life event. I hope these thoughts will be helpful to both fellow retirees and people considering joining us.

Retirement counselors highly recommend planning for retirement and experimenting before retiring, trying different activities and settings. The federal government is even experimenting with part-time retirement that permits a transition over a period of time.

People thinking about retirement should definitely consider getting their feet wet, trying out the things they anticipate doing after they retire. One example: A person who has lived in a locale with cold and snowy winters and has thought of moving, might spend time in a warmer climate before making a full commitment to moving there. People sometimes reverse their thinking after gaining some experience.

A person’s temperament also influences their attitude toward retirement. Someone who is insecure might be troubled by the implications of breaking the predictable daily pattern associated with a job. On the other hand an avid seeker of experiences may be quite comfortable with a change. A high-energy achiever may also welcome new opportunities to pursue. I have known people whose retirement goal was simply to do whatever they wanted — including nothing. It seemed to me that doing nothing could be satisfying for only a limited time.

Much is written about meeting financial demands in retirement. Over the past couple of decades, retirements with a guaranteed stream of pension checks plus social security have declined. Many retirees now leave with a pot of money that has to be self-managed to provide a long term income stream. Accomplishing this can be a source of continuing worry, sometimes prompting a search for a new, paying job to supplement retirement income.

Retirement may not provide full freedom, and a new retiree may confront unexpected boundaries. For example, if a spouse continues to work it may pose problems for the retiree waiting long days for the spouse’s return from work. Alternatively, when a new retiree’s spouse has been at home, turf problems may develop as the two adjust to being together full time. Family and friends may also have unwelcome expectations that can pose limits on the new retiree’s freedom to travel or to choose a different location to live. Poor health may also limit full freedom.

It is now harder for an employer to require that an employee retire solely on the basis of age. For people who love their work, being forced to retire can be very disappointing. My father was a meat cutter for most of his career, but spent his final working years in an office. He loved everything about working in the office, except the mandatory age 65 retirement policy. His retirement party was a bittersweet event.

For people who have hobbies or other recreational interests they greatly enjoy, retirement can be quite welcome. In the early 1960s I worked for NASA in Cleveland and shared an office with another engineer who was a gun enthusiast. He counted the years and days to his eligibility date for retirement, planning full-time involvement with guns. Sadly, he died shortly after retiring.

Recreational travel is another popular activity for retirees. The travel industry has expanded and now has more sophisticated offerings. My wife and a nursing school classmate greatly enjoyed numerous cruises. Some travelers they met connected cruises that kept them on ships for extended periods, even taking them around the world. Cruising can also accommodate people with varying levels of disability and health issues.

For people with personal and family demands that conflict with working, retirement can provide relief. Grandparents are increasingly engaged in care of grand children. For retirees who have a spouse or other person in need of care, being free each day may be welcome.

Engaging in community and other volunteer activities in or out of the home is another popular activity for retirees. There are numerous volunteer organizations that welcome additional help, including homeowner associations. I have volunteered with a number of groups since retiring. Some proved good matches for my interests but others didn’t. Experimenting with volunteering before retiring is a good idea.

Best wishes to my fellow retirees and those considering joining us.

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