Over the next decade roughly 75 million Americans will retire. While most of us are well-aware of the need to plan, save and invest for that momentous moment, very few of us are actually prepared for the non-financial challenges of retirement itself.
Recently, as a result of one local company’s early retirement incentive plan, as well as the bankruptcy of a local hospital, I have had some firsthand experience in dealing with the expectations of retiring clients in this area. What I have found is that the majority of men are ill-prepared for retirement, more so than women. At the same time, their spouses are extremely worried—with good reason.
Studies show that men have a much harder time adjusting to retirement than do women and are far more naive in understanding what retirement does to one’s quality of life. Those who retire unexpectedly due to sickness, job loss, those who have become accustomed to working long hours or who bring their work home with them have the most difficulty in retirement.
It seems that most men tend to define themselves and their self-worth on the basis of their careers and the money they make. After 30 or 40 years of polishing their identities as providers, senior workers and/or producers, they find themselves at a loss when that ends. Many men are suddenly faced with an identity crisis they have not confronted since they were teenagers. The more of a workaholic they are, the less likely they will have developed other outside interests that could help define and transition them to a new identity and role.
Women, on the other hand, are much more likely to have several roles—worker, mother- caregiver, community activists, etc.—throughout their life, all of which aid in a transition to retirement. Women are much more likely to have had their working careers interrupted by child-rearing or by taking care of elderly parents than men.
I know my own wife, Barbara, the COO of our company, also maintains a successful career as a photographer has a large network of friends and acquaintances and is a member of several community organizations and social groups. In general, I believe women tend to be more engaged with others and more connected to their communities in terms of social support and networking. Retirement, to them, may be just another change in a life that is full of changes.
Seventy-five percent of workers believed that their quality of life would improve once they retired, but only 40% of retirees found that it actually did. So if you are planning to retire, forget about your dreams of being perfectly happy walking on the beach every day or playing golf or minding the grandkids. None of that is guaranteed to fulfill you, or even hold your interest beyond the first couple of months. There is no free lunch in retirement.
The only sure thing in retirement is that at some point you will die. Your problems do not disappear, they just change in nature and many times your problems actually grow in size and importance (since you have little to distract you). Sure, you may live longer by retiring from a stressful job that was either physically or mentally taxing, but that doesn’t mean you will live healthier. Your chances of becoming addicted to alcohol, narcotics or prescription pills actually increase.
Finally, the most important truth of all is that you will never be able to save enough money to retire happily ever after because money and happiness have nothing to do with each other. In my next column, I will give you some pointers on how to become one of those 40% of retirees who actually enjoy retired life. I’ll leave you with a big hint—it starts with your spouse.