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Critical planning can make transition to retirement easier

Certified financial plannerMarch 2, 2014 

Neil Brown

Prior to actually retiring, client thoughts on this subject usually focus on financial issues. However, while you may have put a lot of thought and effort into preparing your financial portfolio, how much thought have you given to preparing your psychological portfolio? Many people neglect this critical aspect of planning for their future and that is where psychology can play a key role.

Some suggest that retirement is a process of three distinct phases. The first is the pre-retirement phase when thoughts and feelings of retirement begin to surface. This can occur at any time but this usually happens 5-10 years prior to retirement. Next comes the retirement phase with a strong sense of loss and confusion. The third phase is the “enjoyment time” with the new life under the changed but accepted situation.

Work and one’s career are central parts of the lives of most people. They are both a source of personal identity and self-definition as well as a large part of one’s self-esteem. In addition, if you have been lucky enough to have a personally meaningful career, rather than just a way of making a living, work also may have resulted in a sense of importance, achievement and of making a contribution to your community.

Retirement likely is the largest change you will ever undertake, even more so than marriage. When you retire, there’s a lot to consider. Are you ready? How will you define yourself? What will you say when someone asks you what you do? How will you feel about not earning a living or not receiving the respect from your peers who are no longer around you daily? How will you structure your days so they don’t get away from you without doing what you wanted to do?

Retirement once was only a few years but today chances are you will still be alive and active 20 or 30 years after a typical mid 60s retirement. Instead of thinking about retirement as an end to your career, think about it as a beginning to the best chapters of your life. This will not just be one change but many changes and transitions. Michigan State University psychology professor Norman Abeles, found that people most happy in retirement enjoy a variety of activities, such as volunteer work, community service, working with children, exercise and continuing their education. You should begin thinking about this part of life prior to retirement and test whatever you may choose before your retirement. This will help you transition vs. simply retiring and then trying to figure it out.

While many retirees plan to spend a lot of time traveling, unexpected physical aliments may make this difficult so be flexible in planning for retirement activities. Others plan on occupying time with grandkids and family but find that the grandkids have grown up and want to spend more time with their own friends than with their grandparents and that their kids are busy with life and their own careers.

The transition from work to retirement generally is a very difficult process. While you may look forward to this and talk about it, expect at least a small emotional roller coaster. A famous Danish philosopher once said, “Life can only be understood backwards, but it must be lived forwards.”

Life is a journey; plan for it.

Neil A. Brown is a CPA and CFP with Burkett Financial Services in West Columbia. Reach him at www.uscneil.com or (803) 200-2272.

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