Sunday, May 9, 2010

Always Work

How does a book about retirement end up being a book about always working? The answer comes from interviewing people who are approaching the retirement age and learning that they don’t want to retire.

In my interviews I heard stories from people such as John who said, “I have no plans to retire, but I would like to spend less time working”.

Rich, the guy who always believed he had the formula for making money, and he did, actually tried retirement. Rich said, “I thought I had a great retirement plan. I bought property in St. Croix and had dreams of opening a coffee shop. I learned I didn’t know how to handle idle time. I thought I had created my days, and what I learned was the clients who regularly walked in the door had done that for me. I decided my work had been a gift all these years and I went back to it.”

There was also Mike, a retired teacher who said, “I have loved the first five years of retirement. I’m volunteering as a ski patrol and getting to ski free all winter. Then it kind of hit me that I could have another 30 years. I don’t want to play for 30 more years.” Mike is speaking to the human need to have meaning and purpose in our lives. Work does this for many of us.

As you can see, as much as I tried to write a book on retirement, I kept coming up with reasons to continue working. That was it—work is the answer to retirement. Not work as people know it now, but work as they would like to create it. John, who I mentioned earlier, couldn’t imagine retiring, but he easily described work as he would like it to be. “No longer being on-call evenings and weekends and 8-hour days instead of 12-hour days”. The answer to retirement is work.

Am I surprised that including work in retirement is the answer to life after 55? No. As a doctoral student in industrial/organizational psychology, I know there are too many psychological benefits of work to have it completely disappear upon retirement. Yet, the question remains, “How do I gain the benefits of work and retirement?” Do I shift to a part-time position doing more of the same that I have done for 35 years? Do I try something completely different, and if so, how do I know what this is? Where do I begin to discover my life’s work in retirement? These are all questions that will be addressed on this blog, as well as in upcoming free teleclasses. What questions would you like to add to this discussion?

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Benefits of Work

One way to create a rewarding retirement is to understand the benefits of work. Let’s take a closer look at work and figure out what it does for us.

To begin with, work gives us a place to go. This may not seem like a big deal while you are doing it, in fact, you may list 20 other places you would rather go than to work this morning. Yet, retirees repeatedly say,
“I need a place to go. I have been working for 35 years and I can’t be at home all day.”
Work has provided that place to go.

Work provides structure. Again, you may say, “I am tired of structure. I can’t wait to have nothing on my agenda each day.” But, once the structure is gone is when you realize what it did for you. Without structure you can flounder and feel like a boat without a rudder.

Work is a community where you have a place and a sense of belonging and affiliation. Do you have best friends at work? If so, you know what I’m speaking about. Do you have inside jokes at work? These contribute to a feeling that you belong.

Work also provides a sense of purpose and meaning in our lives. It doesn’t matter what your job is. You can always link it to a greater purpose, not to mention the purpose of providing for yourself and those you love.

Work provides challenges and opportunities for accomplishing difficult tasks. With this comes a growing feeling of happiness and gratification that increases with time. It’s different from the kind of happiness you feel when you buy a new car or take a Caribbean cruise. You might think these things make you happier, but over time the happiness diminishes. As soon as a newer car model comes out, then your shiny new car loses some of its luster. On the other hand, happiness that comes from hard work and reaching challenging goals continues to increase over time.

I have hardly mentioned an obvious benefit of work—that is to make money. Salaries and paychecks are a major benefit of work, but the paycheck isn’t the first reason most people continue to work after reaching retirement age. Mark, a 75-year-old lawyer who goes into work 5 ½ days/week said, “I am okay financially. I don’t need to work for the money. I need to work because it makes me happy. I think I’m healthier because I stay involved in my profession, meeting new people and meeting new challenges”.

When we realize the role work has played in our lives, then we can better understand our needs in retirement. And, by including work in our retirement we can have the best of both worlds!

Monday, March 1, 2010

Chapter Two

I just came home from a cocktail party. That's where I get some of the best material for my writing and speaking. I've found that people like to talk about retirement—especially when I get past the jokes and retirement stereotypes and get to the heart of the matter. What will I do all day?

Tonight I was talking to a friend that retired in July. I'll call him Aaron. Aaron is 57. He said he could have worked until he was 62 or 63. It's not that he was in a hurry to retire, but he did wonder what else he might be able to do. Aaron made the decision to retire not so that he could sleep in late or play golf all day. Instead, it was so that he could be in a position to take on different challenges and explore new interests. Aaron was concerned that if he waited another five or six years that he might not have the interests or energy to try new things. He didn't want his life to be only one chapter.

In this second chapter Aaron has set himself up with a part-time consulting position. With this he loves the challenge of learning new technology and keeping up with the pace of his younger colleagues. Tomorrow morning he has to catch a 5:20 a.m. train for New York. Not exactly what most people want to do the morning after a cocktail party, especially if you're retired. Yet, when Aaron left the party early to finish the last details of tomorrow's presentation, he had a sparkle in his eye. He's looking forward to meeting tomorrow's challenge. But the best part is he doesn't have to get up every morning to catch the 5:20 a.m. train. By being retired Aaron can enjoy the best of work and still have time for the best of life. That's what he wants to do all day.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Turn Mole Hills into Mountains

If you're questioning how you will use your extra time in retirement, one answer is to make everyday events into something bigger. In other words, turn a mole hill into a mountain. Studies on happiness suggest people receive lasting gratification when they make a situation more challenging, take pictures to remember the event and reminisce about it at a later date.

A good example of how this works is what I did on New Years Eve while visiting my parents. We didn't have special plans to celebrate the occasion. Even if we had plans, a snowstorm would have kept us home. It looked like it was going to be just another quiet evening with dinner followed by a movie or playing cards. That's when I suggested we make a bigger deal over the dinner.

Instead of eating at the kitchen table, we placed a tablecloth over a card table in the living room. The table was set with china, candles, and a "Reserved" sign. My dad started a fire in the fireplace. And we dressed for the occasion. To capture the evening forever, my dad learned how to use the remote control on the digital camera so that we could all be in the pictures. The extra effort it took to do this added to his sense of accomplishment.

Sure we made a bigger fuss over the evening than we needed to. We turned a mole hill into a mountain. But, by doing so we created a lasting memory that gets better with time. This is what my dad wrote in his weekly email to the family:

"HAPPY NEW YEAR! Trust your New Year was as enjoyable as ours. Patrice and Dave celebrated New Year's Eve with us. We had reservations at a special table by the fireplace. We ate a late meal by candlelight. It was quite romantic for couples in their fifties and eighties. We didn't stay up to watch the new year come in, but we did dress up for the occasion."

If we hadn't turned a mole hill into a mountain the evening would have been just another night. The gift of retirement is you have time to turn mole hills into mountains. By doing so you will create lasting memories that continue to bring you happiness for years to come.