Wednesday, January 18, 2017


In my retirement seminars I give participants an index card and ask them to write down how many months or years until their expected retirement date. Almost everyone writes down a range, such as 1-3 years or 3-5 years. The first number usually represents the first year that they are qualified, either age-wise or years-of-service wise, to take the leap. Every year after the first number is negotiable. 

How about you? If you were to do this exercise, is retiring in 2017 negotiable? A possibility?

Retiring is a big decision, and not one to be made lightly. There's a lot at stake beyond financial matters. And so, planning for this decision, being informed about how to best make this decision, is really important.

A seminar participant came up to me after the program to say, "My colleague has a 4-day rule. If he has 4 consecutive bad days, then he'll submit his retirement notice." So far he hasn't gotten past 3 days. This brings up a good point. When we're deciding when to retire, our emotions are not the best guide.

Research indicates that our memory of negative emotions and experiences is stronger than our ability to remember positive emotions and events. In other words, we may have more good days than bad days at work, but unless the good outnumber the bad by about 5 to 1, we're apt to think more days are unpleasant. That's why I like the 4-day rule.

Another factor that impacts our decision of when to retire is what we consider an "appropriate" age. Different professions have different retirement age norms, or reference points from which we measure if we're retiring early or late. Take away these reference points so you can decide if now is the right time for you, regardless of being early or late. The numbers are arbitrary.

Another question is, "What have you done to prepare for retirement?" By this I mean have you thought about what you want to do in this next stage of life? What do you want to make yourself available to? Until you have some idea of what this is, I suggest staying in your job. But don't just stay there and do nothing to prepare for your next encounter with retirement. Commit to exploring new interests and taking on new roles outside of your work role. Use your weekends and vacations to practice being retired. If you're quickly bored with lying on the beach for 10 days, this is a good indicator that you'll find more meaning and purpose, and happiness by creating opportunities to use your skills and knowledge.

Even if your work is positive and gratifying, and you see no reason to leave, you're not going to live forever. This is why it's important to consider the future time perspective. When you look ahead, how many "good" decades do you think you have left in your life? My age is 58, and I think I have two good decades to make the most of my life, my 60s and 70s. Interestingly, when I asked a 68-year-old man this question, he said he has two good decades remaining, 70s and 80s. By thinking about time remaining, we have to ask ourselves if full-time employment is how we want to spend that time. If so, that's great. What's important is to ask the question.

If you're waiting until you know for sure that it's the right time to retire, you might miss the best time to retire. With preparation, at some point we have to take the leap and then flap our wings like our life depends on it. Because actually, it does.

Copyright 2017. Patrice Jenkins. All Rights Reserved.


Patty Newbold said...

For me, it's 1-26 years until retirement. But that's because I am in the very fortunate position of being self-employed in a manner that allows me to vary the number of hours, days, or months I work each year and to shift the work I do to less stressful and more generative work over time.

Patricia, I think it would be great for someone to help our largest employers create similar opportunities for flexible schedules and more generative work that allows for less abrupt retirements, which are rough on both the retirees and the teams they work in.

Part of what creates those 4 bad days in a row is being ignored as colleagues prepare for the shock of a retirement or being worked too hard when you're still willing to continue sharing your accumulated expertise and historical knowledge of the company and its technologies and markets but not to push yourself beyond your new physical limits.

I love your blog, Patricia. Thanks for sharing with us.

Patrice Jenkins said...

Hi Patty,

Thanks for sharing your story. When I hear that you have 1-26 years until retirement, it reminds me that work and retirement are not mutually exclusive. Over the course of these years, work may take on a different form, perhaps less stressful and more generative as you suggest, but still meaningful and productive. When people ask me if I'm retired, I say, "If I am, then this is what it looks like. I always want to have meaningful work in my life, and on my terms."

I agree that corporations would benefit from helping their employees navigate the years leading up to retirement. This is why I'm creating online learning modules that will allow companies to support their employees as they prepare for this next stage in life. By investing in the person, the company also benefits!

Thanks for reading!