Retirement is an obsolete term. It was first used for soldiers during the reign of Otto von Bismarck in the 1800’s – remember him from your History books? At that time men were expected to live 2 years after turning 65. Soon after, he introduced the pension pay out. The Americans formalized pension payments in 1935 with the Social Security Act. Well, in 2017 Wikipedia still refers to retirement as the time when we stop work. Who in 2017 can afford to stop work at 65 when they may well have another 30 years to live? In the US one in three persons has nothing invested for retirement and only 6% of South Africans can afford to retire and maintain their current standard of living.

When I went into retirement coaching I searched the internet for information about retirement. I was swamped with articles dispensing financial advice but little on the psychological and physical aspects. I also set out to find a new term for this stage of life that does not directly refer to stopping work – I’ve not found one yet that I like, perhaps one of you can help?

Transitioning to the last third of your life

In retirement coaching, I focus on the period between 60 and 65 when we either stop work, look around for something different or continue to run our own business (or anyone else’s if they’ll have us). BUT whatever your work status, there is a transition to negotiate, around moving into the last third of your life.

Think back to the years when you were preparing to leave college – how many months and years did you agonize over what you were going to do to prepare you for 40 years of working? Are you putting the same amount of energy and time into turning 60 or 65?

If you aren’t prepared financially, it is way too late to start now. I am not a Financial Advisor, so I am not going to dispense financial advice. I encourage you to look at all the areas of your life that will be affected by retirement. Let’s do a brief assessment of your current preparedness.

Assess your own preparedness

Please rate yourself on a scale of 1 to 10 where:

1 is “I have not even thought about it” and 10 is “I have it all planned”

PHYSICAL:  Are you reasonably fit and healthy to keep active for as long as possible?
Do you partake in any regular exercise? Do you eat healthily? Are you aware of what you need to supplement as you age?

INTELLECTUAL:   Are you mentally active and keeping your memory agile? Are you learning new things or participating in mentally stimulating activities? Do you read, surf the internet or attend lectures to stimulate your brain?

PARTNERSHIP:   Is your marriage/partnership ready if one or two of you will be home 7 days a week? How are you coping with the empty nest? Are you making plans together?

SPIRITUAL:   How prepared are you for ageing? Are your beliefs and values aligned towards the process of ageing? Do you feel the need to find meaning in life or find your purpose as you approach the last phase of your life?

FINANCIAL:  Do you know how much money you will have for retirement, will you need to supplement it? Do you know what your monthly living costs are/will be? Are you covered for increasing medical expenses as you age?

ENVIRONMENT:  Have you thought through where you would like to live when you start ageing? Can you afford care in your own home? What would happen if you were to fall and break a leg? Should you down-scale your home?

SOCIAL:  Is your social network big enough to carry your needs when you are no longer working and have 7 days to fill? Do you have people in your social network who will keep you young in spirit? What support do you have?

OCCUPATION: What is going to provide structure to your day? What is going to get you out of bed in the morning? What will give your life purpose, and help you feel like you are growing and contributing to society?

There are no right answers, but this assessment should give you some idea as to how prepared you are and which areas you need to work on. How many of your ratings are over 6? Any rating under 5 probably requires some careful thought.

Phases of Retirement

The Gerontologist,Robert Atchley, talks about the 6 phases of retirement. I refer only to the first 3 to make my point. The first refers to planning in anticipation of retirement . Then, on the day you retire, you either move into a honeymoon phase where you simply collapse and unwind or you frantically rush around working through your bucket list, travelling and doing the things you have put off for so long; or alternatively, if you have planned a replacement activity (e.g. moving into a more strategic role at work, or starting a new business, volunteering or mentoring) you can transition seamlessly to the new activity, perhaps after a holiday. Spend some time mapping out the first month of your own retirement. How do you plan to spend it? Which of the 3 options that Atchley proposes will you choose for yourself?

Stage of Disenchantment

After this comes the stage of disenchantment. If you have prepared consciously you may simply realise that you are growing older and shrug it off as you pursue a new adventure . If however, you have not thought through and planned the 8 aspects of your life as mentioned above, this disenchantment could persist and perhaps even spiral into depression. I have heard stories of people who simply gave up in retirement and only lasted a year or two, such is the power of our minds when we feel we no longer have a purpose.

Can you afford to put your head in the sand and simply hope retirement is going to be fun and relaxing. Yes, it should be the time in your life when you get to do what you want to do – no longer tied to a 40/60 hour week at work and the children no longer dependent on you financially. But it can also be the most depressing, boring time of your life if you do not have a structure or purpose.

What will you leave when you retire from work? You can start by making a list for yourself of exactly what you will leave behind when you walk out the door and into retirement, in the real sense of the word. Your identity, daily structure, sense of belonging to mention a few. Bear in mind that the first thing people usually ask you when they meet you for the first time is “So what work do you do?” or “Where do you work?” Sometimes they even ask this before they ask you where you are from! What answer do you plan to give?