Ready for Retirement?
By Chelse Benham
”As human beings, our greatness lies not so much in being able to remake the
world — that is the myth of the atomic age — as in being able to remake
ourselves.” - Mahatma Gandhi
Twice as many Americans were born in 1955 than in 1935 and those many
millions of people are now entering, passing through, or have completed mid life
and nearing retirement. The American Association of Retired Persons (open to
anyone age 50) has more than 30 million members.
Recently Dr. Miguel A Nevárez announced his stepping down from the Office of
the President for The University of Texas-Pan American after 23 years of service.
He has decided to join the millions of people who have also retired from their
careers. For many, their careers provided them a social network, sense of
identity, power and contribution to society. Although, Nevárez will not be
president, he still anticipates being an active faculty member at the University. At
a recent celebration in his honor, Nevárez shared his thoughts about this next
phase of life.
“First of all I don’t think I’m moving out, just moving on. For every exit there’s an
entrance on to something new. I hope to continue to contribute to the University,”
It is that sense of contribution that may be at the crux of the “retirement blues,”
because work has more than an economic purpose in people’s lives. Workplaces
are social environments. They are places where professional goals are achieved,
status is built and power is obtained. For many people, more time is spent at
work with colleagues and friends than with family members.
“Most people feel a sense of acceptance or fatalistic about their retirement here
in the Valley. Due to this approach to retirement they’re not generally prepared
financially, but they are very mentally strong because they know their limitations,”
said Armando Dominguez, program coordinator for the Center on Aging and
Health at UTPA. “They know what they are going into. They know that their
families and their faith in God will be there for them. Many find camaraderie and
friendship in senior centers.”
Retirement is a stage of adult life development that requires us to meet the
challenge of what Erik Erikson called “the crisis between generativity versus
stagnation.” Erikson, a prominent leader in the field of psychoanalysis, laid much
of the groundwork for our current knowledge and understanding of adult
development. He identified eight stages in life. The seventh stage can be one of
creativity or stagnation and it occurs during the time in a person’s life when
retirement is considered.
Being creative and finding powerful means of giving back through volunteering
and or taking up a project that makes you feel productive is a positive way to
handle retirement. Pablo Picasso worked up to the day he died in his 90s,
producing works of art. George Bernard Shaw was still writing plays in his 90s.
George Burns was still entertaining and starring in films in his 90s. Georgia
O'Keefe was still painting in her 90s. All these people are examples of using
creativity to further enrich life as each faced their “golden years.”
According to a Harvard study on adult development called “Aging Well:
Surprising Guideposts to a Happier Life,” conducted by Dr. George Vaillant,
director of the Harvard Study of Adult Development, there are four circumstances
under which retirement can be stressful and produce a negative response:
• when it is unplanned and involuntary.
• when the wage or salary is the only means of income.
• when one's home life is unhappy and work has provided an escape.
• when there is pre-existing bad health.
According to Kaye Healey, a retirement counselor and author of “Changing
Course: How do I retire?”, some things that contribute to a successful retirement
are: a place to live where one feels comfortable and “at home”; good health,
good diet and regular exercise; enough income; meaningful relationships; a good
social network; a feeling of being at peace within oneself and, importantly, the
ability to develop an absorbing and challenging project in retirement.
Dr. Phil Rich, therapist and author of the “Healing Journey” series of books,
writes, “One key to a successful retirement is for people to figure out what work
has meant to them. Because, whatever other changes retirement brings, the
central fact is that they will be giving up their work. Success in retirement often
means finding satisfying and personally productive replacements for work so that
life continues to have meaning and reward after the job has ended.”
Rich outlines five phases of retirement that almost everyone goes through in his
article “Learning to Retire: The Transition from Work to Retirement.”
Recognizing and understanding these phases helps retirees put their feelings
and experiences into words. These phases also provide “landmarks to help them
judge where they are and what lies ahead.”
Phase 1: Pre-Retirement.
As people enter this phase, they face the realization that retirement is not just
coming sometime in the future, but is imminent. During this phase, primary
tasks involve preparing for retirement and gearing up for separation from work.
This is an important time, offering the opportunity to not only plan financially
but also to prepare emotionally and spiritually for a major change.
Phase 2: Honeymoon.
Many enter this phase without considering the important long term needs of
retired life, such as goals, relationships, personal meaning and a long term
plan. This phase provides a time for retirees to not only enjoy themselves, but
to also plan ahead for the routines and life that will follow. Here, it is important
for retirees to pace themselves and plan for the long haul.
Phase 3: Disenchantment.
For some, the honeymoon is followed by a period of disenchantment, and
sometimes depression. And the more unrealistic the pre-retirement dream, the
more likely it is that life after the honeymoon will feel empty and anti-climactic.
For those who best understand this important phase, it provides an opportunity
to re-invent themselves and re-define their own futures.
Phase 4: Reorientation.
This phase sees the active development of ideas and a movement towards a
more balanced life and diversified set of interests, relationships and routines. It
offers a time to think about new avenues of involvement in every area of life,
and is a time for action and movement towards the life retirees want to live.
Phase 5: Stability.
This stage most of all is "retirement." Until now, retirees have simply been
gearing up for and moving towards this final phase, which doesn't really have
an end. In this phase, retirees are not just thinking about and planning for their
retirement, they're living it!
At www.omers.com, Canada’s largest pension plan company, a few suggestions
are offered to mentally and emotionally prepare for retirement.
• Awareness: Maintain an alert, active outlook on life to increase your
interest in others and theirs in you. As you age, you're more aware of the
finite quality of time and life. Limits are understood, and friends and family
often take on deeper meaning.
• Flexibility: Keep your attitudes toward life, family and friends flexible,
interested and open. Changes occur daily - be open to them.
• Independence: To keep financially, mentally and emotionally strong, it's
important to make clear and independent choices.
• Expansion: Develop new goals, and keep involved in meaningful projects
that will help you keep growing.
Pat Mestern, author and song writer, outlines some key ways to ensure a fulfilling
retirement in her article “North of the Border – Preparing for Retirement” found at
mestern.net Web site. Her suggestions are listed here:
• Know where you want to live, how you want to live, if and when you want
to make a move and why. Never make hasty decisions about such an
• If you own your home, make sure that all expensive electrical appliances
i.e. stove, fridge, freezer, washer, dryer, computer are replaced before
retirement. Have all major house repairs done.
• Retire with no debt. Pay off all credit cards, your mortgage, your car and
any other outstanding loans. Replacing your vehicle will be the biggest
post-work expense. Have enough money in the bank to do this. You don't
want to negotiate loans after retirement. Use credit cards or line-of-credit
for major expenses such as a holiday, but only if you can pay the balance
at the end of each month. Try to pay everything with cash.
• Begin to track your expenses to give an accurate picture of spending
habits. Lose the bad habits, expand on the good.
• Restructure your lifestyle to fit your finances. Gear retirement activities to
comfortable expenditure levels. Walking is far less expensive than
membership in a gym.
• You don't need to accumulate STUFF after retirement. You should be
giving some away. Remember, looking is pleasurable; recreational
shopping can lead to financial hardship.
• Pursue a hobby, but only if it generates enough income to pay for
supplies. Some hobbies are financial burdens. If this is the case, switch to
one that is as creative yet demands a more reasonable financial outlay.
• Scale festive occasions back to comfortable financial levels. Don't give
gifts if you can't afford to buy them.
• When you are retired, don't do without because you want to leave a
financial legacy. Your children should be the first to encourage enjoyment
of life in your retirement years.
• If possible, ease into retirement over several years. Too quick a change is
difficult for some to handle, mentally and physically.
• Don't approach retirement as you did work. You don't have to follow a 9 to
5 routine. You're free from the clock. Slow down. Relax. Take time to read,
to reflect, and to enjoy life without hassle.
• Begin now to put emphasis on the simpler things in life. Not only are they
worth your full attention, they are usually less expensive to pursue.
• Retirement is inevitable. Look forward to the day with all your strategies
firmly in place.
When people accomplish success in retirement, they realize the coming
together of their life's achievements and failures. Retirement becomes a
wonderful period in which the windfall of free time is converted to self-
fulfillment. With a healthy approach and shrewd preparation, it can become a
time of reflection, rest and rejoicing.
“Happiness resides not in possessions and not in gold, the feeling of
happiness dwells in the soul.” - Democritus, (460-370 BC) Greek
mathematician and scientist