Do you really want to retire? Six questions to ask yourself:
Not long ago, I played golf with Joseph, a 63-year-old business owner from Calgary. Because he knew what I do, he peppered me with questions about retirement and his pending plans to sell his business. He didn’t seem like he was committed to the idea that he wanted to be retired, but there was a sense of inevitability to his departure from the workforce. “I have run my business for the past thirty years”, he told me. “In that time I have watched it grow to the point that we have annual sales of over $10million. I get up every morning at 5AM and get into the office by 7. Most of my time now is spent with my customers and I have great employees who actually handle the day-to-day operation. In fact, two of them have made me an offer to buy me out.”
When I asked Joseph what he would miss most about his work, he talked for five minutes about the various parts of the business that meant the most to him. However, when I asked him about why he actually wanted to retire his answer was very short: “Because it’s time, I guess” he said. Today many Canadians are also thinking about their retirement plans and looking to the end of work. My experience in counseling them tells me that far too many don’t actually want to retire but have accepted it with the same inevitability that Joseph had. I am not saying that people shouldn’t retire, or that being in retirement is such a bad thing. However, I feel that you should be very clear on WHY you are giving up your work career and have an understanding of what you are actually retiring TO.
Here are six questions that I pose to people who are trying to formalize their retirement move:
1. Why are you retiring?
This may sound like it has an obvious answer, but in far too many cases the reason that people retire is based on a misconception about what retirement actually is. If you are retiring because you have reached your company’s retirement age or your pension plan makes it worthwhile, this is understandable. However, if you are retiring simply because you think you should, then perhaps more thought might be directed towards your answers to the next five questions.
2. What is it that you will miss most about your job?
Most people gain some satisfaction or take positives away from the workplace. As you think about what you are giving up when you leave, what are some of those motivators that you will also be giving up? Generally, work plays several roles in your life. For some, it is a source of financial comfort. For others, work can provide status, the need to be needed and to create new ideas or the structure of having to meet deadlines or responsibilities. And, don’t forget about the social connections that work provides. Some or all of these may apply to you, and it is important for you to identify what you feel you will lose in your life because you are not working. By the way, if none of these motivate you about your job, you should probably look for something else anyway!
3. How will you replace the things that you liked most about your work?
One of the keys to retirement success is replacing what you will miss most about work in your retirement. As you answered the previous question, you identified those things about your job that really motivated you. Now I want you to consider how you will replicate those in this next phase of life. If you liked work because it provided you with a sense of status, you might consider working on a board of directors or creating a new business. If your work provided you with a sense of utility then volunteering might be in your future.
4. What are you looking forward to the most about your retirement?
Since it is so important to understand what you are retiring to, you should think in terms of what you want this next part of your life to be. It is normal for most people answering this question to focus on the places they will go or the things that they expect to do. That is why I call retirement the “thirty-year long weekend”, because that is how many people think about it. I like the concept of a “bucket list” simply because it forces you to write down your life goals so that you can create the plans to make them happen.
5. What areas of your retirement life need a plan?
Most retirement plans are financial plans and in a lot of cases they simply focus on building a nest egg that is big enough so that you will not run out of money. If you really want to clarify your vision of the future, then your goal setting and planning has to go beyond planning your money—in fact, I am going to suggest that you can’t realistically plan financially unless you have a vision for what you want to accomplish in each major area of your life.
6. What are the opportunities that you see in your retirement?
Go beyond the leisure activities that you are looking forward to—in most cases you can probably do those now anyway. Instead, think about the kind of life that you want to lead, the values that will drive you and the opportunities and accomplishments that you want to undertake. Your retirement life is a tremendous opportunity to do new things, go new places, self-actualize and live the kind of life of your dreams.
I don’t want to tell people how to retire, but to point out the opportunities that this new life may provide. In Joseph’s case, he still wanted to find ways to stay involved in his business but to allocate more time to travel and volunteer. He is still going to sell the business, but he has negotiated with the new owners to stay on and work on a part-time basis handling customer relations. I simply asked him these questions and helped him frame his vision of the future. Now he has some clarity around his opportunities and the framework for a plan.