I knew a man who couldn’t wait to retire from his government job. Because of decades of hard work and wise money decisions, he was able to call it quits at 55. Thrilled with his newfound freedom, he immediately took to cooking, golf, dating (he had divorced at 49), traveling, fishing, and having fun. For the first few years, every time I saw him, I could see the lack of work responsibilities had lightened his step and his heart. After about ten years, he moved to a Florida retirement community where the roofs and mailboxes are almost identical and one of the few ways to stand out is by the cover on your golf cart. It seemed to outsiders that everyone looked the same, dressed the same, exercised the same, but seemed happy with their life in the sunshine.
Yet one day on the phone he said, “Y’know, I really like talking with you. I don’t have anybody to talk to here.”
I was shocked. “What? Surely there are some retired CEOs, executives, people that think like you, that play golf, and that you have a lot in common with.”
“Nah,” he said, “I don’t have that much in common with anybody here.”
I thought that was crazy. He looked like all the rest of them, dressed like them, played golf and pickleball like them. He probably was just as well off, financially, as any of them. How could he not have someone to relate to? Unfortunately at that time, I was unfamiliar with the signs of depression. Five years later, it took his life.
According to writer Mitch Anthony, there are three myths about the “ideal” retirement:
- “This part of my life is going to be about ME.”
Anthony says, “This is a formula for emptiness.”
- “I am going to surround myself with people like ME.”
Anthony’s reply: “This is a formula for stagnation.”
- “I am going to do nothing but relax.”
Anthony: “This is a formula for boredom.”
Emptiness, stagnation, and boredom. Doesn’t sound much like the ideal retirement. A Mayo Clinic gerontologist told Anthony, “A life of total ease is two steps removed from a life of total disease.The first step is that they get bored, the second step is that they grow pessimistic, and then they get ill.”
This is what writer Robert Laura termed the “dark side” of retirement. For some who don’t think about how to bring meaning and purpose to their life after work, serious mental health maladies, like depression and addiction, await. Florida retirement communities have some of the highest suicide rates in the country, particularly among white males over 65 years old. Women seem to fare better. Anecdotally, several women I know have vibrant lives in retirement communities, filled with volunteering, teaching others, and various circles of friends.
South Dakota financial planner Rick Kahler responded to Laura’s article with several wise suggestions: Ask yourself how much of your identity is tied up in what you do, rather than who you are. Start creating a life to retire “to” rather than simply a job or business to retire “from.” Consider gradually reducing to part time and taking extended vacations, rather than showing up one day, and having nowhere to go the next. In your ideal week, how would you spend your time, and with whom? Have a diverse social network outside of work. Writer Douglas Bloch complained his parents’ retirement community had no children, while his retired friends were finding fulfillment mentoring youngsters in math.
Want to take it further? Dori Mintzer, Ph.D. has a weekly live interview series – “Revolutionize Retirement,” where she interviews experts on retirement life. Sign up for free at www.
Retirement planning has far more at stake than planning how to invest your assets. For some people, a well-thought out investment plan for their time, more than their money, can be the difference between illness and premature death, and a long, fulfilling life.