3 myths about ideal retirement: more than money at stake.
I knew a man who couldn’t wait to retire from his government job. With a good financial plan, a few decades of hard work and wise money decisions, he was able to call it quits at 55. Thrilled with his newfound financial freedom, he immediately took to cooking, golf, dating, traveling, fishing, and having fun. For the first few years, every time I saw him, it appeared the lifted burden of work had lightened his step and his heart.
At 65, he moved to a Florida retirement community. It’s the kind with restrictions on residents’ age (55+), house colors, landscaping, and mailbox designs. One of the few ways to stand out is by the cover on your golf cart. To outsiders, everyone looks the same, dresses the same, exercises the same, and seems to adore their life in the sunshine.
No One to Talk To?
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.”
This was a shock. “What?” I said, “What about golf and pickleball friends? Aren’t there some retired CEOs, executives, people that think like you, that you have something in common with?”
“Nah,” he said, “I don’t have that much in common with anybody here.”
I thought that was crazy. He talked like them, dressed like them, shopped like them, and exercised like them. He probably was just as well off, financially, as any of them. How could he not have someone to talk to?
Unfortunately at that time, I was unfamiliar with the signs of depression. Five years later, it took his life.
Three Myths About the Ideal Retirement Life
According to Mitch Anthony, author of many books on retirement, there are three myths about the ideal retirement life.
Myth 1: “This part of my life is going to be about ME.”
Anthony says, “This is a formula for emptiness.”
Myth 2: “I am going to surround myself with people like ME.”
Anthony’s reply: “This is a formula for stagnation.”
Myth 3: “I am going to do nothing but relax.”
Anthony: “This is a formula for boredom.”
Emptiness, stagnation, and boredom don’t sound much like the ideal retirement. Yet, these three myths form the basis of a lot of financial plans.
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 they get bored, the second step is they grow pessimistic, and then they get ill.”
I’m afraid that’s what happened to the man who appeared to have the ideal retirement plan, but ended up having no one to talk to.
The Dark Side of Retirement Plans
Writer Robert Laura describes 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. Surprisingly to some, the U.S. age group with the highest suicide rate is adults over age 75. In fact, Florida retirement communities have some of the highest suicide rates in the country.
Of course not everyone in retirement communities is depressed. It’s more common to see residents who live vibrantly, filling time with volunteering, mentoring, and close social circles. Ironically, few of these things require much money.
5 Parts to Plan For More Than Money
For those like the man above, jumping from the work treadmill onto the retirement scene with only the financial part of a plan can be risky. Instead, consider suggestions for the non-financial parts of a well-thought-out plan:
- 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, identify how would you spend your time, and with whom?
- Have a diverse social network outside of work.
The best retirement plans start with a plan for a fulfilling life first in order to match up those parts with money decisions. Many people go at it the other way around, asking “How much income can I get with the amount of money I have?” and assuming that answer will dictate their lifestyle.
That’s why good planners ask first how you want to spend your time, before asking about your money. If you define what an ideal retirement means first for you, then your retirement plan and your retirement life have far better chances of success.
Dedication to Mental Health Awareness
Following May’s Mental Health Awareness month, every June I republish this story in memory of the man who inspired it. Retirement is a life transition that has an under appreciated impact on mental health.
Resources for Ideal Retirement Plans:
Dori Mintzer, Ph.D. has a weekly live interview series and podcast called “Revolutionize Retirement.” In it, she interviews experts on retirement life.
See, The Mindful Money Mentality: How To Find Balance in Your Financial Future (Porchview Publishing, 2013).
Sign up for a free monthly e-letter with retirement readiness tips, “The View From the Porch.”