An acquaintance, looking to discuss his recent unsought retirement, emailed to arrange lunch. His efforts to deal with retirement, he said, have been “futile” so far and he hopes my “advice will inspire” him.
Oy vey. Advice is not an item on my resume.
Two or three weeks ago I published a story here about how retirement is a good time to discover being in a world that prizes doing. It was a useful enough post but it doesn't cover the larger, existential shift from career to the next stage of life.
I'm probably not far off to say that about 99 percent of the 21 million results in a Google search, “planning for retirement,” is about finance and almost all of those are aimed at people who have both money to save or invest and many more years to do it.
But there are a lot more ways to arrive at retirement than planning for it. I'm one of them, one of the people who was age-discriminated (is that a verb?) out of the workforce long before I had intended.
And that was five years before 2008 when tens of millions of U.S. workers much younger than I were laid off 15, 20 or more years before their expected retirement date. Millions of them have never again worked in their fields nor for anywhere near the salary they had been making before the crash.
So they were forced to retire only halfway through their expected career span living now on god knows what money or are eking out their years at minimum wage jobs until they are old enough for Social Security.
(An excellent piece of reporting on the latter circumstance can be found in a story titled “Too Poor to Retire and Too Young to Die” at the Los Angeles Times.)
But today, I'm concerned with the people in the middle, people like the friend I'm having lunch with next week and me and a lot of TGB readers: that is, people who may or may not have been surprised at finding themselves retired one day, who likely had to cut back expenditures but are not in dire monetary straits.
As I've related here more than once, I was lucky. I had begun this blog a year or so before I was laid off. It wasn't all smooth sailing – I flailed around working out money and living arrangements, and how to order my days without an outside schedule. But essentially I glided from a writing/editing web job with a four-hour, round-trip commute to a writing/editing web job with a two-minute commute, and it is still satisfying after 13 years at it.
In no way, when I started TimeGoesBy, did I have an inkling that it would become my main retirement interest - it was simple luck - and most people hit with unexpected retirement aren't even that well prepared.
Before settling into a new life, there are the practical realities, of course: money, location, healthcare. Once those are arranged, however, what comes next? What do I want to do with my time now? What will get me out of bed each morning? The questions are mostly short but hardly simple. Here are a few:
What gives me pleasure?
What do I most care about?
Can I use my career experience in new ways now?
What's been missing from my life?
What have I always dreamed about doing?
What gives me a sense of purpose?
What and who are most important to me?
What does an ideal day look like?
There are many others and the hard part is that no one can answer for you.
So for those of you who have already navigated to a satisfying life in retirement, how did you do that? And for those of you who haven't got there yet, how are you thinking about it? Or, maybe, what questions are you pondering?
Remember, this isn't about whether to move to a new city, state or country. Or whether to sell your home or what are the best investments for old people.
Instead, how did you or will you address these existential or life questions. How did you decide how to live these last years – maybe decades – in the most satisfying way for you?
This is important stuff for all older people and there may be hints in your thoughts for the rest of us.