As the editor of Next Avenue’s Money & Security and Work & Purpose channels, I read a lot of books about retirement, most of which are, in a word, meh. But I just finished one that I think you should get if you're retired or thinking about that prospect: The Retirement Maze by Rob Pascale, Louis H. Primavera and Rip Roach.
Pascale, the lead author, retired at 51 from his job running a market research firm in Charlotte, N.C. “I thought I had everything figured out perfectly,” he told me. “I’d spent years planning for retirement and had lots of interests.”
After the first few months, however, Pascale turned glum. “I had lower self-esteem than when I was working," he says. "I also had a lack of structure and purpose in my life. Then I started six companies, but none of them did well because I wasn’t putting in the effort I needed.”
So Pascale went back to his first love: social science research, which led to The Retirement Maze.
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Unlike most retirement books, which are written by financial advisers and focus on money matters, this one is based on fascinating, new research. The authors surveyed 1,477 retirees and 400 pre-retirees to determine what they had done to prepare for this stage of their lives and what they’re doing to stay happy; they also asked why the least-happy retirees were so blue.
In general, the authors learned, most people who stop working don't adjust well to retirement. Just 44 percent described their lives as satisfying. But when the researchers dug deeper, they uncovered more nuanced findings:
Workers who retire by choice are happy. About one-third of the retirees surveyed had retired by choice — but a striking 69 percent who made the conscious decision to retire said they were satisfied with their lifestyle.
By contrast, just 36 percent of people pushed into retirement — typically due to unemployment or health issues — said they were satisfied. If you’re forced into retirement, the authors say, you need to break your emotional connections to your former job as soon as possible and turn your attention to how you’ll live in retirement. Focus on the opportunities you’re now free to pursue.
New retirees have it especially rough. Just 18 percent of respondents who’d retired within the previous six months felt they’d “completely adjusted” to retirement. After five years, however, more than half reported the adjustment was complete.
The authors' advice: Plan, plan, plan. Before retiring, really figure out how and where you'll spend your time. The more you've worked out in advance, the easier the transition will be.
Working in retirement: there’s a huge gap between perception and reality. Although 82 percent of the pre-retirees surveyed said they plan to work in retirement, just 27 percent of retirees surveyed actually did. The authors’ explanation? Your motivation diminishes once you walk away from the workplace.
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Retiring young is extremely difficult. Many of those who retired between age 45 and 59 became disenchanted with retirement after two years. The novelty wore off and they often had a hard time finding people their age they could spend time with. After six years, just 42 percent of early retirees felt their lifestyles had improved, much less than the 57 percent of older retirees.
The authors' advice: Maintain a regular schedule of activities with friends, especially ones outside the workforce. Or consider taking a bridge job, working part-time. If you're married, tried to make your retirement coincide with your spouse's.
Women start out happier than men in retirement, but don’t stay that way. Some 75 percent of women described their activities as rewarding in the first two years of retirement, but that percentage dropped to 62 percent after six years. Just 62 percent of men found their retirement activities rewarding in the first two years — and that percentage didn’t change as more time passed.
The authors’ advice to women: Keep your batteries charged (I think they mean that figuratively, but not necessarily, if you know what I'm saying) and keep setting new goals.
A few final words about Pascale. He and his wife, Lynne, who are both 58, live in a New York City suburb. She is planning to get a master’s degree and the couple has started taking ballroom dancing classes. “We’ve realized how important it is to keep trying new things in retirement,” Pascale says.
He’s now starting to work on a big research project, studying the secrets of successful marriages. I’m eager to read that book, too.