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Green Thumb Retirement

How to dig deeper to bring your retired life into full bloom

By Robert Laura

I don't have a green thumb. In fact, it seems that my greatest lawn and garden skill is growing things in places where they're not supposed to be. You want or need me to patch your lawn, forget it. But if you need grass in between some bricks on your patio, in a crack on your sidewalk or in the garden, it seems like I can somehow pull that off.

A retired person with a greenthumb trimming plants in their garden. Next Avenue, how to enjoy retirement, gardening
Credit: Getty

All joking aside, when it comes to creating a lush lawn or bountiful garden, one of the most important components is fertilizer. It serves as a crucial ingredient because trees, flowers, vegetables, and shrubs can't produce everything they need to flourish on their own. They need outside forces, such as sunshine, water, and healthy soil to grow and bloom. 

In a similar fashion, we often plant ourselves into retirement without any fertilizer. Many assume life will be fertile after they stop working simply because they reach a certain age or have enough money. But the soil under them, in terms of relationships, health, identity and purpose, may not be healthy enough to fully blossom in retirement.

Preparing for All Aspects of Retirement

Therefore, propagating a truly comprehensive retirement plan needs to include concrete plans and strategies for these non-financial aspects. In other words, adding fertilizer to the sunshine and irrigation of a retirement portfolio by creating a concrete, written plan for the mental, social, physical and spiritual well-being is critical to truly thriving in retirement.

Just like any other season of life, issues often creep up and slowly take root before we realize how deep the problem is.

Just like any other season of life, issues often creep up, and slowly take root before we realize how deep the problem is. Which is why it's important to assess the soil around you regularly, and to not fear digging deeper and discovering the root of the problem. When we understand the cause for something we are better equipped to find a solution.

As a former social worker and personal trainer turned financial advisor and speaker, I see and understand both sides of the equation. In other words, I see the need and value in helping people plan and prepare for both the financial as well as psychological aspects of retirement.

8 Uncommon Retirement Topics to Consider

One of the ways I do this with clients is with a checklist of over 50 things that can creep up and begin to overtake a person or couple's retirement. Here is a sample of the more uncommon things on the list to help illustrate the value of going beyond the dollars and cents of traditional retirement planning.

1. How do I introduce myself? Because when I say, "I'm retired," the conversations end.
2. Why am I afraid to tell my friends that I'm not enjoying retirement?
3. Why am I grieving the loss of my career? I hated my job.
4. Why am I feeling lonely, despite being around people?
5. Why does my volunteer work feel unrewarding?
6. I don't want to live my spouse's retirement. What should I do?
7. How can I stop feeling resentful towards my spouse as he/she has retired and I'm still working?
8. How can I convince my retired friends that I want to do more than just sit around eating and drinking?

That's not the kind of information making it into retirement planning commercials, brochures, or seminars. But it's the real-life stuff that is happening and that people want and need help with.

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The other harsh reality is financial professionals aren't trained to deal with this stuff. They have little to no training and worse, no tools or resources.

So, what ends up happening? People suffer in silence for years and don't realize they that they need a plan and support to replace their work identity, fill their time, stay relevant and connected, as well as keep mentally and physically active. If not, weeds like alcoholism, isolation, depression, and divorce can creep up and take over.

A Holistic Approach to Retirement

If people want to flourish and thrive in retirement, they need a much more holistic approach to retirement that includes fertilizer for all the key areas of a retirement, not just the financial ones. 

Create a list of things you will gain or benefit from by moving into retirement as well as a list of things you might lose.

It's one reason I created the Certified Professional Retirement Coach designation and Retirement Coaches Association. Both serve as the core foundation for a growing industry targeted at helping people make better transitions. 

For too long, people have been trained that retirement is primarily a financial event and that the other more personal pieces will simply fall into place over time. But that simply isn't true, in fact it's the non-financial pieces that need the most nurturing and care.

If you're getting ready to transplant yourself into retirement, here are a few things to help make sure you blossom rather than wilt.  

  • Take some time to write down what a perfect day and perfect week might look like for you. Many people find it easy to figure out that perfect day, but it can be a little more difficult to extrapolate that out into as week. This exercise helps you begin to see how much time you really have to fill and the things you have in place to accomplish that
  • Create a list of things you will gain or benefit from by moving into retirement as well as a list of things you might lose. Many people get excited about gains such as more time and freedom, but don’t realize they lose aspects of routine, purpose, social interaction, and physical activity. By knowing what you will gain and lose, you can plan to create replacements so you’re not in your garden alone. 
  • Take a look at your social network. It’s not uncommon to have your workplace friends and colleagues represent a major part of your overall social life. While people may have the best of intentions to keep the network engaged, some of the common bond that has brought you and kept you together can wither away with retirement, so it's important to also seek additional outlets. 
Robert Laura is a bestselling author, nationally syndicated columnist and founder of the Retirement Coaches Association and RetirementProject.org. He is a seasoned conference speaker and trainer as well as a pioneer in “The New Era Of Retirement” which focuses on the non-financial aspects of life after work. He can be contacted at [email protected]. Read More
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