How to Prepare Yourself Mentally for Retirement
A 'Retirement Boom' author on retirement robbers and the 'circle of trust'
As someone who writes about personal finances for people in their 50s and 60s, I get a lot of retirement books. Most of them are perfectly fine, parroting the traditional financial advice about saving wisely and managing expenses. Some are off the wall.
But I recently read a new one called The Retirement Boom: An All-Inclusive Guide to Money, Life, and Health in Your Next Chapter that I liked and recommend specifically because it’s not about the financial side of retirement planning. It’s about the other side: the personal, emotional, and psychological side.
I just interviewed one of its co-authors, Catherine Allen, asking her to expand on some of the book’s insights and advice. She wrote The Retirement Boom with three friends — Nancy Bearg, Rita Foley and Jaye Smith — who call their foursome Reboot Partners. They've have written three other books on a similar theme: Reboot Your Life: Energize Your Career and Life by Taking a Break; A Journal for Inspiration: Reboot Your Life and Revolutionary Retirement: What’s Next for YOU?
“All of us are boomers who’ve reinvented ourselves for retirement and probably wont retire until our 90s,” Allen told me. The co-authors come to the topic of retirement from very different backgrounds, which is one reason the new book is so useful: Allen and Foley have worked at corporations; Bearg spent years in the nonprofit and government arenas and Smith is a career consultant.
Highlights from my conversation with Catherine Allen:
Next Avenue: Why did the four of you write ‘The Retirement Boom’ when there are so many other books on retirement?
Catherine Allen: As we did our research, we found that most retirement books about financial planning don’t address lifestyle issues. That gave us the impetus to write this book.
Let’s talk about some of those lifestyle issues. You write about the need to visualize retirement with a walking meditation. What does that mean?
It’s about: What do you want your life in retirement to look like? Go into nature not to talk to anyone but to really take the time to think about that question. Then, write down the answer. The results can be amazing.
People come up with ideas they hadn’t thought of that really help them focus on what they want to do. And this then helps them plan financially to prepare for it.
There are other ways to do this, like journaling. I’ve been journaling since 1993. It’s the first thing I do in the morning — a stream of consciousness — and it can help you decide what you want to do in retirement.
How does visualizing retirement connect to the financial side of retirement planning?
Wealth management firms are beginning to find out that it’s harder for people to save when they’re told they need to save a certain number or a percentage of their income. But if you help them visualize how they want to spend their retirement — whether that’s traveling or relocating to a home by the ocean or being near friends and family — that helps them say: ‘I need to plan for that. I don’t have enough money.’ Or to say: ‘I really need to downsize my home or work longer.’
It helps if you have a goal. That goal may change. The exact goal is not important. What’s important is to have a vision for what you want to do.
You also suggest a pre-retirement planning break two to five years before retirement. What is that and why is it helpful?
When we interviewed people for the book, we often heard them say they wish they had taken time off earlier to think about what they want to do — maybe three or five years before.
And then we talked to people who did that. They traveled around the country to see where they might live; they talked to other former executives who’ve gotten on corporate boards.
When you’re working full time, you’re so focused on work you don’t have time to plan. It helps if you give yourself a gift of time to talk with your spouse or to take an internship to try a new career for a month or three months or six months.
So you recommend trying to get a sabbatical if you can?
Yes. It can be helpful to have a sabbatical a few years before you retire. See if your company will allow you to take paid time off; increasingly, companies will. We also found that some people can get time off without salary but their benefits continue. That’s a little less expensive for companies to do.
Some people fear that if they take a sabbatical they won’t get their job back. But we interviewed 500 people and the ones who went back to their jobs after a sabbatical had a high success rate of being promoted and being successful. No one was penalized.
If someone can’t take a sabbatical, you recommend a ‘mini pre-retirement break.’ How does that work and what can it do for you?
It’s about taking your two week’s vacation and detaching from technology. Maybe go someplace, maybe exchange houses with somebody and give yourself time to think.
You have a chapter about something you call ‘retirement robbers.’ What are they?
A retirement robber keeps you from following your dreams. You envisioned what you wanted retirement to look like but suddenly you got yourself superbusy. Maybe you haven’t said ‘no’ to nonprofits coming to you and asking for your time.
Or retirement robbers could be your children or grandchildren. Child care is so expensive, many young adults expect their parents will be their full time babysitters. If you haven’t discussed this ahead of time with your grown child, you can be guilted into doing that.
Another retirement robber is procrastination. You had a desire to go to Italy and take cooking classes but you procrastinated and then when you finally had the time to do it, the classes were filled or you couldn’t get the flights you needed.
And what’s your advice about retirement robbers?
Set boundaries. Have conversations not only with spouse and your kids and family, but with colleagues at work and people at nonprofits who are approaching you, and learn to say ‘no.’
Practice in front of a mirror saying ‘Thank you so much. I’m honored that you asked me, but I can’t do it at this time.’ Have a ‘gracious no’ and try to say: ‘I can’t do it, but I know someone who could.’
Think strategically about what you want to do, as opposed to doing whatever someone comes and asks you to do. Say: ‘Thanks, but right now I’m focusing on three nonprofits that are my passion; maybe I can help you sometime in the future.’
And you say communication about your retirement goals, especially with your spouse or partner, is key.
Yes. So often, we think we’re in the same space with someone, but we’re not. Many times, one spouse is ready to retire and the other isn’t. Or one wants to spend time with grandchildren and the other wants to be travel. People talk about their finances and whether they have enough to retire, but not about how they will spend their time.
What advice do you have for couples who are concerned about being together all the time in retirement?
It can be a rough transition. You may need to communicate about how you'll share a home office or negotiate space in the kitchen. Talk about how much time you each want to spend with others, or traveling with other people but without your spouse, in addition to traveling with your spouse.
Go out to dinner together and share your vision of what retirement would be like — what would make each of you happy or concerned. And then find ways to make compromises.
We found in our research that the hiccups came for many couples who hadn’t communicated. People said things like: ‘You may be the CEO at work, but you’re not the CEO of me.”
Sometimes, it helps to have a third party like a counselor or therapist to walk you through some things.
You write that part of retirement is leaving a legacy. Why is that important and what are different ways to do it?
Boomers, in particular, want to leave a legacy. They want to leave a mark on the world. You can do that by passing on your values to your children or to your community. Or by mentoring people. Or starting a nonprofit with a mission. Or by leaving money. Or even just naming a brick on a walk for $25 at a university. Or it could be making a video or writing a memoir for your kids to read.
You also write about simplifying your life in retirement, which can mean simplifying your relationships.
Remember in Meet the Fockers when Robert De Niro talked about ‘The Circle of Trust? He said: ‘You’re either in my circle of trust or you’re out of it.’ My co-authors and I do four retreats a year and we made a bullseye of who are the people we love to be around and fully trust and can be vulnerable with. Then, the next circle was people we love to be around but we don’t tell everything to because they may be judgmental. And the third circle was made up of friends and colleagues who we go to movies or games with, but they’re not our closest friends.
And then we thought: How much time do we want to spend with each group?
When you do this, you might find the people in the center are ones you want to share a house with, but the people in the outer circles are ones you just want to go to dinner or a football game with and that’s it. Allocate your time by fun or passion, not obligation.