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Planning for Retirement Means More than Saving

You have bid farewell to your job and opened vistas of free time — now what?

By Chris Farrell

Planning for retirement and personal finances became practically synonymous with the rise of 401(k) retirement savings plans. Together, they made mutual fund performance, asset allocation and safe withdrawal strategies top of mind for millions of people.

Sound household finances in retirement are critical, of course. Yet many financially prepared near-retirees and recent retirees discover they aren't well primed to get going on their next phase of life.

Two retired men working in a community garden. Next Avenue, what to do in retirement
A good retirement depends on maintaining and creating strong bonds of community and connections.  |  Credit: Getty

Joe Casey, an executive coach and creator of the Retirement Wisdom Podcast, has written a book designed to help people think about how best to take advantage of their time in retirement.

"Time is the most valuable asset we have. How do you want to invest your time?"

In "Win the Retirement Game: How to Outsmart the 9 Forces Trying to Steal Your Joy," Casey assumes your finances are in decent shape. Instead, he focuses on strategies, techniques, and research-informed advice to guide people toward finding their goals, purpose and calling(s) after saying goodbye to full-time work.

Look at it this way. Retirees suddenly find themselves with plenty of time to do what they want. They have some 2,500 hours available to them each year that previously went toward their full-time job (with a good number putting in even more hours).

After reading the book, I caught up with Casey over the phone to touch on a number of his major themes. The most striking (at least to me) is the emphasis in the book on time.

"Time is the most valuable asset we have. How do you want to invest your time?" Casey said in an interview. "Retirement is a new phase of life after you decide to leave the world of full-time work, a time to explore new interests and interests they had tried before."

The opportunities for personal growth and social engagement are enormous, especially for those with resources to meet their basic expenses. We're living longer on average. We're healthier and better educated than previous generations.

"Retirement used to be viewed as a period of withdrawal and decline," Casey writes in his book. "Now it's seen as being a period of renewal, engagement, meaningful pursuits, and personal growth."

"Such change requires a whole new approach to retirement planning, one that addresses the emotional aspects and helps you get smarter about aging well."

Retirement Is a Transition

Serena Williams colorfully illustrated this change in a recent Vogue cover story in which the transcendent tennis star discussed life after she leaves the courts.

"I have never liked the word retirement," she says. "It doesn't feel like a modern word to me. I've been thinking of this as a transition, but I want to be sensitive about how I use that word, which means something very specific and important to a community of people. Maybe the best word to describe what I'm up to is evolution."

Casey's format is straightforward. A protagonist — Pete — is an idealized composite drawn from his experience with clients. The coach Rick is also imagined, as is Pete's wife and a handful of other characters. The title is a good hint that Casey frequently uses sports and sport metaphors to illustrate his points.

Fight Complacency with Curiosity

Among the nine hurdles to a healthy retirement in the book's title are status quo bias and complacency, while the tools highlighted to combat negative paths like those two include curiosity, creativity and social connections.

Casey taps into research to support his advice. Each chapter ends with a handful of takeaways and some exercises for the reader.

He speaks from personal experience. He took early retirement at age 52 in 2009 after a 26-year career in human resources at Merrill Lynch. The time seemed right to launch himself into a second career, which included earning a master's degree in gerontology from the University of Southern California.


While working as an executive coach, he found that many clients wondered what came next, had been pushed into retirement, or found themselves on the cusp of leaving work behind.

"I wrote the book because I wanted to share what I was learning from my clients and some of the obstacles they were facing and solutions they come up with," he tells me.

Major life transitions often take longer than expected, Casey notes. One reason is that it takes time to experiment and try different activities.

Exit Your Comfort Zone

Casey is an advocate for learning by getting out of your comfort zone; he acknowledges that is not easy but says it is necessary. Many of his clients have become experts in their jobs over the years and "they've gotten very far from the experience of trying something new," he says. "They have been the expert."

There are a lot of mental and physical benefits that come from trying new activities or perhaps returning to something you enjoyed when younger. (In the book, picking up a guitar and playing basketball are two examples.)

Part of the process of developing a rich next chapter is becoming comfortable with being uncomfortable. Casey followed his own advice to step away from the familiar. "Writing the book was a step out of my comfort zone," he says.

Explore Many Options

An experimental mindset also helps ease the pressure that many retirees feel to come up with the One Big Thing that delivers purpose and a calling. Retirees often find during their explorations that they land on several meaningful activities, a portfolio of interests, which often includes some work.

The outcome shouldn't be a surprise since most of us are not one-dimensional. We've long enjoyed a variety of pursuits. "It's a multipurpose retirement," says Casey. "It isn't one big thing that they find."

"It's a multipurpose retirement. It isn't one big thing that they find."

Another theme is how much a good retirement depends on maintaining and creating strong bonds of community and connections. Work is a community, gossip the lifeblood of the workplace. Colleagues will care if you don't show up. There are people you like in the work community and people you don't.

Retirees leave behind a complex web of connections and relationships when they exit a workplace. Thinking about ways to avoid loneliness is critical to building a multipurpose retirement. The time spent building a socially rich and well-connected retirement is well worth the effort. "Recreating community is hard," says Casey.

Think evolution. Not retirement.

Photograph of Chris Farrell
Chris Farrell is senior economics contributor for American Public Media's Marketplace. An award-winning journalist, he is author of the books "Purpose and a Paycheck:  Finding Meaning, Money and Happiness in the Second Half of Life" and "Unretirement: How Baby Boomers Are Changing the Way We Think About Work, Community and the Good Life." Read More
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