The Couple’s Retirement Puzzle
Aging: Preparing For Both Quantity and Quality of Life

Are You Headed for a Zombie Retirement?

By Joe Casey

If your purpose in life part of your retirement planning? When people think of retirement planning, most focus on the financial side. It’s critical. But retirement is not just about money. It’s also about time.

In my work, I see smart people who nail the financial side, yet put off the non-financial side. They’re financially flying first-class in retirement – but they find themselves living in the equivalent of a middle seat in the last row of coach.


Because getting it right – on both sides – can appear deceptively simple, but it can be easily put off. Until, you find that you’ve drifted off into retirement. You have enough money, lots of time and, after awhile, more boredom than you expected.

There’s a cost of not planning for both sides of retirement. You could find yourself becoming a zombie.

Different Mindsets

Planning for both sides of the retirement equation takes different mindsets. On the financial side, you have to think conservatively and in a linear fashion. It’s a left-brain thing. Increasingly, many of the investment decisions for retirement tend toward the auto-pilot mode. While it is certainly complex, auto-pilot makes it sound so easy. 

  • Automatic enrollment in a 401(k) plan.
  • Target date funds.
  • Robo Advisers.
  • Passive investing.

Just “set it and forget it.”

The non-financial side is a different animal. It’s more of a right brain thing. You have to think expansively.

  • Creating a vision for your life after your primary career.
  • Rediscovering your life purpose.
  • Adjusting to the loss of your career identity – and crafting a new one.
  • Replacing some of the non-financial benefits that came from work, such as social connectivity.
  • Discovering new and different ways to invest your time.

This work takes imagination and requires equal parts of vulnerability, experimentation and collaboration.

It can be easy to underestimate. After all, how hard can it be? You mean, Ill be freed from the daily grind? Ive got this covered. Golf. Grilling. Netflix and chill. Rinse and repeat. Problem solved. Nirvana.

Stuck in Vacation Prison

People feel that they deserve hard-earned time-off once they retire. There’s certainly nothing wrong with that. But problems can creep in when the vacation lasts so long that it perniciously becomes the new normal. A former colleague confided in me that time off was great at first, but then it actually became boring. He was surprised that he found himself feeling that way. After all, it was what it dreamed of for years – not working. But somehow he became “stuck in a vacation prison.” Something was missing. While he did not want to return to his corporate life, he didn’t want to feel like he retired from all of life either. After awhile, the vacation continued, but he was adrift. When every day is Saturday, you realize you’ve ruined Saturdays.

You see them at Starbucks. You see them at the movie theater. They all have that same look in their eyes. Retirement Zombies.

Step Out of Your Comfort Zone and Create Your New Life

There’s a better way that many baby boomers are pursuing, even though its been mocked by a New York times columnist, who advocates a traditional retirement life of moving to Florida and playing mah-jongg and golf.

Let me be clear. There’s certainly nothing wrong with any of those choices, except that they’re not for everyone. Some people want more out of the rest of their lives.

Is that all there is?  Is this what I worked so hard all those years for?

In his excellent book, Falling Upward, Richard Rohr an outspoken, controversial Franciscan priest, characterizes the second-half of life as being about a spiritual transition of connecting to a deeper purpose and meaning in life. It’s more about others, and the contributions you make to the lives of others.

If that’s what you’re after, step out of your comfort zone and augment your financial planning, with a vision of your life in retirement. One that’s right for you, not the prescribed traditional one.

It involves taking stock of areas such as:

  • Life – What’s your true purpose in these next chapters of life? What contributions do you want to make to the lives of others?
  • Love –  What are the things you really love to do? Who are the people you really want to spend more time with? (And not…).
  • Leisure – What are the things you really want to do for enjoyment?
  • Learning – This may be the secret weapon. What new things do you want to learn? What have you always wanted to take up, but never had the time?

If you’re satisfied with checking out to a life of golf, best wishes. In the spirit of full disclosure, I am an unapologetic, non-golfing “ambitious baby boomer”, exactly the type derided by the Times columnist. But I fervently believe there’s a higher level of active and meaningful, retired life that’s attainable with a bit of thoughtful planning.

Don’t be a zombie. Reach higher.

Joe Casey  is an executive coach, who also helps people think through and create their Second Act careers or other meaningful pursuits in retirement, at He writes for The RW Blog, a retirement planning blog.



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