by Denis Wuestman
Perhaps, you are starting to think about retiring early from your career. You likely have reached an inflection point where satisfaction with your current work is diminishing, or you simply want to do other things, or it just feels like it’s time. Like any major transition, an early retirement decision is something that requires thought, time commitment and planning.
Beyond the Numbers
When considering early retirement, focus is usually on “running the numbers”. Everyone that I know who has elected an early exit has certainly done the math. They seek to understand their financial readiness considering possible variations and “what ifs”. Once they have settled on their financial preparedness, they usually think they are done. Well, that certainly is a critical step to take but I would suggest that you need to also prepare for what you may miss from your work life. We can learn some lessons from people that have already retired as to why they continue to perform some kind of work in retirement. When asking them, they point to remaining socially active and/or doing something challenging among the non-financial reasons. For them, work served other purposes beyond just the paycheck.
In making any kind of transition, we all wish we had a crystal ball, as to what the other side is going to look like. In lieu of that, we can create what we want our next phase to be, provided we understand our personal “gaps”. When it comes to leaving work, it is healthy to think about the following non-financial benefits that work provided us over the decades:
- Social Interaction
- Sense of Purpose
How we value each one of these (what is most important to us) will not only help us ensure a more successful transition but can also help us design/choose what we do next with our lives. Recognizing potential “gaps” in these areas, before we retire, can save us a lot of angst after we retire.
Where Might You Have a Gap?
Social Interaction – We may have already established a great group of work friends that are fun to talk with and just be around. These are people that we easily connect with. What happens when they are no longer present? Will we miss the talks and interactions? How important is this to our overall happiness? Numerous studies point to the positive impact social relatedness has on our health. This becomes more important when we retire, as we don’t have our jobs fulfilling this for us any longer.
Status – It is not uncommon for people to derive their personal identity from work. Just think how often you may have received the question when talking to someone: “So what do you do?” We have gotten comfortable in providing the answer – after all, it’s an easy one. But does that mean – what we do, is who we are? Think about how important your work identity is to you, and, how you will replace that in your retirement years.
Structure – Work has been the source of our internal clock for a long time. It has dictated when we get up, sleep, eat and take time to relax. It’s likely most of us won’t miss the control work has had on our schedules – or will we? Think about unstructured days that go for long periods of time. How important is having a structure in your retirement life? Sure, it will likely be less demanding than work, but if you’re a person that can easily drift without structure you may miss it more than you think. Having a structure or routine complete with meaningful activities can provide the right rhythm to your retirement life.
Sense of Purpose – For many, work provided a sense of purpose or value in the form of challenges and accomplishments. We likely experienced good/positive feelings for a “job well done”. If we were lucky enough, most days we actually looked forward to “doing our work” and can proudly point to our successes. Once we retire, where will you point your personal value “compass”? What will be most important for you to achieve? What will the next challenge(s) be that will energize you?
For those taking an early retirement, paying attention to these key benefits from work is especially important, in not only the adjustment to retirement itself but in helping you choose the right kind of work activity you may want to continue within your next “phase” of life. One individual that I worked with on this topic used these elements to help him choose the type of part-time work he would do next. Having isolated the need for social interaction and status, he made those priorities for his next “act”. Luckily he was able to work as a trainer/mentor to other professionals in his current field of work, thus fulfilling his continued need for social interaction and status.
It is important to remember that you should be retiring TO something, not FROM something. Awareness of the personal importance you assign to these key work benefits, and how you close any “gaps” with them, may make your path forward clearer and easier to achieve!
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