On Second Thought
with Alan Spear
Since retiring on Aug. 2, I’ve been thinking about writing on the experience, but wanted to wait at least a few months to let it settle in.
Retirement is, of course, a highly individualized experience, and I would not presume to have some brilliant insight of how it will impact everyone, but there are some generic issues that cross most boundaries and should be discussed.
First of all, who are you? If you get up in the morning, sigh a few times, and head off to a job that you don’t really want to do anymore, leaving your job may not be too difficult. If you have a passion for your job; love what you do and the people you work with, leaving the job may be painful. Either way, it’s important to think about whether you are “leaving from” or “going to” retirement. They may sound like the same thing, but they’re not. If you are “leaving from” and can’t wait to get away, you may not have the focus you need on what you are “going to,” but if all you think about is what you are “going to,” you may not give enough thought to what you are “leaving from”.
Let’s look at the most difficult, “leaving from.” I think you can make it easier by setting some goals, completing them, and leaving with a sense of accomplishment. If you leave with a feeling that you should have done more, then you may be frustrated in retirement. I’ve spoken to a number of people who retired well, and all of them maintained some sort of focus after retirement. Some continue to work part-time, others consult, and some hit the golf course. It’s a highly personal decision, but all of them gave me some sense that they felt that “it was time to go,” that their jobs and responsibilities were changing and needed to be taken over by someone else, or that the changes they saw coming might have made them unhappy.
Even leaving a job you don’t like can be traumatic. You may not realize just how much you need the structure that a job requires. Not having to do anything on a schedule may be pretty uncomfortable for a while.
With both kinds of “leaving from,” the issue of how to manage being at home is significant. How you share space with a significant other is particularly sensitive. I had the advantage of working from home for 18 months before retirement, so we got to test out having me home instead of in the office in Chicago. It did not happen all at once as I was still traveling for the company, so there were breaks in the “at home” time, but we found that we had to adapt our expectations about lots of issues. The first day I worked from home I went upstairs from my basement office at noon and asked, “what’s for lunch”. My wife said, “I don’t do lunch — there’s the refrigerator.” I’m way better at sandwiches now. While this may sound trivial, it is critical to figure out how to manage space and functions that were the purview of one person and now will be inhabited by two.
Retiring as a process is, frankly, a pain. Dealing with Social Security, Medicare, Supplemental Insurance, Part D (prescription), moving your 401K, pension funds, exit interviews, etc., is time consuming and can take months. In my case, Social Security did some things very well, but made one mistake that took four months to fix.
I strongly recommend that anyone looking at retirement begin the process a year in advance. If you don’t understand exactly what should happen, it’s easy to get caught in the “grinder.”
I have met all sorts of folks who assumed that their job skills would translate into some sort of retirement job; part-time or consulting. For many this does not work. I hate to sound cynical, but the reality is that once you leave your job and no longer have the power to do things for people, many of your supposed friends will disappear in the wind. You will hear lots of promises; “We’ll stay in touch,” but few will be kept.
Give some thought to who your real friends are and with whom you may have a viable post-retirement personal or professional relationship, and, most importantly, make no assumptions. Don’t assume that 25 percent of your income will come from consulting work, or someone will offer you tons of money based upon your 40 years of experience. Either could happen, but it’s more likely that it will not.
I’d like to consult some and think that will happen, but I’ve not assumed anything. That way, if it happens, great and, if it doesn’t, then so be it. Don’t let yourself become desperate.
The very first offer I received after retirement was for an assignment that I would have hated when I was working full time — decent money, but months of agony. No thanks.
You need to define what you will and won’t do, and stick to it. If you have people asking you to take on work, make sure they understand what your parameters are and don’t vary from them.
I got one piece of very good advice from a retired friend. He suggested I take two months entirely away from work after retirement to “settle in” and make sure the personal issues were resolved, and only then make myself available as a consultant.
So, to summarize:
Spear, a long-time cargo security specialist in the insurance industry, now operates his own consultancy. He can be reached by email.
- Know who you are — are you “leaving from” or “going to” and are these in balance.
- Think about how to handle your home life after you retire (learn to make sandwiches).
- Assume many people you know will continue with their own professional lives and many of them will forget about you.
- Decide what you want to do after retirement, define the parameters of what you will do, and make no assumptions that something wonderful will just come along and pay you lots of money for all of your years of experience.