Imagine you just left your job/business/practice for the last time after an illustrious career of 42 years. Today was your last official day of working for money and tomorrow, as the saying goes, is the first day of the rest of your life.
A week has gone by since your last day of work. You’ve been super busy, you’re still waking up at 6:30 a.m., still following a tight to-do schedule, so the sense that you’re no longer working hasn’t really sunk in yet.
Two weeks have now gone by since your last day of work. You’re still pretty much keeping the same routine, all the while your spouse keeps wondering what’s going on while hoping you’ll eventually slow down and begin to relax. And until that day comes, she’s lovingly and very consciously providing you the space you need as you transition to this next phase of life.
Three weeks have now gone by since your last day of work. Your daily routine has still not changed much. What has changed are the long list of items that were on your to-do list up until yesterday. After completing every task on your list, you now find yourself a bit out of sorts.
But not to worry, this coming weekend is the first time you’re going to see a lot of friends and family at a neighbors wedding anniversary celebration. You’re looking forward to the event. Until then, you’re sure you’ll find plenty of projects to work on.
It’s now Saturday afternoon, nearly four weeks since your last day of work. You and your spouse arrive for the party and you feel like you are finally starting to relax and decompress from a long and successful career.
You see a bunch of old and new friends and you quickly walk over to say hi. And then it happens. And it hits you like a ton of bricks. Your friend John stretches out his hand and says four innocuous words that rock your world: "congratulations on your retirement, Steve."
At first, you sputter a response, thanking him, then quickly add: “well, John, actually, I’m not really retired; I’m actually going to be doing some consulting work, yea, consulting. Plenty of work to do.”
John, looking a bit confused, says: “that’s great Steve, good for you.” You quickly excuse yourself, saying you need to check something back at the house, and zoom away.
Once you get home, you realize that was the first time since you left work someone used the “R” word when talking about your new status and it freaked you out. You wonder how one word could so affect you. You also realize you need a better response - a way better response next time this happens.
The above is a true story told to me by one of my recently retired clients. This story mirrors, in a similar style and fashion, many other stories clients have had the courage to share with me as they emotionally stumble through their first year of retirement.
So much is written about the financial side of retirement. The focus in the media has been and probably will stay on all the technical aspects of preparing for retirement. How to structure your portfolio in retirement, how to design a tax efficient withdrawal strategy, a spending plan, etc. These are all crucial aspects of retirement planning and form the foundation of a secure financial future, no doubt.
Yet it’s always the emotional and spiritual side of retirement that that could cause and has often caused the most upheaval in people’s lives. And for good reason. Many of us spend 30, 40 or 50+ years of our lives working. So much of who we are, our identity and how we describe ourselves, is centered around the work we used to do.
Then suddenly, you walk out of your office for the last time and you’re now just regular old Steve. Recently retired Steve in fact.
And although you did a superb job preparing financially for your retirement, the one area you now feel vulnerable in is around the “R” word. Intellectually you know you’re retired, you can say the word to yourself, but emotionally, being referred to as ‘retired’, well, you’re just not ready for that yet.
First, based on lots and lots of conversations with clients that lived through the emotional roller coaster of their first year of retirement, the first thing to realize is you’re not in Kansas anymore. Translation: life is going to change.
The change may be subtle or it may be life altering, but change, it’s-a-coming. With that insight, take the time to visualize hanging with your friends, relatives or former colleagues that are still working. From what I’ve gleaned from talking with recently retired clients, connecting with other friends that are also retired is pretty easy. Connecting with friends or former colleagues that are still working is the most emotionally challenging.
Next, practice patience with yourself. It may take a while to adjust to your new reality. After what feels like a lifetime of being identified with what you did to earn a living, you’re now needing to process that those days are gone.
When someone congratulates you on your recent retirement, short and sweet is the smart response that wins the day: ‘Thanks for that’, or ‘Life is good’ or the old reliable ‘Much appreciated’.
I’ve lost count of how many of my recently retired clients have used the 'I’m now consulting' line when asked about being retired, as opposed to the short and sweet response mentioned above. Again, if this is helps you manage and cope with your new reality, so be it. Just know that this position is not sustainable for very long.
Finally, the path of least resistance is found when you embrace your new life fully and unconditionally. For these brave souls, their mantra is financial independence (FI). They prefer and many refuse to use the word retirement. For these folks, it’s all about financial freedom.
These are FI people that realize time is their most precious asset and the most unrenewable resource of all. Instead of seeing their status and self-worth diminished, they chart a course for a life filled with abundance and amble opportunity to reinvent themselves.
Bottom line. Transitioning from a lifetime of work, where it was always easy to answer the question, what do you do for a living?; to no longer having that response at your ready, that’s going to take some time getting used to. So, as you enter the first year of your new life, see if you can practice saying ‘I’m financially independent’, or ‘I’m FI’ instead of ‘I’m retired’. It may just sound like semantics, but from what I’ve learned over the years, hearing real life experiences and stories from recently retired clients, it can make a world of difference as you navigate your first year of financial independence.