The question “Where do you want to be 10 years from now?” often gives those nearing retirement pause as they consider their options. We tend to think that, once we make this determination, the rest of our lives are settled. Yet, your retirement can span 20-30 years – perhaps even longer – which means you should continue to ask yourself this important question long after you leave the workforce.
It’s something I’ve been encouraging my career transition clients to do for more than 20 years. Over that time, I’ve helped individuals and couples make informed decisions about their own retirement, and what I’ve noticed is people are generally unprepared to make this shift, and are overly optimistic about how they will manage it, both financially and emotionally.
You can see that lack of preparedness, or long-term planning, in the disparity between the age when the average Atlantic Canadian hopes to retire (58) and the actual age when he or she does (closer to 63). The dream of workforce freedom by age 55 – popularized in TV ads during the ‘80s and ‘90s – just isn’t reality today. People are delaying retirement for many reasons, but mainly because they simply can’t afford to do it, having fallen short of their savings goals.
Some studies suggest that Canadians nearing retirement today have, on average, less than half of their retirement goal in the bank, and more left on their mortgage than previous generations. Retiring with a significant debt such as this is difficult for many of us to manage, especially if you hope to retire before Old Age Security and the Guaranteed Income Supplement kick in. Despite that, many Canadians still envision a retirement of leisure, travel and the lifestyle they are accustomed to.
This is why I encourage clients to reconsider the rush to retire. It helps to take time to reflect on what is important to you and how you can ensure your health and happiness not just for the next ten years, but for the rest of your life. You want to look not just at the factors that are influencing the decision to retire, but how to make retirement work for you:
Why do you want to leave your job?
Do you like what you are doing? If not, there may still be time for a career change or an adjustment to your role or hours. What changes would give you the balance and satisfaction you desire? Often, clients tell me they want to retire and continue consulting on the side, believing that will provide them with stability and contentment. Yet, as a business owner, you are responsible for everything from finances and accounting to business development and marketing, thus increasing your workload without offering the benefits you once enjoyed. Ultimately, we all have our strengths, and want opportunities to use them, but how much will you be able to use yours when you retire?
What does retirement leisure mean to you?
Do you have inexpensive hobbies that won’t drain your savings? If they are fishing, gardening and golfing, then you’ve got summer covered. But what about the rest of the year? What do you see yourself doing during long winters? Consider cultivating new hobbies balanced with flexible work arrangements. This way, you have time off when you want it and gainful, rewarding employment that helps make your leisure pursuits possible. Maintaining this balance will also go a long way to ensuring your continued mental health and wellness.
Should you turn a hobby into income?
Perhaps you like puttering around the house on personal projects and you’ve heard you should turn your hobby into a revenue-generating business when you retire. There are times when this is an ideal situation. However, if you’ve spent your career honing your skills in a line of work you enjoy, consider drawing on those abilities if you plan to work past retirement. A hobby may lose appeal if you rely on it for income, particularly if the revenue generated doesn’t align with the effort required.
Where does volunteerism fit into your future?
Whether you volunteer now or not, you may see community involvement as part of your retirement. It’s more than an opportunity to stay active; volunteering is a way to remain engaged in and give back to society, making the world a better place. If you do decide to volunteer, and you’re really good at it, you may find yourself in demand to the point where your workload is the same as your years of employment, except without the income. I’ve seen many retirees replace the stress and anxiety of work with volunteerism, only to find it equally taxing, and find themselves further from their retirement aspirations. If you haven’t yet achieved your goals to ensure your financial security, can you afford to give away all your talents for free?
Even if you think your retirement plans and finances are all worked out, it helps to revisit them regularly to ensure they align with your needs, and make adjustments where necessary. The last thing you want is to feel trapped by your retirement, lacking the financial means to do the things you love. That’s perhaps the most important reason not to rush into retirement: the freedom you seek may be found in another more fulfilling way.
This article previously appeared in the The Chronicle Herald, September 18, 2015.