You’re not the first to embark on this stage of the journey. Learn from the experience of others.
Dr James Nininger served as President and CEO of The Conference Board of Canada for over 20 years, in addition to other high-level roles. He undertook studies to identify the skills used by successful senior executives as they planned for or transitioned to retirement, so that others could learn from the lessons. (A few were still in their thirties.) He did this partly by reviewing the literature and partly by personally interviewing more than 100 people, mostly people he had come to know in his career, who agreed enthusiastically to participate in the study. He published separate reports on private and public sector examples. In this post I’ll summarize my interpretation of the key conclusions from his second report , dealing with the public sector, but frankly they apply broadly, regardless of sector or even of degree of business seniority.
He doesn’t deal with financial planning. There’s lots of information available about that. But he does say that even these senior interviewees said that financial planning is important and were surprised at how few people knew their financial position, even within a couple of years of retirement.
Dr Nininger identified six key lessons. They’re all linked, of course, even if inevitably they’re presented separately.
- View retirement as part of a journey, not as a destination. Think of yourself as a traveler, still on the road: that was the approach of those who seemed most contented in retirement. Worse, viewing retirement as a destination potentially takes you off the track.
- Get a life while you are still working. It’s not enough to think you’ll start to do that after you stop working. You need to develop that life while you’re working: time for family and friends, looking after your health, that sort of thing. Life during your working years shouldn’t be to the exclusion of all else.
- Be prepared for leaving – it happens sooner or later. Dr Nininger expresses this idea dramatically: “Being blind-sided by retirement is like standing in the middle of a freeway and being surprised when you are hit by a car.”
- Cut yourself some slack after leaving. In other words, take a breath, take a break, give yourself some downtime. This is a good way to create the opportunity to review your perspective on life and continue the journey happily.
- Renew and rediscover relationships on your journey. This ties very much into getting a life while you’re working. Now you have some more time, giving you the opportunity to renew and refresh your relationships. Otherwise there could a big void, if your life has focused on your work relationships.
- Make the most of this phase of your life. You can make it not just the most important part; you can make it the most fulfilling part.
You’ll recognize why I like his lessons so much. They are entirely consistent with the lessons I put forward on the happiness part of this tour – I won’t even bother to point out the posts that echo and expand on them – but he assembles them so succinctly and expresses them so clearly that I have enjoyed focusing on him in this post.
By the way, even though the lessons are capable of being expressed simply, that doesn’t mean that everyone is aware of them or follows them.
Dr Nininger says that most who make the transition from full-time work do so smoothly. But “most” isn’t the same as “all.” He says that research indicates that up to 30% of retirees have difficulties adjusting to this new phase of their lives.
Who are these 30%? Typically the greatest difficulties are experienced by those who view work as central to their identity and have not much of a life outside it, with poor social networks. If they aren’t flexible in dealing with change, that makes it particularly difficult to cut the psychological attachment to their former jobs. Imagine, then, if they experience forced retirement. You can see that I’m virtually pushing all the characteristics onto a single imaginary individual, but you’ll get the idea that any of these characteristics can cause problems.
What kind of problems? “Denial, fear, boredom, feelings of uselessness, stress, physical illness, depression, and, in extreme cases, suicidal tendencies and death.” Note to myself: remember to write posts that could suggest a possible starting point for those experiencing serious transition difficulties.
Let me not end with the problems of the 30%. Let me rather remind you that 70% make the transition successfully, and that their path potentially leads to the best phase of their life.
Six lessons have enabled 70% of people in this survey make a smooth transition from full-time work. Follow them and you won’t be one of the other 30%.
Quick note: You’ll have noticed that, this quarter, I have focused on issues related to the transition from Life One to Life Two. In the new year I’ll switch my focus, and tackle issues dealing with finance and investment.
I have written about retirement planning before and some of that material also relates to topics or issues that are being discussed here. Where relevant I draw on material from three sources: The Retirement Plan Solution (co-authored with Bob Collie and Matt Smith, published by John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2009), my foreword to Someday Rich (by Timothy Noonan and Matt Smith, also published by Wiley, 2012), and my occasional column The Art of Investment in the FT Money supplement of The Financial Times, published in the UK. I am grateful to the other authors and to The Financial Times for permission to use the material here.