Are You Mentally Ready for Retirement?

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Retirement is more than just not working, money and investments. A real retirement, retirement at any age, should have a foundation of love, happiness and joy. #earlyretirement #stoic #happiness #love #relationshipsThe early retirement community is alive and well in one of the greatest economic booms of our age. The government is working hard to create more jobs while the people want meaningful work and more time with family, friends and for pursuing other personal interests. Except for the most hardened, retirement is a goal that will be reached eventually whether you are ready or not.

The early retirement community has a lot to teach to those racing toward the finish line. There are serious risks involved, however. Without serious planning and thought, retirement can be hell on earth. Sitting around all day without meaning or purpose saps all joy and pleasure. Retirement is meant as a tool to explore wonderful new worlds filled with beauty and awe. Dream travel and the business you always wanted to start are now possible. You’ll have time to write that book; start that podcast; climb that mountain. Or, it could be anxiety, loneliness and fear.

There is an advantage to working in the accounting profession for three and a half decades. I learned a lot and noticed even more. Without fail, paying off the mortgage takes off 5 years (you look younger). I’ve witnessed it countless times. Retirement adds the 5 years back and more all too often.

It breaks my heart when a client works a lifetime and can finally retire. He is all smiles in my office the first year as he talks about no longer going to work. (I choose those words carefully because they make a difference as you will soon see.) When the focus is on “not working” problems soon follow. A year later when the client shows up to have his tax return prepared he is noticeably older. Seriously older, like 5 or 10 year’s worth of age in a single year.




Preparing Mentally for Retirement

Retirement is more than saving and investing. You hear a lot about those two things, including around this blog. So much time and effort is expended on frugality, saving every possible penny and investing in broad-based index funds. Laser focused attention drowns out all other matters. And therein lays the problem.

Preparing for retirement is a lot more than just money. With all the extra time on your hands, what will you do? If you love fishing and plan on doing more of it when you retire; good for you. But fishing (golfing or any other activity is the same) becomes the new “job”. Worse, you end up doing the thing you once enjoyed until it no longer brings pleasure. And you keep on doing it out of habit and no other options to fill your day.

Another downside of retirement is time with family. Yes, you read that right. When you are at work you have time away from family and friends. This makes time together sweeter. But once you have no obligations you will spend more time with family and that can lead to problems.

Retirement isn’t a bad thing! It might start to seem that way, but I’m a big fan of free time. Virtually all my adult life was in business and the profession I choose allowed me serious time at home with family with the exception of the two and a half months of tax season.




A Story about Pete

Friday night is cards night in the backwoods of Wisconsin. A certain accountant and his daughter trek a whole mile to visit with family and neighbors. The reason: a mean game of Sheepshead is in the works. Except for my daughter, we are all a bunch of old guys. The usual game starts at 7 and ends shortly after 9. (Old guys need their sleep.)

A neighbor, Pete, plays every week. He retired early and found a variety of things to occupy his new reserve of time. When he first retired he had plans for loads of projects around the house. He wanted to plant several hundred trees on his property. So, when work came to an end he set to planting all those trees. It took a lot less time than planned since he didn’t have to do it in the evening or on the weekend. He got out there and before you knew it the trees were done.

Planning is required to live the retirement of your dreams. #retirementplanning #earlyretirement #FIRE #friends #dreamsOther projects around the house and yard fell fast. In a few months my buddy Pete was done with his to-do list. And life is like that. If you think you have all these projects to keep you busy when you retire, think again. Unless you have a farm or serious acres, those projects will drop like dominoes.

Pete loves retirement. It suits him well. He had a rental property when he retired and kept it. Repairs and maintenance sop up some time.

Pete gets involved in community activities, helping friends, family and neighbors. It gives him something to do. He milked cows for a local farmer for quite a while. He hitches a ride with my dad (my dad always talks about retirement, but like his son, isn’t very good at actually retiring) just to keep him company when he has a long load to deliver.

Pete keeps busy and had a plan. But it didn’t work, or rather, he had to modify it quickly. The trees were planted and even odd jobs were not enough to fill the day. Of course more time was available to drive around the countryside and check out the neighborhood. It still gets old after a while.

Pete found a litany of things to fill his life with social interaction. Friday night cards is one of those things. His rental property is another. Tagging along with my dad or helping me get a tractor tire to Ditter’s for repair (we might be doing the tire run as you are reading this) is part of his normal routine now.

Pete’s original plan short-circuited fast, but he sat down and figured it out. Retirement has been good for Pete. I can’t say the same thing for many of my clients.




Negative Visualization

The ancient Stoics had a method for dealing with issues that disturbed the mind. They called it negative visualization. It works like this. Sit back and close your eyes. Think about the thing you fear and play it all the way through with the worst possible consequences. Illness might have you visualize permanent impairment or death. Money problems might have you visualizing the loss of a job, bankruptcy or foreclosure. Whatever the issue, you have to face it head on in all its fury.

According to the Stoics (and a certain accountant), negative visualization allows you to face down your fear and then realize it’s not real. And, if it becomes real you realize it really isn’t as bad as you thought. The Stoics would fast so they could experience extreme poverty. Once they realized it is a minor inconvenience they realized they had nothing to fear.

Retirement is different than a serious illness. But we can learn something from the Stoics and negative visualization.

See It to Believe It

Visualization also allows you to strategize your future. Sitting quietly with your eyes closed planning out your day is a powerful way to organize your thoughts and focus on what is most important. The thoughts don’t have to be negative. The negative part of visualization is used to destroy fear. For most people retirement isn’t something they fear; they actually look forward to it with excitement. Until reality sets in, that is.

Like my buddy, Pete, you can have a plan. You also need a contingency when things don’t work as planned. (Things rarely work as planned.) Golf gets old fast when you do it all day long every day, week after week. Even travel becomes a drag. Sure you can see exciting places, do exciting things. But the edge of excitement loses its edge after a while. I see plenty of early retirees. This blog gives me even more opportunities to see people up close and personal who really pull the trigger early. It becomes apparent quickly they are running from one thing to the next due to an underlying anxiety.




Action Plan

Achieving your dream of retirement doesn’t have to end in tears and depression. Retirement doesn’t have to create feelings of, “Is this all there is?” Planning ahead is more than just saving and investing. Accumulating money is the easy part. By the way, it’s not money or retirement that you want. You want something else. Only you can answer what you really want. Visualization will help you discover your true desire. It will take time. Do it before you retire and after. Your desires will change. The happiness and joy you experience depends on your commitment to planning and visualization.

Here are useful tools to prepare for retirement at any age:

The most meaningful life involves friends and giving. Turn your retirement into a gift. #earlyretirement #retirement #meaningful living #giving #caring #love Meaningful Activity: Pete planted trees and helps neighbors. There is a secret hidden in there somewhere. What Pete discovered was meaningful activities.

Golf and fishing are fun activities, but not meaningful. I love my life because I know I’m desperately needed every day by Mrs. Accountant, my daughters, clients, employees and the community. When I fall over dead people will know I’m gone because they were counting on me. Clients and kind reader alike will feel an empty spot. It’s the mark of a well lived life. My work is meaningful because it makes a difference in the life of someone other than me.

TV and other mindless entertainment does not provide fulfillment. You need a reason to get out of bed each morning. I never used an alarm clock in my life! I jump out of bed early ready to take on the day. I have an exciting life filled with exciting people and exciting stuff to do. Meaningful work fills my time and I have more of it to do than time is available. Busy is a good thing and a mark of a life well lived.

If you find yourself struggling to get out of bed in the morning after you retire you probably lack meaningful activities driving you to get at it. Use visualization again. Play through all the scenarios of things you enjoy doing and people you find a pleasure to create with. A part-time job might fit the bill or charity work. I can’t tell you what you must do. You need to figure that out and the only way to do it is close your eyes and think it through.

Mix it Up: The reason work became a grind is because you did it day after day, week after week, month after month, year after year. It got old because you did it too much.

My love of reading is legendary. But I would make a poor editor. If I was forced to read stuff (especially stuff I wasn’t interested in) every day, all day, without break, I would soon start to loath reading and want a break from it. That’s what probably happened at your occupation. The boss needed you 50 hours a week and after a decade you said {bleep} it! I don’t blame you. As the boss of my own business I like to take a break from the numbers periodically. I also pay close attention to employees to assure they are mentally healthy. I want happy, productive employees, even when stress is high. They should feel good about coming to work.

Once again we will rely upon Pete’s example. Pete planted trees and milked cows and serves as an elector when needed. He has a (as in one) rental property. Enough to provide a mild diversion without turning into drudgery. He slums with my dad from time to time and offered to help me with my tractor tire this week. He’s always doing something, something different. It keeps life exciting and that is a reason to get out of bed in the morning.

Build More Meaningful Relationships: Relationships define life and provide virtually all its joy. People make life worth living. Work provided a steady contact with people. With all the extra time of retirement you might be one of those people who cocoon. This is unhealthy. I would be one of “those” people and it’s the reason I don’t do traditional retirement. When I take extended days off I tend to get less done and mope around. I’m better at formalized work. Working for someone else I don’t care for—I want to be the boss. But I like control over my time which means I fill it with stuff that interests me so I’m always up to here with stuff to do. I like stuff, I guess, as long as it doesn’t take up space.

More time with a significant other is a double edged sword. Too many people work a lifetime to achieve their retirement goal only to find themselves so unhappy with the person they love they break up or end up in divorce court. Watching this unfold is the most depressing part of my job.

You family isn’t enough! Keep repeating that last sentence until it sinks in. Family is the ultimate of importance. But if you are connected at the hip or under foot all the time it will get old fast. Work provided people to communicate with. You need to re-build your network. I can’t tell you where to go. Only you know what trips your trigger. Maybe the church is for you. Others might like a card game or helping out a charity periodically.

Find people you like to talk with (not talk to or listen to). You have plenty of time so you will need more than a few acquaintances. Some relationships need to be deep and meaningful. Some relationships will be convenient acquaintances. Both are necessary.

Start building meaningful relationships before you retire. The transition is more painful if you don’t.

Give: What is the meaning of life? Plenty of answers have been given throughout the ages, but there is only one honest answer: to give. All the advice above is predicated on giving. Meaningful relationships allow you to give to people you care about. Mixing it up allows you to help as many people as possible. Meaningful activity usually involves giving.

Giving a piece of yourself each day make you stronger and more alive. When you provide value to others you will find a burning desire to jump out of bed each morning to greet the day. Every day is awesome when you make a difference for someone who can’t pay you back. Giving is what makes communities livable.

 

Finally, enjoy your retirement, regardless the age yours started. Retirement isn’t the end of work; it’s the beginning of meaningful activity. Retirement is nirvana or hell on earth. And only you can choose which one it is.

 

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Keith Taxguy

8 Comments

  1. Kenneth on July 26, 2018 at 10:45 am

    Well written, Keith! I’m 68 and retired for 3 years now. We golf 3-5 times a week, family, friends, golf leagues. This is just fine with me. We travel a lot, in the last 2 years, Italy, France, Germany, Florida (2), Las Vegas (3). We do nothing on the house, because we purposely bought a single family detached townhome with an association that does our lawn mowing and snow removal. So we can just lock up and go. We go fishing at a friends cabin 3-4 times a year. Unlike you, I’m not searching for meaning in life – I’m just glad my work days are over and we can just have fun. To me, that’s what it is all about – having fun.

    • Keith Taxguy on July 26, 2018 at 11:58 am

      You’re doing it right, my man. You discovered the magic elixir of retirement by mixing it up and cultivating relationships. Thanks for sharing, Kenneth.

  2. Phil on July 26, 2018 at 12:21 pm

    I think you might be projecting. Giving is what you like. It’s your validation – your self actualization. But it varies by person, based on their own psychology or in many cases, their pathology. Their psychology evolves from their nature and is shaped by nurture/environment (i.e. traumas, rewards, etc). That’s why it’s different for each person. But don’t get me wrong, your article is on point – people need to figure out their source of validation.

  3. Sam on July 26, 2018 at 9:21 pm

    Hey Keith, as an a accountant, it seems you’ve seen multitudes of situations unveil as you do the numbers that others have racked up. Have you noticed any patterns for the happier individual(s) from the unhappy ones?

    • Keith Taxguy on July 27, 2018 at 9:07 am

      Yes, Sam. Unhappy people tend to spend to solve problems while their financial problems crumble around them. Happy, well-adjusted people tend to think about the issue/problem and then formulate solutions. Money might be involved, but money isn’t treated like the answer, but as a tool.

      • John on July 28, 2018 at 10:05 am

        interesting. when I was at my unhappiest I was throwing money around like a fool. now that we’ve gotten back on track over the last couple years money seems to be my last answer when life throws the inevitable curveball and I’m much happier.

  4. Debt Free DR on July 27, 2018 at 12:33 am

    Keith: Once again your advice is spot on!

    My dad, 67 y/o, had a situation come up suddenly a few months back that almost FORCED him to retire regarding the building he was leasing.

    For the 2-3 weeks during this issue, he was very stressed out as reality hit him square in the face…..he may have to RETIRE now!

    When he called me that day, I noticed the seriousness in his voice and I knew all wasn’t good.

    Bottom line: He realized that he must plan NOW to retire in the next few years.

    I am in my early 40’s and am learning about future issues that I must address NOW.

    Thanks again, great post!

  5. Brian McMan on July 27, 2018 at 9:44 am

    I was once unemployed for about 9 months, and it was hell!

    My obsessions were there waiting for me when I no longer had to work.

    Its an interesting paradox, before FI I have no right to spend any time, money, or energy solving these problems instead of working. But these problems have to be solved before FI. Give yourself permission to tackle the handful of more important things before you get there.

    I imagine not having to work anymore is an emotionally charged time, one where you shouldn’t be making decisions. It certainly was when I got FIred! So working with your ER adviser to develop a plan is a great idea. You want to be in the ER on purpose, not by accident.

    Now that I’m done goofing around, if you hadn’t said something, I would have been absolutely confident that these people who plan for and achieve FIRE are more then capable of planning for and achieving life after FIRE. Why would people who don’t want to work be disadvantaged after FIRE? That’s where I am, and you’ve given me something to think about. Thanks.

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