A Happy Future...Retirement Or Not
Donald C. Strauss and Diane B. Burman
Here is the formula for “having it all” that goes beyond finances.
Posted December 10, 2010
Statistics paint a rather bleak picture for retirement. Even with the current economy in a downward cycle and unemployment at a record high, you can still create a happy, fulfilling future in your retirement years. You can have it all and the formula is not what the financial firms and magazines generally would have you believe…either save more, work longer, or delay retirement altogether.
So, what is the formula for success? Before giving you the answer, one needs to think more broadly than just how much money you will have and can it last throughout your remaining years. Obviously, this calculation is important, but more to the point, one has to think about the type of existence that would make you happy regardless of your financial and physical condition. For success to exist, you need to think more holistically and take account of the following areas:
1. The quality of my future relationships with family, partner or spouse, friends, adult children and even grandchildren;
2. The future state of my health and if I have ailments, how I cause them to have a minimum impact on my lifestyle;
3. The future location and condition of my house(s) and/or rental property;
4. My future desire or need to work for money or fulfillment;
5. How I would like to present myself to others, i.e., how I would present my identity in the post-full time working world;
6. The reputation, persona, or legacy I would want to create and leave;
7. How I would plan to use my leisure time…for entertainment and leisure and/or for service to others in my family or in the community.
If your retort is, “How can I predict any of the above factors when I have so much on my plate today?” You are definitely not alone in this feeling. And if your other response is, “I don’t think I will ever have the funds to retire comfortably and happily”, then think again! No matter what the current state of your finances and health, you can achieve a happy, fulfilling retirement.
There are 3 “R” Factors that will provide the conditions for your future success in Retirement. They are Re-frame, Re-think, and Re-adjust.
Re-frame refers to your ability to envision your future in realistic and also positive terms. Re-framing, in the case of retirement, means re-examining your future living conditions or living arrangements so they will bring you happiness.
Let’s take a really serious situation and see how this operates. Let’s hypothesize that an individual’s earnings have been cut dramatically or virtually entirely and that their savings have dwindled by 30%. No longer can they go out to nice restaurants, send their children to a great camp, or take a distant summer vacation together. On the other hand, they can still have fun and experience the joy of being together in different ways. They can buy food and go on a picnic to a local park, take in a local movie or borrow a movie from their library and watch it together, plant and care for a garden together, go on a bike ride or hike together, play computer or board games together (like Monopoly, Scrabble, Chutes & Ladders or Charades). The list is virtually endless on how they can establish a meaningful, happy existence together. What it boils down to is creating a “can do” mentality.
If you look at the seven areas above, relationships can be maintained and strengthened in times of hardship; exercise can be increased to reduce stress (taking account of ailments); housing can be changed to make it more financially tolerable; money can always be stretched or communal assistance found, and so forth. What it takes is picturing a favorable, realistic existence and then being mindful and committed to holding that future picture as a goal that could be achievable. In the case of retirement, the two most important objectives are to create a future that will include meaningful relationships with others, plus a daily sense of accomplishment, or even more importantly, a sense of achievement and fulfillment.
Re-framing your future life in retirement requires answering many questions that you could pose to yourself about what that future retirement picture will look like. For instance:
• What roles do I want to play with my family members, as a friend to others, or to my community, my church, and so forth?
• How do I want to be recognized and remembered?
• How will I use my leisure time for entertainment, learning and service to others?
• Under what circumstances and where will I hope to live or likely be living?
• Is there a passion or a mission that I feel needs to be fulfilled, and what constitutes fulfillment for me?
Simply stated, re-thinking is the ability to develop a plan (strategy being a fancy word for it) and a set of projects or tasks that will result in the happy future you believe you can realistically create for yourself. Re-thinking is a process of taking your future vision and breaking it down into “bite-sized” pieces you can accomplish. This process requires you to plan specific sequential actions that you will take to bring about that achievable, but possibly ratcheted-down future that you know can still bring you happiness. Here are a few illustrations:
• You wanted that beautiful house on the beach, but now that dream is gone. What about purchasing a small house a few blocks or a few miles inland from the beach? Or, what about renting a nice house for several weeks instead…no maintenance worries, no property taxes, and you can choose different houses or locations over the years. If you later come into money, you will have experienced multiple dwellings so you will know more about what to avoid or include in a possible purchase.
• The arthritis in your big toe has gotten significantly more painful over the years despite having had surgery to remedy the problem. No longer can you walk long distances or play tennis. Instead, how about taking up biking and joining a bike club as your new recreational sport? Alternatively, how about golf and riding in a golf cart?
Re-adjusting is taking specific actions to bring about the future retirement world you envision. Building on the two examples above:
• Go on the Internet (Google) searching beachfront rentals in different communities where you would like to rent and determine what is being offered to compare rental rates. Examine how big a place you want to rent and with what amenities. Clarify what you can afford. Visit properties online and/or, ideally, in person. Make it a “fun” project and invite friends or family members into the decision-making process. Perhaps, try negotiating for an early rental. In the end, with proper activity or action, you might find that your beach days not only will be far from over, but actually far better than you had expected.
• That nasty old arthritic toe ended your 15,000 step walks, but now you find that you are able (through research and planning) to re-invent a “New You”. After researching the cost of bikes, you bought a really good one for long distance trips. You traded in your treadmill for an indoor bike. You put together a mini in-home theater-type set-up to watch movies while riding indoors. With NetFlix and your DVR you can now see many great movies and shows. The best part is (after doing lots of networking) you joined a cycle club and really enjoy the others in the club. You are looking forward to that camaraderie during future cross-country trips. You are also looking forward to building up your endurance for doing a great charity biking event of 100 miles after you retire next summer.
In summary, the bottom-line really comes down to thinking “outside-the-box” about your retirement. The journey consists of discovering new possibilities, choices and pursuing various alternatives or combinations of activities that can truly bring you new-found happiness. As they say, “Where there’s a will, there’s a way.”
© Donald C. Strauss and Diane B. Burman
Diane (Dee) Burman is Co-Founder and Director of the RetireRight Center in Chicago, a non-profit organization devoted to educating pre- and post-retirees in the “Art of Retirement,” focusing on non-financial aspects.Ms. Burman worked for over 25 years in the human resources field, both as an independent consultant and for international corporations. She was also founder and first President of the Organization Development Network of Chicago. She holds a B.A. from Vassar College and an M.A. from Middlebury College Graduate School of French in France.
Donald Strauss is Co-Director of the RetireRight Center in Chicago. He is a career and change management consultant, having worked in the human resources and organization development/change management fields in Fortune 100 companies for over 40 years. He also teaches graduate school programs in human resources and career management at Benedictine University. Mr. Strauss has a B.A. from NYU and an M.A. in Labor/Industrial Relations from the University of Illinois.
Together, they are the authors of the book, Customize...Don’t Minimize...Your Retirement: 7 Paths to Explore Possibilities, Choices and Your Future Happiness.