Retirement is a serious event in anyone's life, particularly in perilous economic times. It deserves better than the homilies, folk wisdom and aphorisms you'll find in many books on the subject. The economy is changing quickly, making it important to learn about retirement from the best available research, not empty self-help guides. Having an accurate view of the future helps you make decisions based on the best evidence, not someone's subjective opinion. Your goal should be to make retirement decisions early enough in your life that, when the time comes to actually retire, you'll do it in a rational way that ensures the best possible results.
For those of you who are close to retirement, there's lots of good information available to help guide you through the process. The decisions you'll need to make as you work toward retirement include where to live, financial planning so you'll have sufficient savings to retire gracefully, health-related issues, how to test the waters to see if you're really ready to retire, and how to handle the extra time you'll have once you stop working. Retirement is about the last third of your life. Approach it with the same thoughtful preparation you've used to develop the first two-thirds of your life.
What does retirement represent? For many of us, retirement is a reward at the end of a productive life -- a chance to rest and relax after years of work. For others it may mean the ability to start new ventures and do many of the things they always wanted to do, but never had the time or income for. However for those who don't prepare, retirement can wind up being a time to grow old with nothing to look forward to.
In a 2002 study of goals of retirement by age, researchers interviewed workers ranging from 20 to 67, finding that regardless of age, subjects felt strongly that retirement would increase their contact with others, increase leisure time and lead to growth and creativity. But will it? As you start to consider the last third of your life, it's important to decide what you think your retirement will lead to. If you have difficulty making friends now, how will retirement magically improve that situation? The answer, of course, is that it won't.
How do we know this? Retirement researchers find that a person's lifestyle at 50 is a solid predictor of what it will be when they retire. An individual possessing healthy behaviors at 50 will likely see those behaviors continue after retirement, while workers with an unhappy marriage or who are prone to depression, for example, won't be helped by retirement. Without help to change bad behaviors, they are likely to continue regardless of the person's life situation.
Retirement is not a magic cure for long-held problems. Be ready to compare your expectations for retirement with the reality of your present life. It's easier fix areas of unhappiness or unhealthy living before you retire than to wait until after you've left the workforce. Involving family members in your retirement decisions is a great next step. We sometimes believe that children and family members will let us down as we age, particularly when we are in need of physical and emotional assistance. But researchers in 2008 found that to the contrary, children often help out when older adult marriages dissolve, or in the event of the death of a spouse, which makes their input into the retirement decision vital.
One of the best things about retirement is having time to think about who you are, as well as who you want to be as you gracefully age. Did you always want to write, paint or become an entrepreneur when you were working, but just didn't have the time or energy? Now you can do it. Did you want to run for political office, or become a board member of a community or charitable organization? There's nothing stopping you. In fact, you may be surprised how happy people are to have you volunteer.
Most important of all, retirement is an opportunity to broaden your horizons intellectually. Keeping your mind active is one of the best ways to stay healthy. Too many retirees lock themselves in a rigid mindset, not wanting to know other sides of arguments or new ways of thinking. "I'm too old and too set in my ways to learn anything new or change my opinions," is just another way of saying "I don't want to because it makes me work a little." Intellectually rigid people can fare poorly in retirement, being ill prepared to handle the new situations and conditions that often arise when one leaves the consistency of a full-time job.
Remember: Retirement is something to enjoy and to look forward to after long years of work. Regardless of the circumstances you find yourself in, the right mental preparation can ensure that the last third of your life is by far the best one as well.