A few days ago I had the privilege of attending a ‘retirement reflections’ seminar that was presented by five former colleagues and their spouses. They were presenting to about a dozen people who were working in similar leadership roles in child protection agencies and who were in the happy position of contemplating retirement within the next few months. Each of the couples spoke for about 20 minutes with comments on the transition from ‘work’ to ‘retirement’. Interestingly, nobody spoke of missing the the pressure cooker world of child welfare — a world that had pre-occupied each of them for their whole careers!
What they spoke about was how they had made a new life for themselves. There were some common themes and these are the themes that every retirement coach discusses:
- Stay engaged. Types of engagement that were discussed included family connections, church connections, community involvement, and service clubs. Continuing involvement in professional life through consulting was a method that one person chose. Another was regularly involved in church activities. Another spent time with each of his five children every week. The common thread was that each day brought some activity that created a sense of purpose and fulfilled social needs.
- Have a plan. Each of the presenters noted that they had begun to plan for their retirement for several years prior to leaving their work lives. Planning included the usual financial projections but as importantly, included plans for how time would be used. All had asked the question ‘where will we live?’ and ‘how will we spend our days?’ One couple described their lives as snowbirds spending summers in Ontario and winters in Florida. Another couple described the joys of staying in the house that they had occupied for all of their married life together and continuing with routines that were comfortable and comforting. Another couple had de-cluttered, sold the big house, and moved to a low-maintenance apartment to enable them to travel for months at a stretch.
- Tend to your relationships. Accompanied with jokes and loving stories, the couples described the importance of adjusting to more ‘together’ time. The need to learn new ways to be together and to enjoy the rhythms of daily life was emphasized. One couple spoke of their love of reading and described their own private book club discussing the books they had each read and marveling at the different perspectives of each partner. Respect for mutual roles in the relationship was a theme — along with capacity to evolve into new roles. Many of the speakers were grandparents and spoke of the joy of spending time with grand children.
- Explore new activities. Acknowledgement that the world is big with many new experiences, hobbies and places to explore was seen as an important mindset. While travel is assumed to be the method for learning about the world, many of the couples had found excitement in exploring their own city. One couple spoke of learning new things together and finally having enough time to spend on hobbies that had been neglected during years devoted to career building. Learning and growing together was cited as one of the ways of keeping the couple relationship strong.
- Manage your health. The importance of moderate physical exercise as a means of staying healthy and happy was another theme in the presentations. Spouses often shared similar physical activities including gardening, bicycling, walking, golf and tennis. There was recognition that health could not be taken for granted and that illness could occur at any time. Some of the couples had already faced major health problems. This led to the logical conclusion that no day should be wasted and that living life to its fullest was an important goal in retirement.
- Count your blessings. The new life that each presenter found in the ‘postwork’ era was not taken for granted. Whether the sense of gratitude came from watching a sunset, from enjoying a grand child, from having time to cook a mid-week dinner or from knowing that a good pension would cover the chosen lifestyle — it was honored. Gratitude was seen as integral to achieving the happiness and contentment that led to success in retirement.
None of these insights are new but each has a nugget of truth. Perhaps the only truth is that each one of us will have a unique ‘post work’ journey. Let’s learn from each other and enjoy the ride!