Who hasn’t fantasized about retirement? No more time clocks to punch, early-morning alarm clocks to set, rush hour traffic to fight, or uncomfortable heels or cranky early morning kids to deal with? Nothing but leisurely days to travel, enjoy your family or do whatever you wish.
For many Americans, unfortunately, reality doesn’t match fantasy, and a life of retirement isn’t necessarily a life of bliss. Particularly for men, retirement can lead to feelings of isolation, depression or low-esteem as their identity as the provider for the family changes. A lack of funds can make frequent travel difficult or off limits. Couples who have stuck together through decades of work and child-rearing may find their marriages suffer too when one spouse is suddenly around ALL THE TIME!
Like marriage, a new job, the birth of a child or any other major life change, a successful retirement requires – dare I say it? - work! Whether you’ve been eagerly awaiting retirement or have unexpectedly found yourself there due to a job loss, it’s time to get to work making the most of this new phase of life.
Here are some tips that will help “jumpstart” your life after retirement.
1. Don’t quit cold turkey. One day you’re working 9 to 5, the next day you’re at loose ends wondering how you will spend your day. If you’re approaching retirement and not sure whether you want to quit work abruptly, inquire with your supervisor or human resources department about the possibility of working part time or in a consultant role – or perhaps look for a different part-time job to keep you active and supplement your retirement income. One caveat: If you’re counting on Social Security to fund your retirement, find out how a paying “part-time” job might affect your Social Security retirement benefits.
2. Do lunch. Just because you’ve retired doesn’t mean your friends and co-workers have as well. If you had friends you enjoyed working and socializing with, go back to visit occasionally or make plans to meet them for lunch. Doing so will give you something to look forward to and help you keep up with the people with whom you once spent a good part your life.
3. Keep a schedule. If you’re not a morning person, there’s no reason to keep your alarm set at 6 a.m., but sleeping the day away or living without some structure can be demoralizing. Establish some rituals and make a point of keeping a schedule. Try to awaken at the same time each day, plan regular mealtimes and schedule times for other activities such as exercise, housework, social outings or errands.
4. Get dressed. No, you don’t need to “dress to the nines” again – at least not on a daily basis – but you also don’t need to spend your days in a fuzzy robe or sweats. Whether you have somewhere to go or not, just getting dressed gives you the sense that there’s work to be done, fun to be had, opportunities waiting. If those opportunities arise– even if it’s just answering the door to sign for a FedEx package–you’ll be dressed and ready. ALWAYS expect the unexpected!
5. Volunteer. You’ve gained a lifetime of skills and experience that you can use to help others in a myriad ways. Find an organization with a mission about which you are passionate – working with animals, tutoring at-risk kids, delivering meals to homebound seniors. Not sure where you’d like to volunteer? Senior Corp lets you search for volunteer opportunities by area of interest and zip code. Just do it!
6. Go back to school. If you’ve ever thought of going back to school but didn’t have the time or money, now’s your chance. During retirement you will have the time and at many colleges and universities you won’t need much – if any – money to audit classes, or in some cases, even pursue credit toward a degree. According to a US News & World Report, many colleges offer really sweet deals for seniors – in some cases, that means “seniors” as young as 50. Check with colleges in your area to find out more about good education opportunities close to you.
7. Plan time away from your partner. If time with your spouse has been limited largely due to evenings and weekends, finding yourself with him or her day in and day out can create stress in your relationship. It’s wonderful to have more time to enjoy your spouse, but remember it’s also important for both of you to have activities you enjoy separately.
8. Make new friends. A good support network is essential for retirees. While it’s nice to remain friendly with former coworkers, try to meet and spend time with other retirees (and old friends) as well. Classes, volunteer activities, senior centers and places of worship are all good places to meet and begin friendships with your peers.
9. Be active. Staying physically active is one of the best ways to beat boredom and depression. Plant a garden, sign up for an exercise class, get a few friends together and put in an exercise video, or take your dog for a walk. (If you don’t have a dog, you can offer to walk a friend’s or neighbor’s pet). Keep your mind active by taking a class to learn a new skill or by reading the morning paper and then doing the crossword puzzle.
As much as you may have looked forward to your retirement, it often takes time to adjust to your new lifestyle. If you continue to find yourself bothered by feelings of sadness or depression, however, consider seeing a counselor to discuss your feelings. With a little time and work - yes, work! – retirement can indeed turn out to be one of the best times of your life!
Follow Alexis Abramson, Ph.D.