retire-fullwarren-headshotBy Michael Warren

Paul is a financially independent businessman who took early retirement at sixty. He bought the silver BMW sports car he'd always wanted and a new set of golf clubs.

Like many people, Paul had spent more time planning his next vacation than he did thinking about his retirement.

After six months of playing golf, driving with the top down and a Caribbean holiday, Paul slipped into bouts of emptiness and depression. He began drinking more than usual to submerge these unexpected feelings.

His finally saw a counselor and discovered a successful retirement is about more than having enough money. Of course there are financial minimums needed to retire. But the key to a fulfilling "rest of your life" is an examination of who you want to be next and the planning needed to reinvent yourself.

Psychologist Ken Dychtwald says, "About half of today's retirees are quite miserable in their retirement years." And, he stresses those who leave retirement planning until after they retire often severely restrict their future lifestyle options.

So, what do retirement planners suggest to ensure a rewarding next phase of life?

Determine what really matters to you. Ask yourself, "Who do I want to be next?" Retirement is an opportunity to pursue interests that were put aside when you worked full-time.

Financial planning advisor Wes Moss says one should find at least three core pursuits. "Core pursuits are like hobbies on steroids. They are things you are absolutely passionate about and challenge you." They are highly social, active and generally involve other people.

It's important to have a well-defined understanding of your purpose in life.

The work world provided that sense of direction. Retirement is an opportunity to develop a clear path to a new life.

Be ready for an emotional transition. Often your job defines who you are. After you leave the workforce you lose part of your identity. When people ask you "what do you do?" and you reply "I'm retired" it can make you feel less relevant, less worthy.

But if you've already identified who you want to be you're able to answer, "I'm part of the committee for the new library" or "I'm back in school studying music." Having a new purpose helps you to maintain a feeling of self-worth.

Retirement also means a transition for your spouse or partner. Make plans together that respond to both your emotional and physical needs.

Don't retire too early. It can be a symbol of success, a chance for early freedom and independence.But what you love to do on vacation at 50 is not necessarily what will fulfill you for decades of retirement.

Jumping from full-time work directly into full-time 'vacation-mode' is filled with pitfalls. It's dangerous for high-status-workaholics to go cold turkey from work to 24/7 stay-at-home retirement.

As with Paul, a debilitating identity crisis can follow. The advice from retirement counsellors? Start working on your transition plan years before retirement. You are ready to retire when you know who you want to be "after work."

Consider where you want to live. Feeling comfortable in your current community where you have a doctor, friends, and a social life is a plus. But your "next life plan" may work best elsewhere.

Does it call for you to be closer to your grandchildren, new business or education opportunities or warmer weather? Also, moving to a low-cost, amenities-rich, smaller community can mean more disposable income.

Keep healthy. With longer life spans, the average Canadian will spend 20 to 30 years in semi or full retirement. An enjoyable retirement means keeping in shape, both emotionally and physically. Eat well, exercise and check your mood regularly. If you feel you're falling into senior depression, see your doctor.

Retirement counselor Sharon O'Brian says "When you're feeling good, it's easier to stay positive and open to new experiences." She also reminds us to keep our minds sharp by replacing the intellectual stimulation of the workplace with other mental challenges. Use it or lose it.

Have a financial plan. Financial security in retirement means taking action decades before you retire.

Nearly 30 per cent of young adults in Canada haven't started saving for retirement. Only half of us are taking advantage of registered retirement savings plans.

Whatever your life choices, you'll need a financial plan that supports those choices.

O'Brian says, "While you're thinking about how much money you'll need in retirement, think about what you want your life to look like and how you want to feel." If you can't afford to retire yet there is the option of working part time in a new job that supports your next life purpose.

Living longer means planning for a longer retirement. Try to stitch together income from a variety of sources including the Canada Pension Plan, RRSPs, a Tax Free Savings Account, rental properties, investments and part-time work.

According to Wes Moss, the happiest retirees have paid off their mortgage or have a plan to pay off all their debts over five years. This gives them the financial freedom to spend their money on things that enhance their new life direction.

Finally, the common thread through all this advice is start early with an examination of who you want to be next, and how you plan to make the new you happen.

R. Michael Warren is a former corporate director, Ontario deputy minister, TTC chief general manager and Canada Post CEO. [email protected]



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