By the time we hit our 40s and 50s, many of us have faced some life transitions. Starting and leaving school, entering the workforce, forming relationships and having families all change the rhythm and context of our everyday lives. For many, retirement is out on the horizon. It’s an easy place to park ideas and things to do later on once we have more leisure time.
There’s a lot of focus on the financial aspect of retirement —which makes sense, since most people stop earning an income when they retire. Smart financial planning ensures you have enough money to support your needs and the things you want to do. And while it’s really important to make sure you have enough money to retire, there’s another piece of retirement that doesn’t get as much attention: what to do with all that time. That’s why we want to take a peek around the corner to look at some of the life changes that may come with retirement and how to best plan for your golden years.
What is retirement, anyway?
The common perception is that retirement means leaving the workforce. And people have different reasons for leaving full-time work. Some have reached a financial or career goal and are ready to close that chapter. Some leave for health reasons, or to take care of family. Often, we associate the ages of 62 and 65 with retirement since that’s when Social Security and Medicare benefits can typically start. But you can retire whenever it works for your life—maybe in your 40s, 50s, 60s or 70s…or maybe, never!
Having all the time in the world sounds dreamy—but it doesn’t always turn out that way. Though we imagine what we’ll do with all our free time, our life structures often change once we stop full-time work. Some report boredom and trouble staying busy. Some feel isolated and disengaged from society. Others feel a loss of purpose and structure when they are no longer in the routine of working. This can affect our need to feel relevant. Financial worries can also crop up if you or a family member needs more care than you expected. And for some, the people they thought they’d spend time with are no longer present or able to participate with them. Talking about these challenges isn’t meant to cast a cloud over retirement—not at all! Understanding where the challenges are can help you mentally prepare for how you’ll manage the highs and lows of the next chapter.
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Many people live years beyond retirement. Planning for this can help set you up for success. So here are some thought-starters to get you going on your planning:
Before you retire…
- Think about who you are outside of work. Many people define themselves through their work: I’m a doctor, an electrician, a teacher, a small-business owner. When you disconnect from your professional identity, it leaves room for you to feature a new part of yourself. What do you want that to be?
- Pay attention to your health. If you’re retiring before you qualify for Medicare, you may want to sign up for health insurance to cover your healthcare costs. And regardless of age, we should all keep up with routine care and take care of health problems early. When was the last time you looked at your food, sleep and exercise habits?
- Think about where you want to live. Your living needs might change during retirement. How close are you to healthcare resources? If you are unable to drive, can you still get to your doctor, the grocery store, your activities and your friends?
- Consider a step-down approach. Bridging from full-time work to a part-time, less-demanding role can help test the retirement waters. Maybe you’ll do seasonal or consulting work, take on a second career or go on a sabbatical. There are myriad ways to step back the work while you see what shape your life takes. Is there something you might want to do part-time?
- Plan your activities. Adding social and leisure activities to your calendar can add structure in the hours you no longer spend working. Do you have interests that you’ve put on the back burner until you have more time?
- Create some goals. Like activities, goals can help create structure and priorities for your time. Do you have something new that you’d like to learn, see or do?
- Lean into relationships. Work typically brings together people with common skills or professional interests. Now’s your chance to create new networks outside the office. Do you have activities or interests that can help you connect socially?
Remember, daydreaming about retirement is not the same thing as actually living in it. So plan for that time by asking yourself these broad questions and talking them over with your loved ones. Thoughtful planning can help make your next chapter your best one.
Online health resources
Retirement is a big life change, and we can help. At Teladoc Health, we’ve made mental healthcare more accessible so that you don’t have to wait weeks for an appointment. With a virtual appointment, you can speak with a practitioner right from your home, your office or wherever you’re most comfortable. We’re here to help you get started today!
Published September 11, 2023