• Wednesday, October 29th, 2008

It seems as if everyone writing about retirement wants to replace the word retirement because it has negative connotations of growing old, of not being relevant and this is unacceptable to baby boomers approaching 60. So, we have people urging us to “retire retirement”, “revolutionize retirement”, “re-write retirement”. Let’s call it something else like: “The New Retirement”, “Re-engagement”, “The Third Age”, “The Second Half of Life”, the “Unretirement“, the “On Purpose Retirement” and “Seniority-The New Retirement”.

A recent study of current retirees by Dr. Ken Dychthvald, author of “Age Power: How the 21st Century Will Be Ruled by the New Old” identifies 4 main types of retirees. While the study was sponsored by AIG SunAmerica, obviously to encourage financial planning and investment, the study makes the point that people must prepare for retirement psychologically as well as financially.

The 4 categories identified, based on many interviews with people 55 and older were:

The Ageless Explorers representing 27% of those surveyed are the leaders in creating a new definition of retirement. They see themselves in an exciting new phase of life, have the highest level of education, household income and net worth. These are the people you read about who are climbing Mt. Everest, jumping out of planes, etc.

The Comfortably Contents (19%) aim to live the traditional lifestyle of leisure. They are not interested in working or contributing to society. They have saved sufficiently to spend their time on travel or recreational activities.

The Live for Todays (22%) may be interested in personal growth and reinvention, but since they were always focused on the present and didn’t do much retirement planning or saving, they have a great deal of anxiety about their finances and are likely to continue working during retirement (can you call it retirement then?)

The Sick and Tireds, the largest group (32%) are in the worst circumstances, they are less educated, have fewer financial resources and low expectations for the future. They are more likely to have been forced into retirement because of poor health, are less likely to travel, participate in community events, or tap into their potential.

Since baby boomers are known for spending more than for saving, there is a real question of whether there can be a retirement in the traditional sense for many of them. The media, which focuses on the stories of the Ageless Explorers as defining the concept of retirement because they are certainly more inspiring, may be feeding into unrealistic expectations of many of those approaching retirement.

In my career as a financial advisor, I saw many young people who had unrealistic expectations of retiring at 40 or 50 with a comfortable lifestyle, but who had not yet saved anything. And if you showed them the projections which showed that they would need to save a large part of their income for many years, they were totally floored, and would tell you they couldn’t possibly save that much. Very typical, was one young couple in their 40’s who wanted to retire by 55, but were not able to save what they needed to save for their retirement and their children’s education, despite earning almost $300,000/year and were spending $3,000/month on credit card payments but couldn’t tell you what they were spending that on.

Perhaps it is time for people to let go of the words and images that box us into unrealistic expectations of what “retirement” should be. Instead, perhaps it’s time to view this as just another stage in life with a different set of challenges for survival and satisfaction – just life, of which work may or may not be a part. Those of us who work in retirement coaching do not have any judgement about what this stage of life should look like, but work with clients to help them define for themselves what they want for themselves given whatever realities they have to work with.

Recently, I was talking with a friend about my life in which I always seemed to be a little earlier than the crowd in what I was doing with my life. In 1957, I was committed to having a career when most young women wanted to get married and have children; when I married and had my son while I was in my Junior year of college, I had to switch to evening classes at another university when the women’s college I attended did not yet have back to school programs for women. I got 3 advanced degrees after my son was born and before I was 40, working full-time – long before the baby boomer generation of working mothers. I was the first woman loan officer in every commercial bank I worked for and began a new career as a financial advisor when I was 55 and my fellow advisors were 30 years younger. In other words, I believe we can and should define our own lives and not be bound by the definitions of others. My friend suggested that what we were talking about was “busting out of the box” living, going against the norm. For some of us, we’ve been doing it all our lives. For others, they may need to learn how. We talked about the “unbox” theory of retirement, and then asked “what box?”. In fact, the boxes we live in exist only in our minds and are of our own construction.

In my early 40’s I read Richard Bolles‘ book on life-planning called “The Three Boxes of Life and How to Get Out of Them” in which he described how we compartmentalize life into three stages: the education phase, the work or productivity stage and the leisure or retirement stage, but that in order to have a balanced work/life we needed to make room for all three at one time. This stage of life, whatever you want to call it and whenever it begins, can be the time we’ve been waiting for, with the freedom to combine all three: learning, productivity and leisure, until we encounter the next stage: real old age with its new challenges.

You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.
Leave a Reply