The key to a successful retirement?

As you might imagine, I’ve read plenty of books and papers about retirement, and I’ve helped a lot of people to make the financial transition from work to retirement. I’ve learnt that the financial aspect is only one part of retirement, and the non-financial aspects are just as important.

This weekend, I read another article about retirement by an American author, and it really struck a chord.

The author contends that:

To have a successful retirement, you need to start with a proper understanding of work.

It seems like a counterintuitive way of looking at retirement. But it makes a lot of sense.

We probably all recognise that there are elements of work which we can’t wait to eliminate, and they are often what drives us to want to retire. But most of us recognise that there are elements of work that are rewarding, and that we might not want to give up. Retired clients often comment on this – “you don’t know what you’ve got ‘till it’s gone”.

So, what should we strive to hang on to? Joe Kesler, the writer of the article, identified three non-financial benefits of work:

  • Work allows us to feel part of something bigger than ourselves. The work we do adds something to society, the common good. In some cases, it is clear what our individual job adds to society, while others may be working as a small part of a larger company. This desire to contribute to the greater good doesn’t just disappear when we leave the workforce.
  • Creative learning can be satisfying. We have all had that “aha moment” (not the band!) when we have learned something new or found an innovative solution to a vexing problem. There’s no reason why we shouldn’t continue to have this sort of satisfaction when we stop work.
  • Work creates social bonds with co-workers. In my opinion, it forces us to mix with people we might not otherwise talk to. People from different age groups and backgrounds can keep us curious and help us to look at things in different ways, challenging and often refreshing our views.

And, of course, work provides us with a sense of identity. Joe Kesler was a banker and was comfortable with that identity for 40 years. As the retired population grows, we do need to develop ways to describe the sort of retirement we are having, or aspire to.

Added to that, of course, is the obvious – work pays!

So, if work has so many benefits, why would anyone want to retire?

Kesler suggests that the most important driver for retirement is to reclaim the time that is lost to work. We probably all know of those who have no time for anything other than work, and retirement is often driven by the desire to reclaim our time for ourselves. It’s not only the desire to spend less time working, but also the desire to control when we work, which makes retirement look attractive.

A common complaint of those who are about to retire is that what they are unable to just “get on with it”. A combination of red tape and other distractions, such as toxic personalities, mean that it becomes difficult to focus on the main mission of work. And retirement starts to look attractive in comparison.

Joe Kesler suggests that the key to a successful retirement is to keep the good bits of work and dispense with the bad bits. He has six key suggestions:

  1. Carry on being creative and learning. Make sure that your retirement includes opportunities to learn, preferably alongside others.
  2. Do some enjoyable work. A fulfilling retirement isn’t about 100% leisure. It should include some work and service to others. However, in retirement, we no longer have to put up with the nonsense of the workplace—the options for enjoyable work are countless.
  3. Redefine identity. As we step out of our old world, Joe Kesler suggests filling the identity void with our new interests. He feels that this will lead to much more rewarding conversations than recounting what you used to do.
  4. Continue to build friendships. Joe Kesler suggests that we should build our retirement friendships around a hobby or a cause that we care deeply about. I’m not sure I agree with him here. I have found that I am stimulated and challenged by people who aren’t the same as me, though my family tell me I’m an oddball. But it’s important to continue to build and reinvigorate friendships and social connections.
  5. Reconnect with Family. Many retirees will feel that they missed some of those special family moments in their work years, and will want to rebuild these relationships.
  6. Eliminate the toxins. Don’t waste a lot of time in this new season of life with toxic relationships or annoying red tape. We sometimes had to endure unusual personalities in the workplace. But if we’re prepared financially for retirement, we don’t have to!

Joe Kesler is based in the USA and has a website, called “Smart Money with Purpose”. He writes some good articles, and is generally thought provoking. Worth a read from time to time.


Philip Wise |

Managing Director and Chartered Financial Planner

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