COVID-19: A Retirement Wake-up Call

COVID-19: A Retirement Wake-up Call

We’re all eager to get back to some sense of normality once it is safe to do so without risking COVID 19 exposure. Yet it feels like we are living in a perpetual holding pattern. When talking with acquaintances who are working from home, some have expressed a sense of boredom as one day pours into the next. None of us could have prepared for what we are now experiencing!

In an April 19, 2020, Forbes article, senior contributor Chris Carosa suggested that having to shelter in place could be a wake-up call or preview for those who are eager to experience the freedom they seek in retirement. Some who are working from home or who are currently unable to work are not only getting a taste of living on a fixed income, but are also experiencing social isolation, a lack of structure, and, likely, boredom.

Boredom is Not Uncommon Among Retirees

We may tell ourselves that retirement will be different, but don’t count on it unless you have a plan to stay engaged in some meaningful ways. One study found that the typical retiree gets bored after just a year after leaving the workplace. Most of the retirees in this study said they spent their days reading, watching television, and hanging out at home. One in four said that “every day simply feels the same since retiring.”  And one in ten study participants said: “They were struggling to find something to regularly pass the time after just five months.”

Another report stated that many retirees “grow bored and restless early on in retirement to the point where it impacts their mental health. In fact, retirees are 40% more likely than workers to suffer from clinical depression.”

NPR reported that it is important to create a sense of structure and meaning in our lives, or “a self-organizing life aim that stimulates goals.” If we fail to do so, we have a greater likelihood of dying from cardiovascular diseases than those who have found meaning and direction in retirement.

Beyond Boredom: A Reason for Being

In a September 2019 article for Psychology Today, Utpal Dholakia Ph.D. talked about the importance of finding meaning by comparing it to the Japanese concept of Ikigai or to “have a reason for being.” Dholakia spoke specifically about the value of working to give purpose or meaning to life. He also noted that working provides structure and opportunities to socialize.

Beyond any financial considerations, working, at least part-time, after reaching the desired retirement age can offer opportunities for meaningful engagement. Some research suggests that many newly “retired” workers chose to do work that is entirely different from what they were previously doing.

For those who can afford some degree of risk, starting a small business can be an attractive engagement option for some older adults. AARP reported in 2018 that 3 in 10 small businesses are started by individuals over fifty. A 2019 AARP article, citing a JPMorgan Chase study, reported that only 8.2% of businesses owned by people over 60 are likely to go out of business the first year compared to 11.1% of 30-year-old owners.

Aging in Place notes that approximately 25% of volunteers are older adults. Finding meaningful ways to volunteer can have social, mental, and physical health benefits.

A Personal Process

Finding something meaningful in retirement does not have to be anything formal. Meaning can come from spending regular time with grandchildren or tending a garden or continuing to learn something new. Meaning is really something we must determine for ourselves.

Some retirement experts suggest allowing some time after leaving the workplace before jumping in and trying to create something new for yourself. By allowing time, it is easier to rediscover the things that you might have set aside while working for someone else. Just a “heads up” though – retirement—in any form—is a huge transition and will likely involve a sense of uncertainty until you adjust.

Personally, I spent about three years before I left my teaching position reading everything I could about retirement. I also became a certified professional retirement coach, which gave me additional insight as to what the retirement process involves.

I discovered that I still wanted to be involved in research and education – but in a new way. I write, research, speak, and do workshops on positive aging and living our best lives at any age. I am doing the things I’ve always enjoyed doing – but I am doing them my own way. 

I will confess that when I first entered my new chapter, I felt somewhat disoriented; however, I knew that feeling was normal and had anticipated it. As a result of planning and knowing what to expect, I have not been bored since ending my teaching career in 2018. Life’s good.

It takes some planning and some effort to discover what will give your life meaning. Now might be a perfect time to start exploring your next chapter.

This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Cindy Eastman

    You did a good job of researching retirement and then you planned accordingly. That’s great that you did that, but I don’t think most people do that. I have a friend who’s too frightened to retire because he can’t imagine what he’ll do with himself! So, he just keeps working and working….and working, even though he doesn’t need to.

    1. Paula Usrey

      I agree. Most people don’t plan or have a clear vision of what they will do with the rest of their lives. That is exactly why planning is so important. Thank you for your thoughts.

      I think because the COVID-19 situation was something no one could have anticipated, it was hard to plan ahead. There is so much uncertainty about this current situation that makes it very difficult for people. On the other hand, “retirement” is something we can anticipate and plan accordingly. That planning must go beyond financial considerations if people wish to live their best lives during that post-career chapter.

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