Retirement Reality Therapy: Be Prepared


What most people don’t realize, is that preparing for our best lives post-career can take a lot of planning and effort. David Borchard, author of The Joy of Retirement explains that one of the difficulties many of us face when trying to embrace our next life chapter is that it takes a lot of work. That work includes letting go, picturing our next life, and developing new behaviors.

Before leaving my career as an associate professor of communication, I studied and became a certified professional retirement coach. I didn’t necessarily plan to do one-on-one coaching, but I did want to understand what was involved in transitioning from a career to retirement. I also began consuming articles, studies, and books on retirement, and gendered issues related to aging and retirement. What I learned did help me know what to expect and how to plan.

A Big Transition

What we still refer to as “retirement” represents a major transition for most of us. When we leave our careers, we walk away from familiar routines and structures. Also, we usually leave behind some work relationships that we value. Sure, we may think we’ll keep in contact with certain people after we leave, but those connections typically weaken over time. In addition, we usually lose any kind of work-related identity that we once had. Even if we can hardly wait to get away from our jobs, we will still be leaving part of our lives behind.

Some new retirees enjoy time to relax and play. Other new retirees choose to do some traveling and see the world. But then, after the retirement honeymoon ends—usually within the first year or two—many new retirees start feeling bored and restless. Until we transition into our new lives and our new identities, it is normal if we feel lost at times.

The Path of Least Resistance

Because retirement could involve a huge chunk of your life, planning for it takes time; yet few people spend enough time doing just that. In fact, some retirement coaches claim that many people spend more time planning their vacations than they do planning for how they want to spend the rest of their lives. If we don’t plan, we could fall into a rut known as “the path of least resistance.”

Health Matters

Imagine knowing that you could have 20-30 years or more ahead of you. How do you want to spend those years?  My guess is that you don’t want to spend up to half of your available leisure time sitting in a recliner and watching television. Yet a 2019 Pew Research Study found that on average, older adults 60+ were doing just that—following the path of least resistance and whiling away the hours in front of a screen. Once this lifestyle becomes a habit, motivation to do anything different will drop. In addition, if we don’t resist this path, our overall health and well-being will likely be affected.

One important piece of advice I will offer for anyone wanting to live their best lives in retirement: Take care of yourself! If your health goes, so goes your life. Ideally, careful planning will lead to an increased health-span where you have more active years and a shorter period of inevitable decline. And, while many of us will experience at least one chronic health condition, how we manage any conditions we develop can also affect our quality of life.

A plethora of research has reaffirmed what Dan Buettner researched and wrote about in The Blue Zones: 9 Lessons for Living Longer. Buettner studied regions around the world where people tended to live far longer and have a better quality of life than in other areas of the world. What he found was that there were certain commonalities in these regions including keeping active, eating a healthy diet, being connected to others, maintaining a positive attitude, a spiritual connection, and having a sense of purpose.

Communication and New Realities

If you are living with a spouse or partner, I strongly suggest you discuss your retirement plans in advance before acting on them. When living with someone else, both of your lives will be affected by your plans.  If you don’t want to be pulled in several different directions by the wants and desires of others, I’d suggest talking with family members as well.

Even with the best-laid plans, life happens. I’ve known a number of men and women (though it is usually women) who had great plans that did not include becoming a primary caregiver. Yet, that happens more often than any of us might expect. Our retirement years will not only require thought but a good deal of flexibility as well.

Finding Good Advice

If you want some direction, there is no shortage of qualified retirement coaches you can find online or on platforms like LinkedIn. While anyone can call themselves a retirement or life coach, I’d encourage you to locate someone with specific training in the retirement field. Regardless of their location, some coaches are available through Zoom. Hourly rates generally range from about $75 to $200+ per hour. Some retirement coaches have backgrounds in counseling or other related fields as well. Retirement Options, the International Coach Federation, and similar organizations can provide a list of qualified coaches in your area.

If working with a retirement coach doesn’t sound like a good option for you, there are a number of helpful books on retirement planning that address far more than financial aspects. Here are three that offer fairly comprehensive views of retirement planning beyond the financial aspects:

Your Happiness Portfolio for Retirement: It’s Not About the Money by Marianne T. Oehser

How to Retire Happy, Wild and Free: Retirement Wisdom That You Won’t Get from Your Financial Advisor by Ernie J. Zelinski

Retirement Heaven or Hell: Which Will You Choose by Mike Drak

If you are not sure about some of the financial pieces you should be considering, I would recommend reading The Playbook by Ben James

Retirement is indeed a huge transition. Be prepared. Know what you want. Take care of yourself. Communicate your expectations with those you love.  And be prepared for the unexpected. If you do these things, you are much more likely to live your best life and your most confident life in retirement.


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