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Celebration or Deflation? How the Stories We Tell Impact Retirement

Jubilación is the Spanish word for the act of retiring. This seems so much more positive and inspirational to me than “retire,” which means to withdraw. And while I don’t have a visceral negative reaction to the word “retirement,” like I do for the phrase “soft skills” (don’t get me started on that one), it does seem that if our later years are referred to and treated as a time of celebration, jubilation, and of even more meaning than our early- to mid-career phases, that it can make a big difference in how we get on in life after leaving long-term careers.

You’ve probably heard the stories or know someone whose identity was so tied to their work that when they stopped, they died soon thereafter. Maybe it was the 30-year partner at a law firm who left with no idea what to do with their days and missed the relationships they nurtured with their clients and in the business community, seeing no point when not the “breadwinner” anymore. Perhaps it was the business owner, who after selling the company, went into a downward spiral, feeling tossed aside and forgotten with no motivation to do anything else. Or maybe it was the paramedic, firefighter, physician, nurse, or teacher who ran on adrenaline, solving crises and helping people survive and thrive, no longer knowing what to turn to next. Perhaps it was the high-performing salesperson or customer service professional who took great pride in how they served people.

Whatever the situation, how we perceive this next season of life is critical to our well-being and longevity. Is it a time to finally do so many of the things you’ve wanted to for a long time? Or does it mean one foot in the grave, wasting away in idleness until the end comes? Is it exciting to think about or does it scare the living $#!& out of you (or a combination of both)? Regardless of if you leave your current situation by choice or otherwise, your perception about the opportunity to create something new, with many more years to go, will most likely be a big factor in having a good outcome.

So many times, we operate off of false beliefs, telling ourselves a story about what life will or won’t be like, using our great imaginations to conjure up all sorts of reasons why this will happen or that will happen, etc., when there are always things we can do and steps we can take to get out of our own way and take control of our futures, even when things seem bleak or we’re grieving loss: of livelihood, of relationships, of people, of what we used to be.

What’s your strategy to help ensure your future is a time of celebration and living a full life once your prior work is in the rearview mirror? It always amazes me when I hear of people who never think about what their days will look like for this late-career time. We hire financial planners to manage that aspect. We hire attorneys for estate planning and end-of-life documentation. We work with healthcare professionals to see after ourselves. We hire contractors to tend to our homes. Why don’t we also take time to figure out how we’ll keep active and fulfilled before it’s here and we come out of the honeymoon phase and say, “now what?” Sure, some people do and have it all laid out, and yet, so many don’t, it seems.

There’s an old joke that I’ve heard within my professional networks with finance friends that, “I married your for better or worse, not for lunch!” It seems especially applicable these days when so many of us are now working from home with our partners, together 24×7. It’s also a great one to apply to our “celebration” phase. How will you and your partner keep from driving each other crazy when you have more flexibility and perhaps are not working a traditional job? Wouldn’t it be better to create a vision for that now rather than wait to stare at each other (or the walls) and realize you’re unhappy? No plan is ever set in stone and needs to be dynamic with room for flexibility as circumstances change. That said, it’s not an excuse to not have any goals.

If you still want to work in some capacity, or spend time in volunteer roles, why leave what could be the greatest chapter of your life to chance? If we’ve been shown anything this year, it’s that nothing in life is certain and many plans can change in a heartbeat. Why not set the vision and let that be your guide?


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