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How to Prepare Emotionally for Retirement

Certain days and moments in our lives impress upon our memories with startling clarity. Oftentimes, these mental stills and shoots occur during times of transition.

I vividly remember leaving the US, bound for Australia, for a study abroad semester while in college. Literal years of prep went into making that moment happen, and just as I embarked on my journey, I felt a bit confused, a little apprehensive, and unexpectedly anxious.

There was certainly a sense of happiness, of course, but so much of what I had been used to was suddenly upended. I knew this, rationally, but the paper preparation didn’t ready me for the visceral experience of stepping into the unknown.

Stepping away from your working life into the unknown of retirement evokes the same emotions: You’ve likely prepared, on paper, for this moment and have built a vision of what it will look and feel like — but don’t be surprised if it’s not quite what you envisioned.

Retirement is life’s greatest transition. Developing a financial plan is critical, but it’s also exceptionally important to understand the emotional implications of leaving behind decades of a well-crafted identity, purpose, and circle of social connections.

Reduce Anxiety about Money with a Financial Plan

The most common question we hear from clients approaching retirement is “Will I have enough?” We’ve all grown accustomed to income arriving in our bank account once or twice a month for years. But now, suddenly, retirement requires us to untether from these expectations and survive on what we’ve accumulated up to that point.

So how do you know if you have enough? The best strategy to answer this question is to build a comprehensive financial plan. In a prior blog post, we created the ultimate retirement checklist to ensure you can properly navigate your new adventure.

A financial plan helps provide the markers to keep you moving in the right direction, reducing your anxiety around money by shining a light on how to manage your expenses through the different phases of retirement. But it’s important that your financial plan remain a living document, adjusting to your new circumstances in retirement every year. The power is in the planning, not just the plan.

Reinvent Yourself in Retirement

Take a moment to reflect on the sheer number of hours you’ve devoted to your work over the course of a multi-decade career. You’ve experienced steady if not always straight-line growth, cultivated skills and relationships, and transformed your efforts into multiple roles through time. Now, on one single day, this fully formed identity you forged through the pressure of long years and tight deadlines suddenly evaporates.

This loss of work identity may crop up as you walk out of the office one last time, or it may appear unexpectedly two years into retirement as you sit idly by your computer. This feeling of loss compounds as your previously indefatigable drive suddenly has no clear direction. You lived by alarm clocks, commutes, and calendars. What now? And what of all those relationships, friends, and colleagues that were part of your daily routine for so many years?

But you are in a unique position right now: you get to fully reinvent yourself. Wanted to spend more time volunteering but never could fit it in? Have a hobby that’s perpetually remained on your New Year’s resolution list, unchecked? You can dedicate more time and energy to those hobbies and interests now.

Retirement frees up all those previously unobtainable minutes to devote to what matters most to you (and not to your boss or subordinates). So dive in with just as much enthusiasm and vigor as you gave to your career!

We recommend building a social plan that’s as comprehensive as your financial plan. List out what you want to accomplish through all the phases of your retirement. Want to travel more? Spend more time with family? Mentor younger colleagues in your industry? It can all be done, but don’t spin your wheels by biting off too much at the start. Make sure you properly budget your time, energy, and focus.

Avoid Common Emotional Pitfalls in Retirement

We often see retirees approach this new phase of life with idyllic images of endless vacations, relaxation, and tee-times. Sadly, six months’ in, the bloom is often off the rose. Packing suitcases becomes a chore, sitting in a hammock now hurts your back, and your short game is stuck.

Retirement requires adaptation, both in effort and expectation. You may find you enjoy certain aspects more than your work life, while other, unanticipated issues appear. And while the first few months may make you feel like a college freshman just arriving on campus, eventually life will level out. Finding joy in the small, simple moments and in your chosen passions will go a long way to keeping your overall happiness levels high in retirement.

Finding these passions and dedicating time to them is another often-overlooked component to a successful retirement. This tends to cut both ways: retirees either stretch themselves too thin by trying too much at once, or get frustrated at dull days lacking in activity. By defining your values and goals in retirement, you can better identify the opportunities you would like to pursue and outline the best way to accomplish all of them while still leaving time for leisure and social engagement.

Finally, retirees should still put their energies toward maintaining their physical and mental health. While no one is suggesting that modern work life is a panacea of healthy activity, it’s important to avoid taking on bad health habits during retirement. Retirement does introduce some new health concerns that didn’t exist during one’s working years. Incorporate regular exercise and proper nutrition to your routine, direct your efforts toward a small set of passions, and stay engaged socially.

Retirement Planning with Harbor Crest Wealth Advisors

You’ve worked your entire life to prepare for this new adventure. Now is the time to pursue your passions and hobbies, rekindle relationships, and enjoy the little things in life with those important to you.

Make the most of your time in retirement by preparing for it now. If you would like additional tips on how to enjoy every part of your greatest transition, sign up for our newsletter.