In many ways, the key to a successful retirement is the same as it is for a successful career: planning.
But in the run-up to retirement, too few of us plan beyond the numbers; while the finances may be in place for life after work, everything else about retirement – what we intend to do with our time – remains vague or utterly unexplored. Important considerations include:
Who will you be in retirement? What aspirations, commitments, relationships and responsibilities will define you?
Work imposes obligations on your location and time. What will your days look like in the absence of your previous customs and habits?
When you're no longer part of a work team, will you become an integral part of other communities – which ones and why?
Your time is now free– so what will you do with it? What kinds of activities will you find meaningful?
Time spent considering your future now will yield returns in the quality of the time you spend in retirement. In fact, the people who are most satisfied with their retirement report that planning is essential for a meaningful and satisfying post-work life.
Because so much of what needs to be planned is subjective (only you can say what is or is not meaningful to you), there is no one path or formula for effective retirement planning. But we can offer you a sequence of crucial questions that can help you arrive at a deeper understanding of yourself, and the qualities you will want to seek or avoid in your retirement.
What's important to you?
It may be helpful to think of your options within binary choices. For example, how much commitment would you like to take on, versus how much leisure and freedom would you like to have? Are you attracted to stability – or adventure? Some people prefer time for family and hobbies; others want an encore career (perhaps in nonprofit service) that applies the skills they acquired in their previous careers to new goals and missions.
What important things do you do now that you wish to continue through retirement?
You may have skills you wish to apply elsewhere, personal goals to achieve, or hobbies that you now have time to fulfill more thoroughly. If you have specific activities you wish to sustain, it's important to plan now to put in place the things you need to fulfill them in the future, such as adequate financial resources.
What new things would you like to develop?
New missions or ambitions may mean new additions to your life, such as a change in location, membership in like-minded organizations, or education and training. Dreams are enabled by thinking realistically about what they require.
What lifestyle do you want?
As you reflect on your grander ambitions, don't neglect the routine life ahead of you. Imagine an ordinary day – what would that look like for you? Do you see yourself immersed in family, children and grandchildren? Or enjoying newfound solitude for reflection and personal pursuits? Will your days be joyfully crowded with activities – or blissfully free of cares and responsibilities?
There are no right answers. In fact, there may be few clear ones; most people balance a mixed set of desires, based on their own tastes and appetites. What's important is that you arrive at the lifestyle you want, with the compromises you can accept. Asking yourself questions now is the best way to find answers for your future.