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Will I or won’t I … what retirement really means


Will I or won’t I … what retirement really means

Should I retire? How do I know if I will be happier staying in my job or leaving it? JUDY RAFFERTY examines the big questions for the post-work world.

Should I retire is a big question and one we should ask and consider carefully. Please remember that as a psychologist, I do not address the financial considerations.

Imagine a horizontal line. At the far end we have 100 per cent certainty to retire, at the other, 100 per cent certainty to not retire.

Every employed person is somewhere between those two points. Where are you?

It may not surprise you that I find younger people, for whom retirement is some way off, position themselves closer to the “will retire” end. One chap who was turning 50 said to me, do you have a scale with “200 per cent will retire as soon as possible” on it?

Yet, the closer people come to having to make and act on the decision to retire, the more they move and slide on the scale. This is understandable.

When you are in work you know what you have. Getting out is an unknown and therefore something of a gamble.

Some people tell me they will never retire. This is a goal that is unlikely to be successful, but I appreciate the intention. Except for a few, at some point people will usually have to leave work, with or without dignity, whether or not it is their decision.

I believe that, for some people, they wish to continue to work as a way of staying in the game … of life. Some folk have very rewarding jobs. They get a strong sense of identity from their work. Or they find their work fundamentally sustaining and engaging. I have frequently found this with people in creative industries.

Or it gives them a sense of connection with others. Or it provides a sense of control. Or it leads to a self-perspective of having currency and relevance. And of course, there is always the other meaning of the word currency.

Work provides money which provides many good things in life. We know that work is a way of getting things that make life good. But only some of these good things are ones you can buy.

The problem is that staying in work provides good things but getting out does too. Perhaps the more good things that work provides for the individual the harder the decision to retire might be.

For some the consideration is whether staying provides less bad things than getting out.

Julia told me with a sigh that she would rather go to work and put up with her demanding boss than stay at home with her equally demanding husband and resident adult daughter. Julia is close to retirement.

On our scale she moves between 10 per cent and 50 per cent certainty of retiring, depending on what is happening at home.

On the other hand, Paul could retire any time. He has had a long career, has adequate funds and a home life to which he is looking forward.

How does Julia make her decision? How does Paul make his?

One way of making the retirement decision is to start with the end. Firstly, acknowledge that you will ultimately retire. Who do you want to be as you move into that phase? What age will you be? Perhaps late midlife or early older age or late older age, or just old?

What sort of mobility and enthusiasm will you have for making a new life? What do you need to have in place? What social connections will support you? How purposeful will you feel?  Why will life feel meaningful? How will you be having fun? What will you be doing and learning and consolidating so that it takes you through from retirement into old age?

It is important to be able to answer these questions, to have a vision of yourself entering into and winning in this life phase.

If you work until you are no longer relevant you may feel great while working but not be prepared for the challenges of retirement.

Like all life stages, retirement requires preparation and readiness. This is why I wrote Retirement Your Way.

As the subtitle says, it is a practical guide to knowing what you want and how to get it.

Research has shown that pre-retirement education that addresses more than financial planning is associated with retirement wellbeing – no matter what your age when you retire.

 Judy Rafferty is the author of Retirement Your Way, A Practical Guide to Knowing What You Want and How to Get It. Available at all good bookshops and online.

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