NFL champion quarterback Tom Brady retired last week. Some might say it’s déjà vu all over again. Maybe, but it shows that Brady may be the greatest of all time in football and the most financially secure by several orders of magnitude, but he’s a lot like the rest of us. Retirement just isn’t as clearcut as it used to be. We need to plan for longevity, not the one-time retirement we think of today.
Retirement has been defined in the public consciousness as if it were one of Newton’s laws of physics. A certain age, selected almost arbitrarily in the 19th century and later written into law around the world, has led many to believe that they have no choice but to retire from the workforce at age 60. Brochures, advertising, and popular culture reinforce the retirement narrative that requires us to make an abrupt stop and leave the workplace on Friday afternoon and show up at the pickleball court on Monday morning.
While quitting work altogether eventually happens for all of us, there’s a long period of life after your 60-somethings that has many rewriting their own retirement story with little to no guidance. In fact, unlike the rough stoppage of retirement experienced by previous generations, like Brady, many are finding that retirement life has many intermittent transitions.
Jim “retired” from the real estate business. Or as he puts it: “They offered me a package, so I took it.” He goes on to say: “At first, [retirement] it was great. My wife and I traveled for a year or so. We did the cruise with our friends. I have a dog. But, after a year, I said enough is enough, I need to do something.” Jim began to consult the industry that he knew well. He looks away and comments, “You know, there are so many times you can walk the dog and think that’s your day. You have to do something to mix it up. [the day] above.”
Many people retire because they are simply tired to do what they have done for decades. While enjoying ending that chapter of their life, some people sadly discover that retirement also means leaving behind co-workers, who are also friends. Ned describes himself as “clicking over 80 years old.” “When I retired almost 20 years ago, I thought that was it, I am tired of the trips, the trips, the headaches. I’m not sure I ever enjoyed my job. However, I miss people; We were like a family.” The New Jersey native admits that he never imagined working at 80, but with a smile he says, “I’m completing my second major. Who would have thought that an old office worker would enjoy working in a store! He is great. I meet all kinds of people, help them and make them happy. That also makes me happy. I will retire one day, but not yet.”
Of course, many work past the traditional retirement age for money. Dawn, a shared cab driver in Fort Worth, Texas, shared her retirement story. I ask him, what is your plan for retirement? She smiled, looking at me in the mirror. “Retirement? It’s funny.” Looking back at the road, she says, “I moved here to be close to my grandchildren.” She continues: “But I want to have some money to play with and spend a little on them.” [grandchildren] too, so I work here and there, when I want. I can’t tell you how many different jobs I’ve had since I retired. Retirement isn’t cheap, you know?
People are discovering that retirement is much longer and more complex than advertised in commercials, brochures, and financial planning guides. Retirement planning certainly involves financial considerations, but it also requires preparing for what you might do on the Monday morning after your last Friday afternoon at work.
Preparing for your retirement years means identifying the different retirements you may have in what has been incorrectly defined as a single life stage and experience. Maybe it’s a traditional retirement, but maybe not.
Identifying the alternatives and laying the groundwork early on is a step above the current idea of retirement planning. It is long-term planning. It is longevity planning. Whether your “next” chapter in life is enjoying some well-earned time off, being with family, volunteering, working part-time, full-time, starting a business, going back to school, or even starting a new career plan for the possibilities well in advance. Ringing the retirement bell on Friday requires some real preparation. You may find that you are more like Tom Brady than you ever imagined. Not in football, but in retirement. His retirement might as well be on, off, and on again.
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