When Terry Lamb (pictured) and her husband retired to Prescott 12 years ago, the transition was harder than she expected. After spending a decade and a half working at an electrical company, surrounded by a close-knit staff, she was starting over. “I found myself in Prescott knowing no one,” she said.
She liked to quilt, though, and so she decided to go looking for other quilters. In short order, she found herself a part-time job at a quilting store and was thriving in her new community.
Terry’s experience is far from unique. The transition from career to retirement can offer a welcome opportunity for retirees to follow their bliss. But it can also leave people adrift without their routines, social networks, and workplace identities. Here are several questions you can ask yourself to navigate the pitfalls and opportunities of retirement and create an ideal-for-you post-career life.
What things do you plan to do to create your identity and meaning in retirement?
For many new retirees, a meaningful retirement will center on the things they already enjoy – traveling, golf, gardening, grandkids, and meaningful engagement with the community. Creating simple routines like walking the dog, or having coffee with your morning paper, can be immensely satisfying, as can trying out new pursuits. Prescott resident Ann Sult, for example, became an accomplished painter only after retiring. “It was an ability I had no idea I had, something I never knew was there,” she said.
Whatever you decide to do, it’s important to remember is that a successful post-work life that captures your dreams isn’t one size fits all. Find what works for you, even if that means experimenting some.
How do you want to spend your money and time in retirement?
Depending on what your plans are, you may need to do some budgeting: Big trips, boats and trailers can cost a lot, and so can gifts for grandkids, so make sure you talk to your financial planner about the best way to fund them so they don't derail your retirement. Time and energy are considerations, too. Volunteer work can be immensely rewarding, but as you're adjusting to a new set of routines, it can be helpful to start with small commitments to avoid feeling overwhelmed.
Are you planning to retire gradually or all at once?
George Ryberg, a Prescott-based consulting geologist (who happens to also be my father), eased into his retirement from his career so gradually that he is still accepting field jobs at age 78. Ann Sult, likewise, continues to teach classes part-time. Their approach has several benefits. It allows you to maintain your work identity and a bit of structure while opening up more free time.
“It’s just enough to keep me feeling like I’m doing something worthwhile,” Ann told me.
Easing into retirement can also give you more time to build the routines of a post-work life without the blank slate of endless free time.
Even if you do retire all at once, though, you can still begin to explore post-work activities in order to have a structure – and identity -- waiting for you when you get your gold watch. For example, you can add a volunteer position while you’re still working or take a community college class for painting or writing. One Prescott resident, Gary Cassidy, went as far as to get his MFA well before his retirement from the Army as a colonel.
Who makes up your community?
When you leave the workplace, you will inevitably lose part of your social circle. It may be worth looking into enjoyable activities to help replace lost connections. Increasing your engagement in church, joining a book or service club, or signing up for social dancing classes are a few of the many options you can consider. Here in Prescott, we have some unusual opportunities, such as the Over The Hill Gang, a group that gets together to build and maintain local hiking trails and the Prescott Tea Society, whose members revel in the pleasures of the high tea.
How much time will you spend with your significant other? What will that time look like?
It may be helpful to have a discussion with your significant other about how you'll spend the extra time you have together (assuming you’re both retired). Some couples plan to spend their retirement working closely together, while others are interested in maintaining their individual pursuits. Either way, it's important to find your way to a shared vision of how you'll spend retirement, both together and apart.
Do you want to get another job when you retire?
A part time job in retirement can be a great way to supplement your retirement income, and it can also be a meaningful way to show up in the community. After the quilting store shuttered, Terry Lamb didn’t work for a while. But she felt unfulfilled. “I found out I’m not a retiree-type of person,” says Terry. “I need to work, but I work for love.”
When she did go back to work, Terry went an entirely new direction with a position at Jay’s Bird Barn. Learning new systems, not to mention the ins and outs of birding, felt intimidating at first, but she’s glad she did it, both because of the connections she’s making in her new position, and because she likes the challenge. “I don’t care how old you are,” she said. “There’s always room to learn.”