The 6 Phases of Retirement
You’ve no doubt heard about the five stages of grief. But did you also know about the six phases of retirement? I bet you'll agree that it makes perfect sense.
This information came to me through an excellent continuing education course entitled “Effective and Ethical Communication with Seniors.”* The highlight was information surrounding how individuals make the adjustment from career to retirement.
If you’re retired, there’s a good chance you’ll recognize some of your own experience here. I’ve certainly seen it reflected in the lives of friends and clients as well as my own parents. There’s no specific time period for any one phase—a person may zip through one phase but linger in another—but most retirees will experience all of them.
Phase 1: Honeymoon. You’ve probably been looking forward to this moment for years. Now that the day has arrived, you’re free. You can take that extra-long cruise, work on that home handyperson project, learn how to sculpt, go fishing on a Tuesday. Far from sitting in a rocking chair, you might be at least as active during this early phase of retirement as you were on the job.
Phase 2: Rest and Relaxation. Once you’ve gotten through some of those long-postponed activities, you’re likely to be ready to take it easy for a bit. Without the pressing need to get something done right now, you can sit back and allow your mind to make the adjustment to your new life. Part of that adjustment is simply pondering all that has brought you to this point. It’s almost an extended form of meditation: you just sit and allow yourself to be.
Phase 3: Disenchantment. If you’re like most of us, you can only sit and think for so long. This is the disenchantment phase. Up to now, you’ve had a purpose—perhaps many purposes—driving you to get up every day and perform particular tasks or activities. But now you wonder: what’s next? You might start to experience limitations on your spending or your health. Perhaps you’ve moved to a new community. You realize that the adjustments you’re making are permanent, and that realization can throw you for an emotional loop.
Phase 4: Reorientation. You’re not likely to wallow in disenchantment forever. Almost inevitably, you’ll reorient yourself to your world as it is now. You start to make adjustments, see new possibilities, recognize that there’s more living to do. You discover that this new life, though different from the life you’re used to, has its own rewards and opportunities for fulfillment.
Reorientation can take many forms, and it can happen more than once. My dad got remarried ten years after Mom died. In my local community, many retirees join civic clubs or take up gardening or artistic disciplines. My Grandpa Percy Turner—the self-styled “Unmerciful Percival”—actually became an avid baseball fan late in life, a development that astounded anyone who had known him well.
Phase 5: Retirement Routine. Your new reality becomes your new normal. I think this phase is more or less inevitable; after all, we humans crave a routine. For many of my retired friends, their routine involves attendance at meetings of the Kiwanis or Rotary Club, volunteering regularly with a local nonprofit, or a weekly meal with friends at a favorite restaurant. Walk into our local coffee house or McDonald’s on any given (non-pandemic) morning, and you’re likely to find a gaggle of retirees contentedly commiserating over a simple meal or cup of coffee. Similar rituals play out daily at retirement communities. These scenes are a joy to behold.
Phase 6: Termination. Nothing lasts forever, of course, and that includes retirement. Unavoidably, you will face the termination of your retirement. Termination. It feels so harsh, doesn’t it? There’s no way to sugar-coat it. I suppose one reason we worry about the end is that we have no way of knowing how it will come or what it will be like.
I don’t know about you, but I take comfort in the wisdom I’ve received from many, many older friends. As they’ve progressed through the six phases of retirement, most are content with who they are, the journey they’ve traveled, and their place in the world. Most will tell you that retirement has been another of the precious seasons of life, and that they are at peace with whatever the next season holds. May each of us be able to say the same.
*”Effective and Ethical Communication With Seniors” available through WebCE.com.
Photo by Monica Silvestre from Pexels
This column is not intended as advice but rather education, commentary and opinion. Consult a professional advisor. If you have general questions about financial planning or investments, feel free to submit them to Andy at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Andy Millard, CFP®