As a family wellbeing specialist, I have always been interested in preparing for retirement and helping people answer the question – will I have enough money to retire? However, the decision to retire is not just about finances.
A retired family friend pointed out that health is also an important factor to consider. And I remember my grandfather saying to me, “just don’t grow old.” At the time, at my young age, I didn’t know what he meant, but I understand better now.
Research shows when people can afford to retire and are healthy enough to enjoy it they are much happier in retirement. Nevertheless, there are other issues to consider as we approach the milestone event of retirement.
A study featured in the Harvard Business Review in January 2019 looked at how retirement changes our identity. Our work and identity are closely knitted. When we retire we need to think about how to handle that separation for our mental and emotional health. The study found retirees go through two main processes.
One process is life restructuring. Before retiring, think about where you spend most of your time, what you do with your days and the relationships in your life. Working is an important structure in our lives, framed by the expectations of the organization we work for; many of us have been working in this structure for years. Once we retire, we will approach our day, our life, differently. The researchers suggest giving attention to two areas: detaching from work, and giving yourself freedom and flexibility.
The other process is identity bridging. This means to maintain or enhance an important aspect of yourself that existed before retirement. This could mean spending more time in relationships (as a spouse, friend, or grandparent), re-engaging in creative activities or joining groups you once enjoyed, volunteering or starting a consulting business.
Transitioning to retirement can take a while. Give yourself the time to think through what retirement will look like.
Sandra McKinnon is a Human Sciences Specialist in family wellbeing with Iowa State University Extension and Outreach, serving 12 counties in the southwest part of Iowa.