You’d think that, by the time you retire, you no longer have to do all the things you did when you were working – be responsible, pay attention to detail and respond to other people’s demands. While it’s true you may no longer employ your technical skills in retirement – whether they’re in construction, health care or administration – you do need other skills that are critical in charting your way through a successful retirement. Here are four important ones.
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1. The capacity to be independent and self-directed. You no longer have a work schedule or a place to commute to every morning. You do not have any goals or objectives that are set by your boss. Instead, you have to make up your own schedule and find your own reason for getting out of bed in the morning. You are now your own boss, possibly for the first time in your life. Can you set your own goals and find your own meaningful activities? I recently played golf with a man who retired at age 56. He reported that he was bored silly for the first year. He had to find something to do. So he invested in a couple of race horses, and he spent the next ten years of his life at the track and the horse farm. That solution may not be for everyone, but it worked for him.
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2. Good people skills. Loneliness is an issue for many retirees. You may move to a haven in the sunbelt where you don’t know anybody, and so you have to make new friends, develop new social groups and find your niche in a new community. Even if you’ve moved to the town where your children and grandchildren live, you can’t always rely on them to provide your entire social life. They have their own lives, and they may move away for a new job opportunity. So you need to make your own way, as my brother-in-law did when he moved to a Boston suburb to be near his daughter and three grandchildren. Today, he and his wife babysit the grandkids once or twice a week, and they all get together on weekends. But my in-laws also joined a church where they sing in the choir, ride their bicycles with a group of seniors and met some neighbors they have an occasional barbecue with.
3. Financial confidence. You should have provided for your financial resources long before you actually retired. But even so, you’re now on your own. You no longer have a human resources department to direct your 401(k) plan, and you likely do not enjoy the security and convenience of receiving a guaranteed monthly pension. You need to develop the confidence to manage your own money and turn your assets into income. Don’t be shy about consulting a financial adviser if you feel you need one, but you must face the fact that instead of getting a paycheck you are now responsible for paying yourself out of your own resources. This involves some financial savvy. But more than that, it requires you to have confidence that you can control your own financial future, without the safety net of an old employer.
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4. The ability to relax. I remember when my partner was approaching retirement. She was in a near-panic about what she was going to do with herself every day. She did not want to feel as if she was simply on an extended vacation, playing tennis, having lunch and meeting other women for mahjong. She made fun of me because I wanted to learn how to play pickleball, a cross between tennis and badminton that a lot of seniors play because it’s easier on the ankles and knees. She wanted to stay useful and wasn’t sure how to do that in retirement. First, she had to accept the fact that people do slow down in retirement, and while you can still be helpful and important to other people, you no longer have to constantly strive to do better, feel the urge for self-improvement or feed the hunger of ambition. In short, you have to learn how to relax and enjoy life as someone who no longer has to grind out the days at work. My partner found her answer in volunteering at her church – a place where she can contribute as much as she wants, but where there is no pressure to do more than she can.
Tom Sightings is the author of “You Only Retire Once” and blogs at Sightings at 60.