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What to Expect When You Retire

Dreamworker is a retired educator who spent 26 years teaching in both middle and high schools nationwide.

What Is Retirement Like?

The truth about retirement is that it is different for each person depending on

  • when they retire,
  • how well they have planned,
  • how healthy they are,
  • how well they adapt to their new way of life and
  • whether they have been able to maintain old relationships and create new ones.

Almost everyone's retirement, however, goes through the stages below.

Retirement may not be what you envision.

Retirement may not be what you envision.

Phase Zero: Pre-Retirement

Retirement actually begins about a year before the big day.

This is the time when people check to make sure their investments, pensions and Social Security incomes will be enough for them to live on after they start working.

It is also the time when they have to decide about health care plans and make sure that they time things correctly because a mistake can end up costing them plenty.

Now, too, is the time when they have to decide whether they want to stay in their homes, downsize or possibly move to a warmer climate or even another country.

In short, there are very serious decisions people have to make, some of which cannot be changed once retirement takes place.

Phase I: The Honeymoon

This first stage is often a scary time for people, because they suddenly realize that they will no longer be getting a paycheck and worry about what will happen if they outlive their money.

They also realize that many of the relationships they’ve had with colleagues are pretty much over. Some will try to stop by their old place of employment for “old times sake”, but before long they realize that they no longer belong there and stop going.

This gives many the feeling of being “cast out” and sometimes leads to depression and feelings of isolation.

Another problem is that they no longer have a set daily schedule, and instead of being told what to do by their employers, they now have to make decisions on their own.

At the same time they realize that they are free to do as they like and, health permitting, begin to join groups or make travel plans.

The honeymoon stage is confusing for many at first, but eventually they understand what is happening and begin to think about what they want to do with their lives.

  • Some are at a loss and never get any farther along than reading, watching TV and going out to eat.
  • Others start doing volunteer work, babysitting for their kids or taking up a hobby such as golf or RVing.

Much depends on how much money they have and how healthy they are.

What do you do when there are no more paychecks but you have tons of free time?

What do you do when there are no more paychecks but you have tons of free time?

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Phase 2: Do What You Can, While You Can

Generally, those who leave their jobs at an early age and who have planned well are able to do many of the things they’ve dreamed of doing over the years.

Older retirees may be able to do these things also, but they find that they have less time due to health and financial issues.

As a result, they do what they can while they can, and often have a great time.

One couple I know has been retired for two years and has taken at least 10 major vacations to exotic places such as Africa, Russia and China. It is as though they are rushing to do everything all at once while they still are physically able to do so!

Phase 3: Adapting to Limits

Once people have entered into this phase of retirement, they pretty much know their situations and adapt as needed.

Many have lost their spouses but realize that they can’t depend on their children to fill the void.

Health problems have begun to pop up that can be financially and emotionally devastating, especially for people who do not have good health insurance coverage or a decent support system in place.

As time goes on, retirees often lose spouses and friends and become disabled to the point when they must give up their homes and move to supervised living facilities where they will spend the rest of their lives.

As people age, they must limit their activities to those they can do rather than to those they would like to do.

As people age, they must limit their activities to those they can do rather than to those they would like to do.

The Lucky Few: What Makes the Difference?

What I just described is an overview of what might happen, but not what always happens.

Some people live long, relatively healthy lives and are lucky enough to have spouses, relatives and friends with whom to enjoy them.

They also have good relationships with their kids that stimulate them and add structure to their lives.

Many have hobbies, are able to travel and generally can still enjoy life.

These retirees are the lucky ones, but there seems to be no rhyme or reason as to why they’ve been blessed this way.

Clearly, any thinking person wants to become one of the “lucky ones”, but the truth is that there are no guarantees that any person can achieve this goal. Many who exercise and eat properly still get Alzheimer’s, cancer and arthritis, and many who save, invest and plan financially still lose everything due to illness, divorce and lawsuits.

Probably, doing a good job of nurturing loved ones has provided them with a good support system, and “luck of the draw” helped them do well physically and financially in their later years.

The Real Truth

TV ads and retirement magazines would have you believe that life in retirement is fun, but this seems to be true only for people who planned well, are financially secure, have productive social lives and are relatively healthy.

For most, retirement represents a gradual decline in health that continually limits their ability to be independent and do the things they’d like to do.

It can also be lonely, depressing and boring. You can only take so many trips or read so many books, but after that, you need to find some way to fill your time.

Those who are able to fill their time via part-time jobs, social clubs or volunteer work usually have good retirements; those who begin to live aimless lives where they basically do nothing but buy groceries and watch TV don't do well.

Thus the way to avoid problems that come directly from the act of retiring may be to plan well and stay as active as possible.

The Bottom Line

As you can see, what happens in retirement can be quite different from what you may have envisioned.

Some people like to blame poor health on the fact that people retired, but the truth is that health problems are a normal part of the aging process.

If you are lucky enough to be able to retire early, you can enjoy travel, adventure and many of the activities you have dreamed of, but the longer you wait, the less this will be true.

It all boils down to the fact that you have to make the choice between sacrificing when young or doing without when old.

This is not an easy decision, but it is an important one because it will determine the quality of the life you have in your later years.

The best answer is to find a balancing point that allows you to enjoy your life as much as reasonably possible on both sides of retirement.

Hopefully, you’ll be able to do that.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.

© 2017 Sondra Rochelle


Sondra Rochelle (author) from USA on April 27, 2017:

no body: I love your story, and you are so right. It's very important to be realistic but at the same time to find something stimulating to do that you enjoy. You've found the magic formula, and I hope others will, also. Thanks for stopping by and leaving this lovely comment.

Robert E Smith from Rochester, New York on April 27, 2017:

I think if I wasn't me, I would be very depressed but I AM me and am living every day with joy and curiosity.

The job I had worked for 40 years was one of rules and confidentiality. Many, many people made slip-ups and didn't make it to retirement. A report filed by just the right person, a supervisor with a score to settle and a person may be out in the blink of an eye. For me, I was just happy to get to retirement because I was sure that something would happen and I would have to figure out how to piece my life back together. For a long time after I retired, I had dreams I was back at work and someone I was to keep my eye on had evaded me and me in panic mode trying to find them.

I did think from time to time about what I would do if I didn't have a schedule demanding all my time. I thought all about the things I would have done as a young man and even a child and decided I would be a lifelong learner. I decided that I would begin to write, to work on a book and get it published, and to learn to play music. Those are big things to a man as old as I to begin fresh right out of the retirement gate.

I retired in 2010 and began on Hubpages, I had a book published that made no money and is not available anywhere but I did what I wanted to do when I got it published. I discovered the ancient musical instrument, the ocarina and now I'm just tooting my heart out.

The long and the short of it is that if a person dreams realistically and keeps working toward those dreams then the last years of his life can be full and rewarding but if a person neglects to dream or is not willing to work after retirement or has dreamed something way, way beyond his reach, well, then the reality is that a person can make a mess of his own life. I think your article will help many people begin to think about how to make life fun in the remaining years that God gives us on this planet. Bob.

Sondra Rochelle (author) from USA on April 24, 2017:

denise.w.anderson Paying off your debts is important, especially if you're including your home mortgage in that statement. Good health insurance is equally if not more important. The day we decided to take an original Medicare policy along with a Medigap policy is the day that we saved ourselves more than half a million dollars worth of medical bills. Without that, we would be broke right now. You can retire with poor health, but you must have a way to protect the finances that will be affected by it. Don't underestimate that. One of the worst things about retirement is that nobody tells you how important and irreversible many of your decisions will step carefully. Good Luck.

Denise W Anderson from Bismarck, North Dakota on April 24, 2017:

We are already on the countdown to retirement. We have a plan to pay off our debts, and a goal of what we want to do when we get there. The further we get down this road, however, the more we see our health deteriorating, and we wonder if and when we will make it! The decisions that must be made at this time in our lives are critical!

Rolly A Chabot from Alberta Canada on April 18, 2017:

Excellent article and retirement should be start early. The more resources you have the more apt you will be ready to do whatever calls you. Wise investments early in life will allow you years of enjoyment doing all you wanted while still working. ... Great article

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