Take a brutal look at your life before hanging up your hat

| May 27, 2021

It is one of the most important decisions we make in our lives though far too often we get it wrong.

We are talking about the decision to retire – the opportunity to withdraw, retreat and clock off from the workplace in favour of embracing a life of leisure.

With COVID-19 wreaking havoc on the employment market this time last year, many older workers were forced into premature retirement after the decision was snatched from their hands.

But even if you are lucky enough to retain your retirement date in your own hands, be warned – it is a deeply personal decision that requires us to take a brutal look at life.

For most of us, retirement will not be as carefree as we are often led to believe. It is likely we will replace our existing worries with a set a of new ones, such as health and financial matters.

And we will get knots in our stomachs when we consider saying goodbye to that regular pay cheque.

Retire too early and you will risk outliving your nest egg. Stay at the desk too long and you may just miss out on some of the very best things that life has to offer.

It is very much a classic case of timing being everything.

Too often, the decision to hang up the boots or clear out the desk for a final time is based exclusively on an individual’s or couple’s financial situation.

While our financial circumstances are important, they form only one part of the retirement date equation.

To make the decision, we need to turn to the experiences of the many thousands of older Australians – including those who live in retirement heaven but also those in retirement hell – before opening the door on the next chapter of our lives.

Those with experience will tell you that a good retirement decision should go way beyond considering whether your accrued wealth allows you to enjoy those long leisurely lunches with lifelong friends, bi-weekly rounds of golf and – pandemic permitting – travel to the world’s most exotic destinations.

They will argue that even if you have accrued wealth way beyond your wildest dreams, many other issues need to be considered.

The key is knowing what questions to ask yourself – and carefully listening to your own answers.

First of all, ask whose agenda is best served by your retirement.

Too often we feel pressured by those around us to give up work even though we continue to make a meaningful contribution.

It makes no sense if we are able and willing to give up something we thoroughly enjoy.

There is also the matter of exactly how we plan to spend our time in retirement.

Some older workers are so pre-occupied with hobbies they barely have time to go to work. At the same time, others have never had a hobby and cannot dream of taking one up – even in retirement.

It should come as no surprise that those who glow like a fluorescent tube in retirement have hobbies they love and that keep them occupied.

Then there is the sensitive issue of friendship post-retirement.

Perhaps this scenario is all too familiar to those who have retired.

On Friday, a choreographed retirement function, teary speeches and a long, emotional goodbye. The following Monday – nothing.

Your long-time colleagues who became friends throughout your career have suddenly vanished to leave a hole your social calendar larger than life itself.

So before you hand in your resignation letter, consider whether your social life is tied to your working life, which may mean you will be giving up more than a pay cheque.

Think, too, about whether the option of easing into retirement is more appealing than going “cold-turkey”.

And if you have a partner, then the decision of when to retire just became a whole lot more challenging.

Ask yourself what role your partner is playing in encouraging you to retire and be clear on how – and if – your partner wants to enjoy your retirement with you.

After all, it is important for there to be at least some common goals and aspirations.

There is also the prospect of travel, of downsizing or of moving to a completely different retirement location, all of which need to be discussed with your partner in advance of setting the big date.

Consider, too, whether you are simply hanging on to work as a refuge to avoid confronting relationship issues with your partner. Tackling those issues well before giving up work may make a world of difference to your retirement experience.

The complexity of the decision when to retire means it is hardly surprising that many of us end up unretiring and returning to work, at least part of the time.

At the end of the day, the retirement experience is going to be different for each individual and will depend on what they did before retirement – and what they plan to do when the time comes to leave work.