Preparing For The Other Side Of Retirement

Jalene Hahn |

After over 40 years with Cummins, my husband retired on May 31st. For our family, retirement has gone from theoretical to practical. While most individuals focus on preparing financially for retirement the emotional side is often overlooked. After a while retirees can find themselves thinking “is this all there is”? At a conference in early May, one of the sessions I attended was “The Four Phases of Retirement: How to Squeeze All The ‘Juice’ Out”, presented by Riley Moynes. His presentation outlined four emotional phases of retirement. He shared his insights and a process for self-reflection designed to help you squeeze all the “juice” out of retirement.

Getting ready for retirement financially is a life-long balancing act between having an enjoyable current lifestyle while also preparing to maintain a comfortable lifestyle over a very long uncertain future. While financial preparation is critical, the most important part of enjoying retirement, and often overlooked, is psychological or emotional.

Moynes calls the first phase the "Vacation Phase". When you first retire every day is a vacation. You can enjoy the freedom of no longer having a set schedule. You can stay up late, sleep in, tackle your never-ending “honey-do” list or travel. Some people will stay in this phase and be perfectly content. While this phase can be refreshing and fun, after a year or two many retirees may eventually experience boredom and a longing for routine, and start questioning if there is more to life.

Enter phase two labeled “Feeling Loss and Feeling Lost”. Retirement can bring about significant losses in structure, identity, relationships, sense of purpose, and a sense of power. It is one of the top ten life traumas. Without a clear purpose retirees are at a greater risk for experiencing depression, physical and mental decline, and even divorce. It can be easy to “plunge into the abyss of insignificance”.

My husband skipped an early retirement package in 2019 because he wasn’t ready emotionally for retirement. 4 years later when a new package was announced, he automatically jumped to everything he would be giving up. While he will miss interacting with co-workers, he started focusing on all the positive aspects of retirement. He enjoys working outside and is looking forward to tackling the tons of outside projects he has been putting off until retirement. We both know this winter will be more difficult and he can jump into phase three.

Moynes called phase three the “Rehab Phase”. It is characterized by trial and error as retirees actively seek ways to make their lives meaningful and productive again. They ask themselves how they can contribute and often go through a period of experimentation and false starts. A recent Harvard research study found that people who fared the best in retirement found ways to cultivate connections and focused on the importance of developing new sources of meaning and purpose.

Finding what gives your life purpose is a process of self-reflection. Moynes outlined a process for finding your “Unique Ability”. You start by ruling out things at which you are incompetent, that you only do marginally well, or you absolutely can’t stand. Instead, you should look for activities and talents to share that you love to do and that you do really well. Your “Unique Ability” is found in the “things you love to do and do superbly”.

Phase four, “Reinvent & Rewire”, is reached by those who successfully break through phase three. Once you have found your unique ability it’s time to find your “Sweet Spot”. This is the intersection of what the world needs, what you are good at, what you love to do, and what you can be rewarded for either monetarily or emotionally.

Living a fulfilling life in retirement requires intentional planning and decision-making beyond financial considerations. Legacy thinking, purpose, and conversations about life and what brings you joy are crucial for creating a life that matters. Winston Churchill said, “We make a living by what we get; we make a life by what we give.”