Making the most of retirement

Retirement can be one of the most exciting times of your life. Free from the routine and pressures of work, you can now realise long held dreams, indulge favourite pastimes, travel to faraway places or just sit back and smell the roses in your own garden.

However, if you want to make the most of the golden years ahead it is a good idea to start planning long before you leave the world of nine-to-five behind for good.

Eileen Woodford of Nucleus Coaching, who provides pre-retirement coaching on a one-to-one and group basis locally, says it is “incredibly important” to prepare for this new chapter in your life. Research indicates that people who plan live a happier and more fulfilled retirement while those who fail to can fall into inactivity, anxiety and depression, she says.

“I have had clients come to me filled with fear and confusion about their impending retirement with no plans and no idea what to do. They don’t know where to start. It is easy to make the transition from working life into retirement without any problems if you take the time to invest in yourself and put together a proper plan. Those who came filled with fear and confusion are now actively enjoying their time.”

Reap the benefits

Most people do not put enough planning or thought into retirement, she says. They think it will look after itself.

“Fear can be one of the reasons for this as some people find it hard to face the fact that they have reached this time in their life. Yet life does not end at this stage and if they put some effort into planning they will reap the benefits and have a more enjoyable retirement.”

One of the most common pitfalls if you do not plan is you suddenly find yourself at a loose end with endless days stretching ahead.

“ That is definitely one of the biggest problems as after the first six months or so reality will set in. Suddenly all those newspapers you had planned to read and all the games of golf you had looked forward to seem to lose their shine. People need to feel that they still have a reason for getting up in the morning and this needs to be planned for while they are still working.”

It is easy to get into a rut and spend your days watching the soaps, she says. “Once this occurs it can take a lot of effort to get back into life. People need to feel worthwhile and sitting watching TV all day will not give that sense of fulfilment.”

Eileen recommends that people should ideally begin preparing for retirement about three to five years before they leave their job.

In a rut

“Although that sounds a long time it’s not. The idea is that when you actually reach the date of retirement you will be ready in every way and you will move from one stage of your life into another without any upheaval. That is the ideal, yet I have clients who have come for coaching only a few months before retirement and that has been successful as well as those who retired without planning and then found themselves in a rut. Basically, it is never too late if someone wants to improve their situation. Yet if you prepare beforehand you save yourself a lot of anxiety and stress.”

Start by examining your life as it is and focus on issues such as work, free time, hobbies, finance, health, family, friends, etc. Look at who you really are, what you really love doing.

“Every aspect of your life will be affected by retirement therefore each area needs to be addressed. Take the area of friends, for example. Many people have their circle of friends within work and socialise with these same friends. When it comes to retirement suddenly they no longer have the same contact with them. At the beginning it’s not so bad. But after a while as their lives no longer have the common denominator of work they may start to drift apart and this can lead to loneliness and isolation. Proper retirement planning helps address this and other issues before it begins so that they will begin to meet and socialise with other people before they leave work.

Assess your life

“The idea is to assess your life to date, both work and leisure. What have you enjoyed doing? What would you like to continue doing? What do you want to leave behind? What dreams and aspirations do you still hold? Do you want or need to continue working in some way? How will you keep yourself motivated? And many other questions. It is about looking at your answers, checking how realistic they are and using this information when you begin planning for retirement.”

Some people find it harder to adjust to retirement because their sense of self worth is rooted in their career.

“This occurs when people only identify themselves with their job and title and when they retire they no longer know who they are. We are a person first and our job and title is secondary so ask yourself ‘Who am I apart from my job?’”

Eileen Woodford says everyone has the capacity to adjust to retirement if they plan properly.

“The key is not to just retire and stop but to have things planned so that you can retire to have the time to do these things and have enough of the right type of activities to suit yourself. There is no ‘retirement plan’ template which will suit everyone.

“Recent studies have shown that women have a greater sense of loss in later life than men particularly if they have not had a fulfilling working life. Often women put themselves aside for family and never get to fulfil their dreams. Then as they get older they have a lot of regrets and this can lead to resentment. It is never too late to do something about your dreams and if you plan your retirement properly maybe these dreams could be incorporated in some way.”

Does the fact that people tend to retire younger today make a difference to how they experience retirement? “Not at all, in fact this is even more reason to plan so that you will get the most out of those precious years. Life really is what you make it, it doesn’t just happen. If you have a solid foundation in retirement plans then you can be as spontaneous as you choose once it arrives.”

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