My case is probably a little different from yours. A company has indicated a possible interest in purchasing my retirement software company. A few years ago I might have sent them packing – I tend to have a lot of faith (not always well placed) in the future of things I do myself . But having turned 60 this past summer, and finding myself thinking about when and how I should wind down the software part of my career, I find myself more receptive to an outside offer.
Still, if the offer turns out to be fair, and I accept it, then I might be suddenly unemployed. What would that be like?
More people than you probably think find out the hard way. Here are two factoids for you:
Factoid #1: with the recession having disrupted so many Baby Boomer careers and having decimated (or destroyed) so many of their retirement accounts, a solid majority (in a variety of recent polls and scholarly studies) say that they currently plan not to retire at all. They will work as long as they can, even for the rest of their lives, if possible. Of course some people have always felt that way – retirement doesn’t interest them, or they just love whatever it is they do for a living. But it used to be a relatively small minority.
Factoid #2: even before the recession, approximately 40% of working people ended up retiring involuntarily – often with little or no notice. (I’m not sure what the number has been since the recession started, but undoubtedly it has been higher.) There are three main reasons why people retire involuntarily: (a) they lose their jobs, and are unable to find anything that’s a decent substitute; (b) they become ill or otherwise disabled, or (c) they have to become a full-time caregiver for a spouse or other partner or family member.
I look at it this way:
Retirement is one of the major stages of life, like being married, and it tends to work a lot better when you do it voluntarily and with some preparation. Pop singer Katy Perry had a song two or three years called “Waking Up in Vegas,” about finding herself after a drunken night in a hotel room wearing her boyfriend’s class ring. This is clearly a catastrophe, except that in real life an unanticipated marriage could easily be undone. Being forced into retirement due to loss of a career job or for health reasons is just as likely to be a catastrophe…but one that usually cannot be undone.
Part of the concern, obviously, is financial. But not having time to prepare for this major change in your lifestyle can be just as big a problem.
It sure is helpful, when you retire, to be ready for the change in self image, the change in how you would spend your time, the change in your relationships with people you love, and other emotional and social changes. And these things can be prepared for.
There are specific techniques for this, which I won’t trouble you with here (I’m not interested in writing a book today), but the most basic idea is to just imagine yourself suddenly, involuntarily retired. Feel that empty, scared sensation? Since you don’t have to actually face it right now, this is an opportunity for you to think more calmly about it than you might in real life – and if you can, then do. What would you advise you to do if this really happened? How would you adapt? What would your life be like, ideally, once you had settled into it?
Lots to think about there.
And when you’re done thing about that, start thinking about what you can do now, and over the coming months and years, to move your life in that direction. Do you have friendships or family relationships that need repair? Well, get to it. Would you be at a loss for filling your day with activities that would interest and challenge you? Then start developing interests like that, even if only on a small scale for now. Catch up on something you used to do when you were younger if you think it would still interest you, get involved with outside groups (even if just on the fringe of them, while you’re still working). Try some totally new things – you won’t like them all, but you’ll probably find one or two that engage you, and that would give you something to pursue if you suddenly had more time. Isn’t there something you always had the hankering to explore, if only you had some time? Get a start on it now, at least in a small way, and turn it into something that you will be ready to engage in more fully and enthusiastically when you retire – whether that sneaks up on you, or whether you’re able to do it on your own schedule.
Honestly, these are healthy, mature strategies regardless. You really can’t lose. And if you do become one of the two-out-of-five who have to retire against their desires, you’ll be much better equipped to handle it.
I’ve been doing this myself for a number of years now. I started a new hobby 12 years ago that I figured I could probably continue as long as I live, unless I become mentally incompetent, because it doesn’t require high energy or the involvement of other people. At the other extreme, I have been getting more involved in outdoor activities like gardening and landscaping that are good exercise, but also require some learning and planning. I’ve also become active in a local not-for-profit organization (SAGE Crossing Foundation), which could use even more help if I had time to give it, and which connects me with new people all the time – some of whom turn out to be really terrific.
All of these changes represent both an exploration into something that has some meaning to me and also a hedge against future boredom and purposelessness for the day I retire.
So if I do strike a deal and sell off my software business, or if my business fails or I have to retire for health reasons, I’m ready to welcome retirement with open arms. And if I don’t retire soon, I’ll still be ready when that day comes – it will just have to wait a bit longer. It’s a no-lose proposition!
Chuck Yanikoski is a retirement adviser living in Harvard. You can reach him at Chuck@ChuckYRetirement.com.