No matter how well prepared you think you are, no matter how long you've been counting down the days, that first Monday morning after retirement is going to feel like a change. Whether it's a good change or a more challenging change will depend on how ready you are for the transition you're about to make, and how well you understand the difference between a "change" and a "transition."
The Bridges Transition Model has helped many individuals and organizations sharpen that distinction. According to their definitions, a change is an external event. A transition is the process that people go through as they adjust to that change. You might think of a change as a thing (children, marriage, buying a house, retirement) and transitions as verbs, the actions that you're going to take as you adjust to those changes.
Let's talk about how the three stages of the Bridges Transition Model can apply to transitioning through retirement.
Every transition starts with an end -- even those that mostly feel like beginnings. Getting your first full-time job was the end of your student life. Getting married was the end of your single life. Having children was the end of you and your spouse living as just two people. And retirement is the end of your working days.
An important part of transitioning through life’s Endings is to acknowledge what you're losing. Many retirees feel like they're losing the sense of purpose they felt at their jobs. They also might feel the loss of camaraderie among coworkers, most of whom they won't be spending nearly as much time with anymore.
On the home front, married retirees might feel a loss of autonomy and personal space. Instead of spending 8 hours apart every day pursuing separate responsibilities and interests, they're now spending more time together than they have, potentially, in decades.
And financially, all retirees have to let go of that familiar, comfortable feeling of cashing a paycheck at the end of every month.
Part of letting go is taking time to accept these changes and feel real gratitude for the good times, the strong relationships, and the accomplishments you've made. But at the same time, take stock of all the things that you'll be taking with you to the next stage of your life. Hopefully, your close work friends will now just be your friends. You won't be working full time anymore, but you'll still have those same skills, experiences, and passions. And while you won't be earning a full-time salary, you can be proud of the nest egg you've built up through all your hard work and your commitment to your financial plan.
2. The Neutral Zone
Figuring out what to do with the things you bring with you is part of the challenge in the Neutral Zone. At this stage, the things you've learned to let go of are gone, but the next stage of your life isn't quite operational yet.
For many retirees who are struggling to transition, this is the "puttering around the house" phase. The losses you've experienced due to the retirement change might still hurt a bit. Without the structure of your old 9-to-5, you might feel like you just don't know what to do with yourself. Because you have time to do whatever you want, the options can feel overwhelming. And even if you have an ample nest egg, without that monthly paycheck you might be too worried about having enough money to spend any and enjoy yourself.
The most successful retirees I've worked with transition through the Neutral Zone by balancing their favorite activities and people with an openness to new things. The former weekend golfers set a couple weekly tee times with their retired friends. The craft hobbyists devote more time to those hobbies and develop their skills. Parents and grandparents organize more trips to see their families.
And around these core building blocks, retirees might take an online class, start a new morning exercise routine, explore volunteer positions, or even take a part-time job. Some of these new activities will stick. Others won't and will be replaced. That trial and error is all part of the process that will lead you through this phase of the transition.
3. New Beginnings
Eventually, as you finish letting go and start moving forward, your ideal retirement will come into focus. Your days will start to feel fuller. Your relationships will start to feel stronger. Your sense of identity will start to reorient around the people and passions that are most important to you. And you'll have a clearer understanding of the values that you want to follow throughout your retirement and into your Golden Years.
How long will it take you to transition to this New Beginning? Some retirees ease in right away. Others might spend a couple years exploring before they feel like they've really completed the transition.
But as with all things related to retirement, the best way to manage changes and prepare for positive transitions is to plan ahead. One tool we use at Keen Wealth, the $Lifeline, helps folks plot out changes years in advance so that we can visualize the road ahead and start paving that path with a customized financial plan.
Get in touch and let's discuss the changes you're anticipating and how our process can help you to make smoother transitions through them.
Bill Keen is a CHARTERED RETIREMENT PLANNING COUNSELOR℠ and independent financial advisor with more than 25 years of industry experience. As the founder and CEO of Keen Wealth Advisors, a registered investment advisory firm, he specializes in providing personalized retirement planning designed to help people thrive before and during their retirement years. With a passion for educating others, Bill regularly blogs about retirement planning, hosts the podcast Keen on Retirement, and has contributed to U.S. News and World Report, Reuters, Wall Street Journal’s Market Watch, Yahoo Finance, and other publications. Based in Overland Park, Kansas, Bill and his team work with clients throughout the greater Kansas City area and across the nation. To learn more, connect with him on LinkedIn or visit www.keenwealthadvisors.com.
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