Let me ask you two questions.
First: How long do you think you're going to live?
And second ... Why did that first question make you feel a little sad? According to a new study from Oregon State University, "If you believe you are capable of becoming the healthy, engaged person you want to be in old age, you are much more likely to experience that outcome." But that's not typically how folks think about old age or even retirement. Instead of focusing on all the opportunities that lie ahead in the second half of our lives, we worry about experiences that may have passed us by forever or negative end-of-life transitions that we’re anticipating.
Today, I want to talk about some of those perceived negatives that can distort our view of what a positive and fulfilling time our golden years can be.
Forget the stereotypes.
By and large, the images that our culture perpetuates about seniors aren't positive. In movies, TV, and even in kids' cartoons, the older characters are the ones who are always forgetting things, driving on the wrong side of the road, and embarrassing the younger members of the family. In a sense, the content we consume is conditioning us to think that the older we get, the less capable and the more ridiculous we become.
Well, tell that to my 82-year-old stepmom who's still driving, volunteering, taking care of her home, and trying new things -- like guesting on a podcast!
Tell that to my good friend Joe Ratterman, who's become one of Kansas City's leading philanthropists since he retired.
Tell that to the millions of seniors who learned how to stay connected, taught themselves new skills, and reached out to help their communities during the pandemic.
This generation of seniors is redefining retirement living. Advances in health care and nutrition can help keep you active and self-reliant. The next wave of tech can keep you more connected to the outside world even when you're stuck at home. Start exploring the opportunities for fun and enrichment that are waiting for you in retirement and your apprehension could give way to genuine excitement.
So much to look forward to.
When we can see retirement on the horizon, it's common to think, "It's all gone by so fast."
And, in fact, it has ... sort of.
Scientists have found that people really do feel like time moves faster as we age. In part, that's because we feel like once we've checked off retirement, we've passed all the major milestones in our lives and don't have anything else to look forward to. Aging can also make us feel like we're "running out of time," which can lead to feelings of stress and depression.
Again, if you're in good health and taking care of yourself, you probably have more years left on the senior tour at your local golf club than you're giving yourself credit for. And if you have a family, you might have so many more major milestones to look forward to: weddings, grandchildren, birthday parties, graduations, dance recitals, state championship games.
And then there are all the things you couldn't do when you were busy working and raising a family. Plan the dream vacation you and your spouse always wanted to take. Now that you have more time to spend out on the lake, buy that fishing boat you've been eying. Take a volunteer position at a nonprofit that you care about. Start the small business you've always wished you could run.
When we're young, we spend a lot of time waiting for milestones to arrive, like turning 16 so we can drive, or going off to college. Perhaps only in retirement do you have so much control over your schedule that you can plot your own milestones, big and small, and organize your day around achieving them.
Don't "hope," plan!
Part of the Oregon State Study asked participants to describe the kind of older person they "hoped" they would be, as well as the older person they "feared" they would be. Some common responses were that folks "hoped" they would have a strong network of people around them, and that they'd maintain a healthy lifestyle. On the other hand, folks "feared" that they'd be cranky, chronically ill, and dependent on other people.
Now, there's no denying that as we age, we're going to face more mental and physical challenges. For many of us, a time will come when we have to slow down more than we'd like to make sure that our most basic needs are met.
But don't overlook what a powerful force the mind exerts over your body and your life. A healthy 65-year-old retiree who's too busy hoping and fearing might start eating badly, slumming around on the couch all day, detaching from friends and family. The belief that retirement will be a negative stage in life becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.
At Keen Wealth, we don't want our clients to "hope" for a happy retirement. We want them to see the life that they want to live and start planning for it now. Let’s talk about any reservations you might be having about retirement and refocus the conversation – and your plan – on all the wonderful experiences still ahead.
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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