The problem with highway driving is that you cannot safely switch the station on the radio and therefore wind up being held hostage – for a while, anyway – to whatever music, discussion or interview is currently being broadcast. Not long ago, consequently, I found myself listening to some “expert” provide what she thought was definitive guidance on determining one’s readiness for retirement. The subject is by no means rarely brought up or written about; a month hardly goes by that I do not encounter in one mode of media or another a psychologist, social worker or human resources consultant sharing his or her insights on the subject of effective planning and execution of retirement, though they themselves have not yet retired. I read or listen with interest to their suggestions for determining if a potential retiree is both financially and emotionally ready to take the major plunge. And more often than not find myself smiling. Indeed, had I paid attention to any of their bullet points three and a half years ago when I myself was contemplating calling it a day, I most likely would still be working.
Top guidance counselors develop their ideas on the basis of composites and generalizations. Though certainly well meaning, they unfortunately overlook the individuality of each potential retiree, and that, as the saying goes, one size does not fit all. It’s important that those thinking of retirement take these advisories with a grain or two of salt since not all retirement-readiness checkboxes are relevant or even need be marked. If anything, they can often result in serious miscalculations that can adversely influence critical, life-changing decisions.
Consider, for example, the reasons for even thinking about retirement. They vary, obviously, involving both professional and personal considerations. And while there are, truly, no bad reasons, advice from the experts rarely cautions against making impulsive, spur of the moment decisions that may result from a particularly bad experience or interaction with a co-worker, supervisor or client. Not surprisingly, ending a career on such a jarring note is generally followed by remorse and regret. For sure, a sudden and unwelcome change to the comfort zone that one has grown accustomed to or a work environment that has suddenly become overly stressful may be a perfectly valid reason to enter into retirement, providing that the stress is ongoing and not something momentary or temporary. Troublesome transitions and conflicts in the workplace as a rule usually blow over and are quickly forgotten; retirement, on the other hand, is something considerably more difficult to undo.
Health, in many situations, is one of the more valid reasons for entering into this new phase of life. In my case, for example, I was ill for the better part of the year before I decided to retire. Once I returned to my responsibilities on a full-time basis – and arranged to work several days a week from home – the combination of the treatment I went through together with several serious surgeries left me physically challenged and I was no longer able to effortlessly put in the 12–14-hour days that the high-tech industry demands. It wasn’t long before my colleagues had to pick up the slack that my inability to keep up was creating, a situation that I found personally and professionally intolerable. So, after several serious discussions with my wife and the manager of the group that I was part of, I gave notice. And have not looked back.
Once they’ve gone through the basic reasons for retirement, the experts than “help” you determine if you’re financially viable to take the big step. To be sure, the more zeroes there are in the balance of your bank account, the better off you’ll be. But, a paucity of zeroes does not necessarily spell disaster.
It’s often the case that life styles adapt to the resources that are available, and it is not at all unreasonable to expect mature adults to make plans – and have dreams – that are consistent with what a pensioner’s fixed income will be in combination with savings that can safely be called on for use. What it comes down to is ensuring that the horse is placed before the cart and not the other way around. Available resources will determine how often retirees will be able to travel, the extravagance of the birthday presents purchased for grandchildren, the frequency with which sushi will be ordered for dinner, and the like. Yes, plans may have to be adjusted and priorities reorganized, but that’s a small price to pay for entering happily and securely into the truly golden phase of one’s life.
I personally found invaluable the assistance of an insurance agent whose specific expertise was pensions and retirement plans. We managed to sort through the confusing labyrinth of the Israeli economic system and came to the realization that the monthly income that my wife and I can expect to receive was more than livable. Okay, so I may not be able to charter a yacht for a cruise to Scandinavia or purchase box seats for the World Series, but little from our day to day lives has been sacrificed. Which, I’d say, is the ultimate objective of retirement.
And woe to you, cry the experts, if you retire without a plan of how your day will be spent. Retirees are advised to map out the week, ensuring that personally relevant and interesting activities fill your time and engage your attention. Otherwise, they warn, you’ll wind up a rudderless ship, floating aimlessly in the sea.
Metaphors notwithstanding, scheduled activities and a day planner may work and in fact be necessary for some, but certainly not for all. I, for example, have what I like to call an ad-hoc retirement; I generally decide in the morning what I’ll be doing the rest of the day. And there are options galore to select from. I’ve caught up with books that I’ve always intended to read but never found the time (stay away from Across the River and Into the Trees – one of Hemingway’s less successful novels), participate in online learning sessions (if you nod off, nobody notices) and go from to time on outings sponsored by the local community center (I preferred ANU when it was the Museum of the Diaspora, but still more than worthwhile visiting). In other words, I’m never bored and, most importantly, ensure that there is space between my wife and me – which, by the way, should not be overlooked. So, even though I rarely plan my day too far in advance, I am hardly a rudderless ship, even though the majority of the experts think I was destined to be one.
There is, then, no specific checklist to determine if you’re ready for retirement or the resources required to maintain the lifestyle you currently feel you need to maintain. The former will make itself known when the time is right, and the latter will one way or another adjust itself satisfactorily. What is critical is that you not let others make this dramatic decision for you. And if you’ve started to give some thought to the possibility of retiring and you happen to be driving on Highway 6 when the radio is about to broadcast a feature on Retirement Readiness, pull over when you can and switch stations or turn the radio off altogether. This is one decision you – and not others – have to make.