When it comes to retirement, the reality is often vastly different than the expectations, which is why many people are caught off guard when they leave the work world behind. Many retirees who have saved enough money assume transitioning into retirement will be a breeze, and that they will finally have the opportunity to live out all their retirement dreams.
Often, however, their expectations don’t play out as planned. For some people, it’s a lack of adequate savings that puts a wrinkle in the plan, while for others it’s an unexpected illness or a problem with a family member that changes everything. And for still others, it’s a lack of planning that leaves them disillusioned in the early days of retiring, even if they put aside enough money. (For more, see: Protecting Your Retirement from Unexpected Events.)
While a little dose of disillusionment won’t kill anyone, left unchecked in retirement it can lead to more serious problems. Retirees suffering from disillusionment may feel worthless, bored, depressed and lacking a reason to get out of bed in the morning, which will weigh on relationships and ultimately one’s health. Don’t let that happen to you or a loved one. (See also: Journey Through the 6 Stages of Retirement.)
The best antidote is planning. “When I work with clients and their retirement, we go beyond the financial aspects. I want them to think about what their retirement will look like to them,” says Russ Blahetka, CFP®, founder and managing director of Vestnomics Wealth Management, LLC, in Campbell, Calif. “One of the results is that many of my retirees become more difficult to reach when they retire as they are traveling, participating in activities of interest to them, volunteering, etc. We joke that it was easier to reach them when they were ‘busy’ with their careers.”
1. You Lack a Sense of Purpose
Retirement is one of those things we spend years dreaming about but often aren’t ready for when it actually happens. Everyone thinks they will walk off into the retirement sunset after a proper send-off and with enough money to pursue a laundry list of things they could never do while working. But the reality is that transitioning to retirement can be hard. Going from working full time to not at all can be a tough adjustment, even if you have a lot of money. And it’s not only your psyche that’s impacted. There are family members who have to deal with your newfound freedom.
If you find that you lack a sense of purpose once you’ve traded the briefcase for the golf clubs or the long commute for strolls around the neighborhood, then disillusionment may have set in. That can be particularly true for type A personalities who, only six months ago, were managing a team of 20 and now have no reason to wake up each morning. If that’s happening to you, you’ll want to find a sense of purpose quickly. That could mean volunteering, spending time with the grandchildren or even getting a part-time job. The idea is to have a reason to wake up each morning.
“Having a purpose in retirement is extremely important. It not only allows you to enjoy your retirement years, but it also keeps you active, which can slow down some of the diseases that are common in the later years of life,” says Mark Hebner, founder and president of Index Fund Advisors, Inc., Irvine, Calif.
2. You Feel Like Less of a Person
Transitioning to retirement can be tough, with your self-esteem taking a little bit of a hit along the way. After all, you are going from being important to being someone with little responsibility, which is certain to dim your mood. If you have a nagging sense of uselessness – or feel that you are less of a person because you are no longer working full time – you could be suffering from disillusionment.
If you sense that, it's important to take action to counter those feelings. Just because you are out of the workforce doesn’t mean the skills you accumulated over a lifetime of work have become less valuable. Think about ways to capitalize on them: retirees can consult, start a business centered on their skills, or offer their time and skills for free. The right kinds of projects will do wonders for your self-esteem and give you a sense of purpose – two essential ingredients to a successful retirement. (For related reading, see: 8 Popular Post-Retirement Jobs.)
“Starting a new business can create financial independence, but it doesn’t come without stress and hard work,” says Hebner, author of “Index Funds: The 12-Step Recovery Program for Active Investors.” “The sky is the limit in terms of what you can do with your business, which can become financially rewarding, but it isn’t a decision that should be taken lightly.”
3. You Feel Let Down About Retirement
Similar to how you might feel after starting into a marriage you were planning for years, many retirees enter retirement and quickly feel let down about their new life. Many feel as if they have been duped. After all, we’ve all seen the commercials and advertisements of happy couples living out all their dreams once they exit the workforce. If we’ve done our job and saved the right amount of money, why is retirement so unexciting? The answer: life is life, even if you are in retirement.
Just as the newness of a job or a relationship wears off, so do the early stages of retirement, which can lead to feelings of letdown. If those feelings aren’t addressed, it could result in a sense of worthlessness or depression. If you are feeling let down, it’s time to make things happen. Whether that means picking up a hobby, joining a group or going to work part time, only you can change it.
The Bottom Line
Countless Americans were raised up to think that retirement means a chance to finally live out all their dreams, only to be disappointed once they get there. That disappointment can lead to disillusionment, which can have a negative impact on a retiree’s relationships, mind and ultimately, health.
In order to prevent disillusion from taking hold, retirees have to be mindful of the signs and counter them quickly. If you lack a sense of purpose, feel useless or are let down about the reality of retirement, don't ignore it as it has the potential to snowball.