Key Takeaways

  • Average life expectancy is projected to be 85 by 2050, leaving us with the need for a longer-term health and happiness plan.

  • We can be overly optimistic, thinking we’ll figure out what we’ll do with ourselves as we go, only to be disillusioned with retirement post-honeymoon.

  • Paying attention to five non-financial aspects of retirement now can set you up for a successful transition into your next phase.

Average life expectancy is predicted to increase from 47 years at the start of the 20th century to 85 by 2050, according to the new report “The Four Pillars of the New Retirement: What a Difference a Year Makes” by Edward Jones, Age Wave, and The Harris Poll. Considering we could easily still be around another 20-30 years after the traditional retirement age of 65, that’s a lot of time to leave to chance in terms of how you spend it. We tend to be overly optimistic that we’ll figure it out when the time comes, only to get past the “honeymoon” phase to turn around and wonder, “what now?”

When asked about what we’ll do with ourselves upon retirement, many of us give standard, generic answers like, “time with grandkids” or “travel,” neither of which were options during the pandemic, depending on living arrangements with grandchildren. Also, grandkids grow up and leave, and unless you plan to be nomadic, travel for 365 days every year may not be realistic or could get old pretty quickly (as well as golf or tennis for that matter).

Before you leave your career behind, it’s important to have a plan for how you’ll spend your days so you avoid any type of downward health spiral post-exit, won’t go stir crazy (or drive your spouse or partner crazy), and have a sense of purpose and meaning for your life beyond your work, which is key to a successful retirement and good health.

How can you ensure your transition into retirement is a good one? By taking action now to prepare beyond the financial or estate planning considerations that receive much of the media attention.

Here are five key considerations to plan for, ideally before you exit your career and hit Retirement Day One.

Identity: How do you introduce yourself once you retire?

How many times over the course of your career have you been asked the question, “What do you do?” when you meet someone new? Too many to count, most likely. If you’re like many people and focus on your occupation when you introduce yourself, it’s time to figure out who you’ll be in your retirement phase and what defines you as a person.

The more closely you identify with your job role, the tougher it’ll be to separate from it, so it’s good to start now to figure this out. You are more than your work, even if you’re not quite sure yet what that is, or if what you were before the demands of adulthood set in is a bit fuzzy. Who are you?

Vision: How do you picture your future once you've retired?

When you close your eyes and envision the future, what do you see yourself doing? Who are you with? Where are you? What are the activities you most enjoy to ensure you stay active, healthy, engaged, and energized to get up each day?

The more specific you can be about what life looks like, the greater your chances of making it happen, and the more fulfilled you will be. Your vision is your “eyes on the prize” to give you a sense of what to aim for, even thoughthis vision will evolve over time. Your post-retirement vision doesn’t have to be set in stone; it just has to be motivating and speak to who you are and what’s important to you.

Goals: How can you stay inspired during retirement?

Just because you’re leaving your workplace behind doesn’t mean you don’t need goals anymore. Having things in life that you still want to accomplish can foster that sense of purpose and provide meaning. That purpose and meaning could come from:

  • Learning a new skill or about a topic of interest
  • Seeing new places or spending time in favorite ones
  •  Meeting people
  • Having different experiences
  • Picking up with a new hobby or one that was abandoned in adulthood

Not sure or haven’t developed many interests outside of work? Do a bit of research and ask around. You never know what you’ll stumble across that can provide inspiration.

Work: How do you help smooth your transition away from the office?

What do you need to put in place or contribute to in your current role that will give you a sense of closure and leave it in good hands? If you’re concerned about the state of things at work for after you leave, including client relationships, leadership, processes, or anything else, consider what you can do now to support the transition and your organization’s succession planning. This could include: providing input on who could be a good fit for leadership roles; closing out specific projects; leaving key contact information with colleagues for vendors, customers, partners, etc.; sharing any “tribal” knowledge; training or mentoring potential successors; or documenting processes and procedures to get them out of your brain. Do what you need to do so you can exit feeling good about it and be at peace.

Life pillars: How can you tend to your needs in retirement?

Much has been written and said about the link between longevity and good health and having social connection, as well as staying physically and mentally active in retirement. What exactly will you do every day to ensure you tend to each of the needs we have as humans, often referred to as “life pillars?” In addition to physical activity and socializing, how will you stay in good mental and emotional health? It’ll be important to exercise your brain through learning, solving challenges, making new connections, and having strong relationships in your life with people and/or animals so you keep emotional bonds as well as feel loved and appreciated.

How will you answer for your occupational and intellectual needs? For some, that means finding new ways to use your skills, strengths, and talents; for others, getting back to ones that they haven’t used in a while. Volunteering, part-time work, mentoring or teaching, or even working full time in a different capacity with less stress are all options to consider. Leave the pillars to chance at your own risk.

Taking steps now to address these five aspects of non-financial retirement planning through a concrete, specific game plan will pay its own dividends by ensuring as best you can that your transition is successful, leading you to a fulfilling next phase with many years of good health ahead.