Some people don’t have much choice about when they retire. But for those that do, deciding when you are ready to leave full-time employment can be a difficult decision and may be especially challenging if you love your career or have anxiety about the unknown. It can be so easy to think about it fleetingly and then just head on back to the office, albeit home office for many in these times.
If you are someone who can’t quite bring yourself to quit working or are looking for signs you’re ready to retire, here is a bit of a framework to guide you:
1. Have an idea of what you are retiring to
Strategies around managing change in organisations suggest that changes are most successful when we are moving toward something we want, rather than moving away from something we don’t want. If you’ve ever met someone who hated their job but did not find happiness in retirement, then you will relate to this concept more intuitively. What do you want to do with this much more flexible part of your life? What will you enjoy but will also bring meaning and purpose?
2. Explore your fears
Are you worried about losing your identity, being irrelevant or bored? If you’re realistic you know that retirement isn’t one, long, stress-free holiday. One of the things I found prior to leaving full-time work was that I had prioritised work to the point that I really had only snippets of life around it. I worried about being able to meaningfully fill my days once it was gone. Doing some naval gazing and articulating what you are worried about will help you think about what action you can take to address your concerns. Other big ones can be eldercare or the care of older disabled children.
3. Dig deep into your own self-awareness
How do you deal with change? Even positive change can be stressful and thinking about how you might manage the transition to not working full-time might help you think through what you need to put into place to successfully navigate such a huge life change. If you have children, think about when your first born arrived and the impact it had on your life. For many, retiring is just as big a life change!
4. Picture your future ‘tribe’
While we all have the best intentions of staying in touch with work colleagues once leaving employment, this doesn’t always pan out. One of the toughest things I found about retiring early is that my ‘tribe’ were all still working so my play mates were a bit more limited initially. So ask yourself if you have enough contacts outside of work, and if not, think about how you might build these prior. If you are in a relationship, creating a plan for your what’s next together will be important.
5. Think about your outlook with respect to your finances
With most of the retirement resources perhaps overemphasising finances, it is critically important to put the financial aspects in perspective. There is so much more to successful retirement than how you pay for it. Financial security is important, but it does not over ride other aspects of your plan. We have all met wealthy retirees who are bored and unfulfilled as their retirement planning was perhaps not as holistic as it could have been. So speak to your financial advisor, make good decisions and focus on your savings, sure, but don’t neglect the rest! Also consider how you will psychologically make the transition from working and saving to retirement and spending. This is hard for many even if the financial adviser has said ‘go for it’! If this feels uncomfortable, you might look to tiptoeing into retirement by slowly reducing your hours or moving from full to part-time work initially. This will provide a bit of a safety net until you feel more comfortable with the change.
If you are still not sure you are ready to take this step, perhaps you might want to take your vision of your what’s next after leaving full-time work for a test drive. See how possible it might be to take say, four months sabbatical or unpaid leave from your job and live the life you think you want in your Third Age. It needs to be long enough that you completely detach from your work life. Possible?
While being financially ready is definitely one factor, there are quite a few other factors that need consideration before being as sure as you can be that you are ready to retire. Working through them will put you in a better position to ‘know’ you’re ready. And then just go for it!