Nancy Schlossberg attended a retirement party for a co-worker and afterward heard people remarking how the guest of honor should have retired years ago because she was “too old.”
“People said he was working too long. It made me realize that I never wanted people to say that about me. It got me thinking about my own retirement,” Schlossberg said. “I started thinking I better go while I’m still at the top of my game.”
Schlossberg, 93, eventually resigned as a professor from the University of Maryland, but instead of retiring she built a second career as an author and public speaker on topics related to retirement, life transitions and aging.
“There is no single answer for anyone about when the time is. There is something that triggers the thought — and the triggers will be unique to each person — but once the thought is there, it swells,” Schlossberg said.
“To retire, you need a financial portfolio and a psychological portfolio. The psychological is just as important as the money,” Schlossberg said.
Reading: You’re probably not ready to retire — psychologically
To make a successful transition into retirement, you need to check your financial, emotional and professional frameworks to make sure you are fully prepared. And some people will never be ready, experts said.
“We need to change our mindset about aging and ‘it’s time to retire,'” said Catherine Collinson, president and CEO of the nonprofit Transamerica Institute. “Socially, we’re locked into these ideas that are no longer relevant.”
“As individuals, we can be our own worst enemies. With a healthy diet, exercise, we can age better and have the gift of a strong time. There doesn’t need to be an endgame,” Collinson said.
Workers face these questions at a time when the traditional career arc is disappearing. The days of a corporate career and retiring at 65 with a gold watch—and a pension—are long gone. Now, workers may be more likely to change jobs—and even careers—during their working years, and since we’re living longer, a typical retirement can last decades.
Ashley Agnew, a financial advisor and director of relationship development at Centerpoint Advisors in Needham, Mass., calls retirement an “emotionally driven financial decision.”
“A lot of conversations start with ‘how much money do I need to retire,’ which is not easy to understand. But this is not the only factor. You have to be emotionally ready,” Agnew said. “We’re diving deeper into what retirement will be like. What is your perfect retirement day? What is your average retirement date? Will you consult or volunteer? How do you go from go, go, go all the time? Abrupt attitudes are usually not healthy.”
Reading: “I needed something to do”: How seniors and companies are embracing work in retirement
Dan Schilling, 71, put off retirement during the pandemic and looked for a way out of his job, but still keeps a hand in the advertising agency where he worked for 40 years in Birmingham, Ala.
“I had to make a decision at some point. I would have retired earlier, but COVID happened and I couldn’t travel and see my family, so I kept working,” Schilling said.
“But at some point I realized you don’t want to die at your desk sending an email. You want to die skydiving in Cancun or something.”
Schilling said he was fortunate to negotiate what he called a “soft landing” in his retirement this spring by becoming an adviser to the advertising company’s president, allowing him to maintain contacts, keep his skills sharp and give him a sense of purpose and identity as he transitions into retirement, he said.
Such transitions can make retirement more successful and enjoyable.
Agnew encourages clients to “dream wild” about what their retirement could be like if money weren’t a constraint. This frees up clients to talk about what they really love and helps them potentially find inspiration for how to spend decades in retirement.
Do you want to spend time with family and friends—is that a big trip a year or weekly Sunday dinners, Agnew asked? Find the answer, then build more social time into your life and budget for travel and gatherings.
There’s no end to ideas for what to do in retirement from learning new skills at a local college (just over 0.3% of university students are over 65), from sharing your hobbies with a local scouting organization to learning while traveling with an educational tour company. Volunteering is a big plus: while retirees make up less than a third of the population, they account for 45 percent of all volunteer hours, according to Merrill Lynch.
“The common misconception is that retirement isn’t just about quitting your job,” Agnew said. “It’s more of a process, and the more runway you have, the more comfortable you’ll be with the decision.”
Of course, some people put off retirement a little too long, even though they have the financial resources to retire, said Joe Casey, CEO of Retirement Wisdom in Princeton, NJ.
About 26.6% of people 65 and older are working, and that number is projected to rise to 32% by 2030, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
“Sometimes people stay a little too long in the exhibit,” Casey said. “What do you do when you’re the dog that finally catches the car it’s been chasing? What will you do now; You have to think about how you’re going to invest that time, which often lasts decades.”
Learn how to get your financial routine in order at the Best New Ideas in Money Festival on September 21st and 22nd in New York. Join Carrie Schwab, president of the Charles Schwab Foundation.