Many people find the prospect of taking early retirement appealing.
Assuming you have the financial wherewithal and you haven’t been forced to retire, you have the opportunity to take your life in a different direction. For some, things actually turn out that way.
But that’s not the general rule. Early retirees can have a harder time adjusting and can become disenchanted as they progress deeper into their retirement.
As one reason, early retirees still have high levels of energy and drive, and many still have a strong need to be productive. However, if they have nothing planned, or what they planned to do is not as much fun as they expected, they may come to see retirement as boring and slow-paced. The truth is early retirees may face more boredom day to day than their older counter-parts.
Another reason is tied to what their spouse is doing. When a spouse keeps working, retirees can be restricted in their activities — they may not travel or participate in certain social situations as much as they would like. There can also be changes in the dynamics of the marriage, how partners relate to each other. If the retiree is a man, for instance, the loss of his bread-winning role can be a knock to his self-esteem. That can put stress on the relationship – not immediately at first, but gradually over time.
And finally, the most important factor, staying socially connected. People who stop working while still in their fifties won’t have many peers doing the same. The early retiree is often taking the journey alone.
Social contact breaks down in terms of both time and quality. There is distancing from friends because early retirees have different day-to-day goals and priorities. When conversations turn to work, they may lose interest, feel out of touch, or feel they have nothing to contribute. This is healthy – early retirees can’t afford to hold onto their working identities. But the weakening of these social bonds could lead then to feel disconnected and isolated, and that’s not healthy.
Early retirees will also lose touch with their former co-workers. Early on in retirement, retirees gradually break away from their co-worker friends – again, a healthy, if not inevitable, consequence of no longer having daily access to them or sharing the same priorities.
The breakaway happens for both younger and older retirees, but it’s much more severe for younger ones. Older retirees lose fewer friends because they tend to retire as a group, and the group still shares the same lifestyle.
Compounding this problem, younger retirees have fewer opportunities to meet new people. Older retirees have access to senior centers which serve as social hubs, and on-line retirement clubs. Not so for those retiring early.
Social isolation is harmful to one’s psychological well-being. You may come to feel under-valued, less self-confident, and less optimistic about the future. From there it’s a downward spiral – these negative feelings can reduce their motivation to improve their lifestyle, which further reduces self-esteem, and so on.
So, retiring young is not without its issues. But there are ways to make it work. First off, before you leave the workforce, make sure you have something meaningful to go to. Just walking out and thinking you’re heading into paradise will likely lead to disappointments.
Careful and detailed planning is essential. Planning leads to goal setting, which provides a constructive way of using time and a path to follow. That’s for you activities, but also for your social life. Put your efforts into maintaining regular contacts with friends and acquaintances — and in person, not via electronics.
Keep an open mind about going back to work, and jump in as soon as you recognize you’re not comfortable in retirement. The right job, one that is not stress-ridden or overly demanding, can provide various psychological and social benefits, but still let you feel retired.
Finally, retire with your spouse. You’ll have a greater array of entertaining diversions, feel less lonely and isolated, and the dynamics of the relationship will remain unchanged. However, if that’s not possible, then pay particular attention in planning how you will spend your time with and without your spouse. Along these lines, give yourself permission to do the things you need to do to keep feeling good about yourself.
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