A Retirement Transition Guide For Men

Retirement Income Planning, Calgary

Why do men struggle with retirement more than women?


I know this is a generalization, but I do think it is a serious and prevalent concern. Based on our experience in talking with men and based on our reading and research there are many issues but first, let's look at some of the symptoms.

1. Driving their wives crazy.  This happens if their wife is already retired or not working. She has her daily routines and schedule and is doing quite fine. When her husband retires he is at home all the time and interrupts all of that. Being together 24 hours a day will have its difficulties.
2. Boredom. Before retirement, men worked 40-60 hours per week and after chores, there wasn't much time and space needing to be filled. Now there is a lot of time to fill each week. 
3. Excessive drinking. 
4. Weight gain.
5. Depression. 
6. Divorce.
7. Excessive time on the computer, gaming, Netflix, TV, social media.

Wives of retired men can have serious issues as well. It's actually called the Retired Husband Syndrom and it is having a major impact on women. Increased stress and health concerns are the results.

If you or your spouse are retired I am sure you can relate to some of these symptoms, but what are the contributing issues that cause them?

1. Loss of identity. This can be the biggest issue that men face as they transition into retirement. If what you did as a career defines you, what will define you when you no longer do it? Many men face an identity crisis soon after retirement. 

 

2. Has been. I vividly remember Nancy's dad, who retired after 50 years as a pastor, confiding in me that he felt like a "has been". After a lifetime of serving people, he was no longer called upon or felt needed. 
 

3. Nothing to retire to. This is worse when you are forced into sudden retirement due to job loss or poor health. There is no time to plan or mentally prepare yourself in advance of the transition. 

Nancy and I have been reading an interesting book called, “No Longer Awkward”, by Amy Florian. It’s a book about helping people through difficult times, especially those who have suffered a loss. Amy talks about the emotions of grieving and the facets of grief. She indicates that we all experience grief more often than we realize and in fact, we can experience grief any time we go through a transition in life such as a marriage/divorce, having a baby, moving, changing jobs, death of a loved-one or retirement. Transitions always entail leaving something behind, therefore experiencing loss, and moving into something new and unfamiliar.

Since the beginning of the Covid-19 lockdown, many people, including us, have been grieving their way of life that has been abruptly changed. Have you heard the new buzz words, “the new normal”? Well, I was quite happy with my old normal and I’m not at all interested in any kind of new normal where I can’t travel, see friends and family and have to wear a mask to enter a store. I, personally, feel myself grieving the loss of the old normal and I think many other people are feeling it as well.

Understanding and allowing yourself to grieve as you transition into retirement is important. Leaving the known and embracing the unknown or something new will bring many emotions with it. There is a sense of loss when you leave your employment or a successful business and you will grieve that loss for some time.

It's important to realize that all of the different emotions you are feeling are natural and it is okay to be feeling them. This will help you adjust as you transition into retirement, or whatever life-change you are experiencing. You cannot skip this step. You can try and postpone it, but, sooner or later you have to deal with your retirement transition and the loss of your old life.

Although there are many symptoms and issues associated with retirement, I actually think that the biggest concern is first dealing with the grief that comes with such a monumental life transition.

I recently sat down with a few different men to discuss their transition into retirement. I first met with Bruce for a coffee and to discuss his retirement experience. We met Bruce and his wife a few years ago when they attended one of our workshops on understanding CPP & OAS. We helped him and his wife with a retirement transition plan and he reminded me how valuable that was for them. 

Bruce is turning 64 soon and retired 4 years ago at the age of 60. After spending many years with a large company as an HR Executive he was ready to retire, in fact, it was his plan to retire at age 55, but he was enjoying his work so he stayed a few years past his original target date. He uses the analogy of a wall with a door in it - "you just don't know where the door is, or what's behind it," he says. Once you find the door, you can decide to open it or not. If you open the door and see a lion, you'll shut it pretty fast, but if you see that it's a lush green valley you'll want to go through that door and explore a whole new world. That's what retirement is like - a whole new world. He's happy he made the decision to retire and has made the transition rather easily.

The big lessons: Bruce refers to the push/pull factors in deciding when to retire.

The push factors: After many years in the corporate world, you can become tired of the long days and ongoing stress. As long as work is fun and rewarding it's easy to stay focused on it and keep going, however, when the lustre is wearing off and you have to decide to find a new role or move to another company, that can become a push factor for deciding to retire.

The pull factors: Bruce was realizing that many of his friends were falling ill or dying at young ages. If he was to fulfill some of the interests in his life and check off some of the items on his bucket list, he needed to get on with it - so he did. He reminded me of what I had written in his plan almost 4 years ago that retirement consists of 3 stages: Go-go years, Slow-go years and the No-go years, (not an original concept of mine, I read it somewhere) and these are his go-go years so he intends to make the most of them.

There's plenty of things that keep him busy: refereeing men's rec hockey, reading, walking, and month-long visits to warmer countries throughout the winter. Bruce says he has made the retirement transition well, but he still feels like something is missing - a feeling that he can make more of a contribution. (More on that in a moment)

The 3 stages of life:

Our lives can be divided into 3 stages: 0-30, 30-60, 60-90. The learning years, the earning years, and the contentment years.

Obviously, the lines of separation are rather grey, but you get the gist of what I referring to. In the first 30 years, we are getting an education, learning life lessons, choosing a life partner, etc.

The second 30, we spend working, paying off a mortgage, raising a family - being busy.

The last 30 years of our lives we spend in retirement. It’s a long time, but most people will spend more time planning a 2-week trip, than planning for these 30 years. Why is that? I think it’s low expectations. A poor definition of retirement. A lack of vision for your life. Complacency. Laziness. Settling for mediocrity. Getting into a rut. Living under a rock.

Most people, who are preparing to retire, obsess over the financial part of their planning. How much money do I need? Do I have enough? Will I run out? How do I invest it? The money part is easy. It’s planning the “living” part that is hard. 

The truth is this: There is no set definition of retirement. Other than a time frame for the time after we are done our formal work. It’s a blank page and you can fill it however you like. There are no right or wrong answers. It’s not a test. It’s whatever you want it to be. 

The most difficult part of retirement is the transition. If you get this part right it will set you up for a happy and productive retirement. Get it wrong and the next 30 years can be a drudgery - full of regrets.

I think that there are 3 fundamental questions that need to be answered for both men and women, but mostly men, as they transition into the third stage of life called retirement.

 

1. What am I going to do? 

  • Whatever you are doing before retirement is most likely what you’ll be doing after retirement.
  • It is rare for anyone to start volunteering after retirement if they did not do that beforehand.
  • You can’t just fill your days with meaningless activities. It’s possible to be busy, but yet bored.
  • The “Has Been” mentality. You can overcome this by finding new ways to use your skills and abilities.
  • There needs to be a rhythm and seasonality to our lives, with a splash of spontaneity. 
  • We need work, purpose, challenge, hobbies, leisure, stimulation, vacations, travel, serving, helping, and more.

2. Where do I want to be?

  • Once you retire you can live anywhere you like.
  • Do you stay in the familiar or move someplace new and warm?
  • Many retirees move once they retire. Staying someplace to be near your kids/family may leave you with feelings of resentment later in life or can bring you your greatest joy in life. Take your time and choose wisely. If you are thinking of moving to a new city, why not have some extended stays there before you make a big commitment. 

3. Who do I want to be?

  • This is the biggest question that needs to be addressed or it will lead to a lack of fulfillment and depression. It’s a question of identity. What are you passionate about? Who do you care about? What do you love? Who do you love? What makes you cry? What are good at? What do you enjoy doing? 

 

A Word To Married Men

As I mentioned earlier, the Retired Husband Syndrome is having a major impact on women, who have reported increased stress and health concerns. How can a wife help her retiring husband?

In her book, “No Longer Awkward”, Amy Florian talks about helping people through difficult times, especially those who have suffered a loss. Amy talks about the emotions associated with grieving. She indicates that we all experience grief more often than we realize and in fact, we may experience grief any time we go through a transition in life such as a marriage/divorce, having a baby, moving, changing jobs, death of a loved-one or retirement. Transitions always entail leaving something behind, therefore experiencing loss, and moving into something new and unfamiliar.

Although there are many symptoms and issues associated with retirement, it appears that the biggest and first concern is working through the grief that comes with such a monumental life transition.

Understanding that grief is a normal part of change enables you to allow yourself to grieve as you transition from work into retirement. Leaving the known and embracing the unknown or new will bring many emotions with it. There is a sense of loss when you leave your employment or a successful business and you will grieve that loss for some time. The most important thing is to realize that all of the different emotions you are feeling are natural and it is okay to be feeling them. This will help you adjust as you transition into retirement or whatever life-change you are experiencing. You cannot skip this step. You may postpone it, but you will have to work through your retirement transition and the loss of your old life sooner or later.

2 Styles of Grieving

1. Intuitive grievers. "Intuitives experience grief as a deep feeling that they must express and talk through. They process and tell their story repeatedly. They are more likely to keep a journal. They seek out support groups and other people in similar situations." They ask questions like: 

  • Who can emotionally understand and advise me?
  • Who can I talk to about my feelings?
  • What books can I read so I know I am not alone?

2. Instrumental grievers. "Instrumentals experience grief in physical, cognitive, or behavioral ways. They want to face facts and take action. They try to remain objective and analyze the experience. They are more likely to go it alone than to seek support groups and are wary of emotions that might cloud their judgment." They are most likely to ask questions like the following:

  • What concrete actions do I need to take to get through this?
  • How can I manage my grief and move on?
  • How can I keep my emotions in check so they don't hold me back?

Some people retire and immediately fill their calendars with stuff to keep them busy - work projects around the house, checking off items on the bucket list, travelling, visiting family, but eventually they will have more time on their hands then they know what to do with and that's when the problems begin. As I meet with couples I find that it's the men that want to focus only on the financial part of retirement. Investment portfolios and performance are often the easy and obvious part of the planning process, but it's the non-financial part of retirement that can bring the greatest pain.

When I sat down to chat with John, a relatively new retiree of 18 months, he told me that his decision to retire at 58 was a great decision. His stress levels have gone down and he is living a healthier lifestyle. John says that the big difference for him was that he got to choose his retirement date, rather than have one imposed upon him.

He also said that he and his wife are spending much less money than they expected. They have had some extended stays in Mexico the past 2 winters and they enjoy spending more time around the house. His advice to new retirees is to avoid making any major decisions in the first year. Your perspective on things changes from what you thought about certain things before you retired to how you think about them once retired. He says that he and have his wife have looked at different ideas or changes they thought they'd make, but once they took the time to process everything, stayed with the status quo. John took on a flyer route as a way to get some exercise each week and stay engaged. He also enjoys meeting new people in his neighbourhood as a result.

Loss of identity is the biggest issue that men face as they transition into retirement. If what you did as a career defines you, what will define you when you no longer do it? Many men face an identity crisis soon after retirement. 


Who do I want to be?

This is the biggest question that needs to be addressed or it will lead to a lack of fulfillment and depression.

It’s a question of purpose. What are you passionate about? Who do you care about? What do you love? Who do you love? What makes you cry? What are good at? What do you enjoy doing? Who do you enjoy being with?

This third stage of life, retirement, presents a great opportunity to be anything you want to be. One retired teacher I know, who is a life-long learner, continues to take courses at the university to keep his mind sharp. Because of his exposure there he has now taken on a part-time job as a tutor. 


One 77-year-old guy I met at Mcdonald's started a business in small engine repair. He took a 3-week course at SAIT and started learning how to do this work on his own - now he is as busy as he wants to be fixing lawnmowers and snow blowers and earning a little coffee money.

Who are you? Grandfather, father, husband, son, community member, runner, biker, life-long learner, landlord, business owner, farmer, gardener, volunteer, mentor, encourager, writer, fitness junkie, traveller, painter, reader, friend, artist. There are so many more things that can define you - you get to choose.  

My dad is 88 years old and has now been retired for 25 years. I called him to chat about his retirement. He didn't realize that it had been 25 years already. He was forced into retirement due to health issues at age 63, however, his health greatly improved not long after retirement and he has spent the past 25 years staying active. I could tell that he didn't like my questions, especially as I dug a little deeper, but he did admit that it took him a long time to adjust to retirement. He did offer a great piece of advice. Life is like a coin and you only get to spend it once and when it's gone - it's gone. Sobering advice I think. 

The third stage of life can be the best years of your life. My concluding thought on this subject is simply this. There needs to be a rhythm to our lives at every age. Not a routine, which can easily become a rut, but a rhythm. You don't want to become a grumpy old man driving the people in your life crazy. Figure out who you are so that you can live content and confident knowing who you are, that your life matters, and that you are making a difference.
 

  • Establish good relationships with friends and family.
  • Maintain good health through eating right and regular exercise.
  • Engage your mind through work that matters - whether paid or volunteer.
  • Acknowledge that there needs to be a sense of transcendence to your life, that you can make a difference beyond your own needs and wants, and live a life of significance.

Does any of this resonate with you? We hope it makes sense and helps you with your transitions in life. We look forward to hearing any feedback you'd like to share!

 

 
Click Here to learn more about our process for creating your financial roadmap for retirement, getting your total financial house in order, and living a life that inspires you.

 

Retirement Income Planning for Those 55+

Willis J Langford BA, MA, CFP

Nancy R Langford CRS


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