Rethinking retirement: Not when, but how

S.F. Ehrlich Associates |

August 15, 2021

Whether you’re a retiree, on the cusp of retirement, or anticipate that you someday will retire, there’s a good chance either (a) retirement didn’t turn out the way you thought, or (b) the retirement you’re anticipating will be dramatically different than what actually will occur.

When a client, or prospective client, comes to us and talks about retiring, we routinely ask: “What are you going to do?” Sometimes, the answers are clear, concise, and well-considered. Other times, the answers are vague, which leaves us to wonder whether the decision to retire was ill-timed. (We recognize, of course, that retirement decisions are not always the decision of the retiree. Health, staff reductions, and spousal issues, among other reasons, may dramatically impact when a person retires.)

Ken Dychtwald, who has been studying aging and retirement for over 45 years, recently published his 17th book on the subject, which was based on surveys with over 100,000 boomers. In an interview with The New York Times1, Dychtwald parsed some of his findings and conclusions.

  • Changing views of retirement: “It used to be that in retirement, people sought to do things that they always liked, but didn’t have time for during their working years, like taking an extended vacation, playing more golf, socializing with friends, or reading some good books. That changed for me when I realized that retirement was getting longer – and longer. In addition, our studies were showing that many retirees were feeling bored and irrelevant for decades. And I also began to notice that what was emerging was that some of the most successful role models for me weren’t winding it up when they turned 65. In fact, they were reinventing themselves and starting charities or organizations, or staying longer with their companies – with many even doing their best work.” 
  • Life’s Third Age: “For our first 30 years of life, our focus is on biological development, making friends, identity formation, and seeking a partner. Then, from 30 to 60, it’s a period occupied with building a family and a productive career. However, because of medical breakthroughs…what is now emerging is a whole new stage of life between 60 to 90…We know for sure that it offers far more than the limited retirement arrangements that our parents and grandparents pursued. This new Third Age is about reinvention of oneself…It’s about continuing to grow, learn, meet new people, try new things and even discover new purpose.”
  • A sequence of shifts over time: “People have traditionally thought of retirement as an off-on switch. You’re working, and then you’re retired. I see it as a series of stages. There’s the pre-retirement ‘anticipation’ period when folks are imagining what they’ll do and who they’ll be when they no longer work. Then the immediate period of retirement is like a liberation, a honeymoon period where people are usually exhilarated. That only lasts a year or so, and then there is another shift toward reorientation where people explore those big questions of what am I going to do all day long and what will matter to me?...Going forward, I think that there will be even more shifts for retirees…Some people will become either bored or curious and will consider going back to school, or starting a nonprofit, or learning a foreign language or writing a memoir or training for a marathon. And, of course, there are unexpected subplots. Someone you love gets sick and you have to spend your time caregiving, or your adult kids move back home. Bingo – all your plans change.”
  • What should retirees think about? “The importance of interdependence alongside independence – we all would do better in our later years if we’re connected and not isolated. And how do I maximize my health span, not just my life span.”
  • The biggest mistake retirees make? “Far too many think too small. I have asked thousands of people from all walks of life over the years who are nearing retirement what they hope to do in retirement. They tell me: ‘I want to get some rest, exercise some more, visit with my family, go on a great vacation, read some great books.’ Then most stall. Few have taken the time to study the countless possibilities that await them or imagine or explore all of the incredible ways they can spend the next period of their lives.”



1 Hannon, Kerry. “Rethinking Retirement.” The New York Times, 15 Oct. 2020.
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