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September 29, 2015 at 10:46 AMComments: 2 Faves: 0

Facing Retirement? Consider This...

By Jeffrey VanWingen M.D. More Blogs by This Author

As I grow older with my patients, I’m spending an increasing number of check-ups at that transitional period in a working person’s life called retirement.  It’s that time that we all look forward to in the midst of the toil of deadlines, getting up early and just plain doing what we wouldn’t otherwise be doing on any given day. I find that a lot of these people are a bit bewildered when this time finally comes.  This blog will help guide toward perspective for the life shift of retirement.

Defining Retirement

The first thing to make clear is that retirement is not necessarily the cessation of work.  It really is about terms.  I see retirement as the achievement of life on an individual’s terms.  It is the autonomy to choose one’s own commitments.  Nobody is telling a retired person where to be, what to do and holding a paycheck over their heads to accomplish work.  While retirement may involve engagement in commitments (some of it may actually look like work), the careful difference is that the task is on the terms of the retiree. 

Shift of Gears

Some people point fingers at individuals saying, “They’re going to have a tough time retiring.”  Indeed, some people do have a difficult time retiring when they lose the perspective above.  Some people define themselves by their work.  For these people, retirement can take away that badge of pride - but it doesn’t have to. I recently helped a lawyer as he moved from a 75 hour work week to retirement.

While he had hobbies and even looked forward to engaging in these and being more of a grandfather, he admitted that the loss of the esteemed “lawyer” title was going to be difficult. We explored avenues for him to remain in the legal arena on his terms. He considered volunteering to provide legal advice at a homeless shelter or possibly teaching a class at the local law school. We viewed these tasks as “ala carte,” allowing him to remain engaged and easy to give as much or as little time as he chose. For some, they, by their choice, can think of nothing more enjoyable than walking away from their job and never looking back. For these individuals remaining engaged and having a plan is important. 

Retirement is a time when dreams can become real. I have seen people pick up and move to places they love or closer to loved ones. I’ve looked at pictures of new campers purchased to hit the open road. Some have shown pictures of their grandchildren saying proudly that they were the new job. Home projects, books to be read, hobbies to pick up again… retirement can bring spice to life.

The New Commodity

With retirement comes time. It is an opening of the floodgates for one of the most contested commodities of the working years—time. The paucity of time takes our health and happiness.  We convenience eat and put exercise on the back burner. I encourage new retirees to make their health a new part-time job. Join a health club to increase activity and be social.  Spend time cooking healthy and enjoying this food with time to shop for scratch ingredients and explore new recipes. 

Finances change in retirement and even the commodity of money changes. Living well within a budget when on a monthly fixed income reduces stress over financial issues. Planning fiscally for the unexpected is also wise.

A Note on Health

As a primary care physician I can’t help plug the health aspects of retirement.  Benefits exist beyond the commodity of time.  The potential for reduced stress has health benefits for many.  I have seen patients’ health improve year to year after retirement.  I’ve taken patients off blood pressure medications, anti-anxiety and anti-depressants in their new, stress-reduced retirement.  Weight loss due to increased activity and better eating have removed the need for medications to treat blood pressure and diabetes.  Still, we have all heard about “that guy” who worked for decades and then dropped dead a week into retirement.  It is a great idea to see your doctor before you retire for health strategizing and screening.

In Conclusion…

Retirement is that long-term light at the end of the tunnel for most of us who work.  With this transition, however, can come some unexpected issues.  It is important to examine what work is to you and plan not only financially for your retirement, but also emotionally.  Remember, retirement is the achievement of life on your terms.  Use the abundant commodity of time to maximize happiness in your life upon retirement.

Live, and live well.

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  • great article!

  • I served in the U. S. Navy for nearly 30 years. During many of my years, I was deployed on various ships. I've learned that MOST people have absolutely NO IDEA what's involved. Every time the ship deploys, I would leave behind family, and everything, because I was called to serve (my country). While deployed, the normal daily routine would probably kill the average person. Very few have any idea the constant stress the average Sailor (or Marine, or Soldier, or Airman) endures on a routine basis. Then, your time is up, and you retire. In my case, I HAD to find a follow-on job because military retirement pay just won't get you to the end of the month. For many military retirees, it's "starting over". Some will ask, "Why did you do it?" Answer from most would be: "To Serve my Country". Some will ask, "If you had to do it over, would you?" Answer from most would be: "I'm ready to go".

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