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Five Most Common Retirement Myths

Feb 25, 2008
What is so hard about retirement? Many people have asked themselves this question. Well, if it is so easy, then why are 41% of retirees five years out depressed and say retirement was the most difficult transition of their life? Now they are unhappy and tell us their life was better when they were working!

You can avoid this fate. To learn how, you need to understand the difficulties associated with this transition, beginning with why there are so many negative psychological associations with the whole concept of "retirement" which you may not consciously understand. You also need to understand the most common retirement myths which may be preventing you from understanding what retirement really is all about and preparing adequately for it.

The word "retirement" comes from the old French verb, "retyrer" which means "to go off into seclusion." If you look up the word today in Webster's dictionary, some of the synonyms you will find are: (1) withdrawal; (2) retreat; (3) seclusion; (4) departure; and (5) regression.

Who would want to do any of that? So it is not surprising that we all probably have many unconscious negative associations with retirement. We don't want to feel old and irrelevant, and we don't want to regress, but often our parents'retirement was followed shortly by demise and death. We certainly want to deny the inevitable, and denial can become very powerful because we don't consciously realize we are doing it! And are we going to carefully plan for something we are carefully avoiding considering?

Denial of the importance of planning for retirement has led to five very common retirement myths.

Myth #1 is that retirement is not here now, so there is no reason to think seriously about it and plan for it. "I'll think about that tomorrow." We call this the "Scarlet O'Hara" myth. This myth can have devastating consequences including not saving enough money and developing serious conflicts with those closest to you who have different expectations about retirement.

Myth #2 is the belief that retirement is really simple. No big deal. I'll just stop working and everything will be fine. What's so hard about that? We call this the "Homer Simpson" myth. Sorry, Homer, but it doesn't work that way. Oversimplifying retirement and not understanding the enormous personal changes involved can result in disappointment and eventually depression when things do not work out as envisioned.

Myth #3 holds that retirement will be great because it will be one, long, happy vacation. Remember those three weeks we spent in Florida or Hawaii? The rest of my life is going to be just like that. We call this the "Carnival Cruise" myth. But retirees find out very soon that leisure is only relaxing and rejuvenating when it is a counterbalance to some sort of routine, and not as a perpetual escape from reality.

Myth #4 is probably the most common myth, and it expresses the belief that your retirement will be wonderful if only you have enough money. We call this the "King Midas" myth. It is perpetuated by the advertisements of many financial services companies and by the fact that, in America, we are becoming increasingly responsible for our own financial independence after work. This is not to say that money is not important. It is. But only as a means to an end and not as an end in itself. Many wealthy retirees are unhappy.

Myth #5 is the most interesting of all. This myth holds that I am just going to love spending tons and tons of time with my spouse or life partner. We have been waiting practically all our lives to have all this wonderful time together! Now finally we can do it! We call this last myth, the "King Henry the 8th myth." Couples who have spent 20% or less of their time together pre-retirement will have difficulty adjusting to a much higher percentage. The divorce rate is now the highest for the 55+ demographic.

So now that you know what the five most common retirement myths are, what do you do with this informaiton? You need to establish a process for getting past denial and truly engage in creating a retirement that will complement your own personality and also mesh well with those who will be sharing your retirement life. It is a process which begins with understanding why retirement is such a difficult transition and then taking steps to avoid or minimize these difficulties through planning intelligently to create your ideal retirement life.

For example, the cost of denying that retirement will change your relationship with your spouse or life partner (myth #5) suggests that you need to prepare for changing the depth of your interpersonal transactions. Decisions will now go way beyond "What's for dinner" and include where and even how to live, which can involve difficult discussions including prioritizing wishes, examining the details of your every day lives, and listening to and compromising with your partner. You can try to "wing it", but are you prepared to be a statistic in the new divorce paradigm?

This is the intelligent way to prepare for what could either be (a) your most difficult life transition, with a significant chance of unhappiness, or (b) the very best years of your life. Which will it be for you?
About the Author
John Trauth is co-author of "Your Retirement, Your Way" (McGraw-Hill, 2007), a step-by-step curriculum which helps readers prepare for the psychological, strategic and financial aspects of this major life transition and thrive in retirement! Learn more about this book and take the free retirement readiness quiz at http://www.YourRetirementYourWay.com.
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