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How To Improve Your Retirement

Feb 25, 2008
Before you retired, remember how you dreamed about what your life would be like after you stopped working? All the places you would go? All the things you would do with all your new-found extra time? How wonderful life was going to be? How long ago was that?

Now here you are, months or years later. Your life is not what you envisioned. You are not doing the things you thought you would do. The perpetual vacation got old. You are feeling aimless and depressed. Your life seems somewhat out of focus. You are wondering what went wrong.

You are not alone. Today, 40% of retirees report not being satisfied with their life in retirement and report that they were happier when they were working.

If this is you, or think this might be you, it's not too late. Sure, some of your expectations might have been unrealistic, including the amount of money you were going to need in retirement, but no one has that proverbial crystal ball. So stop beating yourself up over and over again and feeling sorry for yourself. Do something to make the rest of your life better. But what? Where do you begin?

It doesn't start with the money. It starts with you.

Think of it this way. Before you retired, your work gave you three very important things: (1) a structure for your life: when to get up in the morning, where to go, how long to stay there and when to come home; (2) a community of like-minded people to relate with during the day, and (3) a purpose and direction for your life. When you stop working, you need to make sure you keep structure, community and purpose in your life. If they are not there now, you need to put them back. But you need to do it in a way that will make you happy by complementing your own, unique personality. Here's how.

Think back to when you were working and remember the times when you were experiencing an extreme sense of purpose. In the course of this activity you were firing on all cylinders, using all the knowledge, talents and skills you have to accomplish this mission. You were so involved with achieving this purpose that you probably lost all sense of time. You had a project, you had goals to accomplish, you had a timetable and a deadline, and you were involved with others in some way to see this project through to completion. Think of three times in your life when this occurred and make up a name for each one of them (i.e. "winning the Butler account"). Write these three names at the top of three different pieces of paper.

Then, underneath each one, write down the circumstances, answering the following questions. What was the overall purpose you were involved with? What interested you about the project? What were the physical circumstances? Who were you with, and were you working directly with them, for them, or were they working for you? Were you mainly working alone or in small or large teams? What was your specific role? Which of your interests were being met? Which of your skills were you using? Which of your personal needs were being met?

If you can't think of three such situations involving work, think of others outside of work (pursuing a hobby, fixing something, organizing a group to do something in your community or at your church or synagogue, etc.)

Once you have finished this exercise, examine your three pieces of paper and look for what these experiences all had in common. This will help you to understand and examine your interests, your working style, and your motivational needs.

Now the next step is to think about how you are going to add back into your retirement life more experiences similar to these. This could possibly take the form of part-time work, but not necessarily so. You could join a nonprofit organization and support a cause you believe in. You could elect to become more active in your community by joining a civic group or running for elective office. You could decide to turn a hobby into a business. Think about and write down the goals and measurable objectives you want to accomplish, and by when. You have just recreated a sense of purpose for your life.

Think next about who you are going to do this with. If you join an existing organization or cause, the people often come along with that decision. But if you are starting something new, you may have to bring in the people to work with you. When will you see them? How often? What will you be doing with them? You are recreating your sense of community.

Finally, think about how you are going to organize your life to accomplish your new purpose. Will you do it at home, at an office, outside? How many hours will you give to it each week? Which hours will they be? You are putting structure back in your life.

Gradually, you will see your life come back into focus. As a result of your new purpose, community and structure, your aimlessness and depression will start to subside and you will start to feel your energy returning. You will begin to re-establish your identity, but in a different context than before. And because you are doing something new, your learning curve will be positive.

The life you save just might be your own!
About the Author
John Trauth is co-author of "Your Retirement, Your Way" (McGraw-Hill, 2007), a step-by-step curriculum which explains the secrets for happiness in retirement and helps readers prepare for the psychological, strategic and financial aspects of this major life transition. Learn more about this book and take the free "retirement readiness quiz" at http://www.YourRetirementYourWay.com.
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