After a career of working, scrimping and saving, many retirees are well prepared financially to stop earning a living. But how do you find meaning, identity and purpose in the remaining years of your life?
John and Kathryn Gee, both 57, recently engaged in this existential query. They have worked hard at well-paying technology-related jobs, invested diligently and are planning to retire soon. Having relocated to San Antonio from Phoenix in 2010, they have already reached a sweet spot where they have a bountiful nest egg. Yet they worry that something is missing.
“We thought we’d be retired and would be fat, dumb and happy at 55,” Mr. Gee said. “We only talked about money. Then we started asking some simple questions.”
Embracing the guiding principles of life planning laid out by a financial planner, George Kinder, the Gees asked themselves what they would do if money wasn’t an issue and they only had one day to a few years left to live. The answers, which they are still contemplating, gave them a renewed focus on what was most important to them.
“What is it that can make me a better person?” Ms. Gee asked herself after a re-examination of their core values. “How can we give back? Family became more important.”
Mr. Kinder, who has been espousing and refining life-planning programs with his clients and in seminars for several decades, calls for a process that involves self, family and community.
“Who do I want to be?” is a question that Mr. Kinder says his clients should ask. “What have I missed? Who did I not get to be? What an incredible opportunity to have all of these things in front of you.”
As with financial preparation, life planning evolves in stages. Mr. Kinder says he walks clients through exploration of positive outcomes and goal setting “within a human setting of comfort and support.”
If the process unfolds in a positive way, Mr. Kinder says, the ideal state is one of the Hawaiian word “aloha.” The term does not simply mean hello or goodbye, he says, but in the truest sense stands for “the process of passing a blessing from one person to another.”
Mitch Anthony, author of “The New Retirementality” (Wiley, 2008), says your self-evaluation should start with the question, “What am I wired for?” which involves taking an “inventory of who you are.”
Mr. Anthony’s principles are geared around one’s aptitudes and having active pursuits that involve the mind, body and spirit.
Translating that into concrete actions can be challenging. Retired professionals may be able to continue to do what they were doing, but now as part-timers or consultants. Others may be able to apply their analytic, management or organizational skills in low-stress, time-flexible settings. Still others may want to strike out in entirely new directions.