Why must the retirement planning process end with retirement?
As advisers/planners we become immersed in the process; there’s nothing better than assisting clients map out financial strategies which lead to successful conclusions.
There exists a level of anxiety for new retirees even though we as professionals feel a sense of accomplishment. Years ago I discounted this discomfort as “crossover risk.” Clients who told me they were going to “retire,” were back at work a year later and the opposite occurred too.
Eventually, crossover risk lessens. However, the first year of retirement, the bridge, has become increasingly stressful. Enough to where I now call the first year:
“The Black Hole.”
It’s a place we rarely want to venture because it reaches dark deep into the vulnerability, misgivings, guilt (yes guilt) first-year retirees experience. And in a way, as consultants, we are uncomfortable to secure ropes around our waists, jump in to the holes and pull the clients out because generally we work with numbers, not feelings.
Out of respect, we allow new retirees the “space” to figure it out and ostensibly they do. There’s light at the end of the tunnel (hole), eventually. The adjustment is complete.
But is this a strategy? Not really. So if you’re in the dark as a retiree, or a financial professional who is aware of the dissonance in clients, what can you do to help?
Six points of light:
1). Listen. Hard. For queues of uncertainty and opportunities to provide reassurance. Don’t skirt or discount the uneasiness. Oh, you’ll know the queues, the words that will cause you as a retiree or a professional to squirm in your seat.
If you actively listen, you’ll become sensitive to the frustration or apprehension of working out of the black hole. And there’s a lot going on in the dark – It’s a realization of one’s mortality, a challenge to an inner sense of worth; some experience guilt because they’re no longer feeling like productive members of society.
No more deadlines, phone calls to put out fires. I’ve noticed men have a tougher time working through the first retirement year. As one client shared – “I still need the fires.”
2). Provide Reassurance. It can be as easy as a brief review. A focus back on the highlights of the written retirement plan. Your advisor said you’re gonna be fine. All the numbers work. As a financial professional, a positive focus can increase confidence and provide comfort.
3). Ask Questions. Don’t be afraid to ask yourself or introduce questions that kindle new fires. The right questions can ignite thought, reflection and set a person off on a smoother transition.
How would you apply your work skills to a new venture? What motivates you to wake up in the morning? What adventures have you always wanted to pursue? The more you ask, the more comfortable you’ll be with the communication dynamics which will flourish.
4). Be Sensitive. To input from a spouse or partner. There’s nothing better when someone who is close to a new retiree can vocalize observations and/or ideas. You may pick up on frustration as this is a transition for others too.
As a spouse lamented “I didn’t know I was going to be dragged into the black hole, too!” A partner can be a motivator and provide valuable insight for an advisor. Recently, I asked a working spouse for ideas on how I can help her husband work through the unease of retirement and she was happy to flood me with suggestions.
5). Think Homework. I know it’s painfully clichéd but a bucket list activity is not a bad idea. One client told me a bucket (literally) was on his bucket list as he had an idea to turn buckets into painted art work. Give yourself or give gifts (as an advisor) of knowledge like books and magazines that focus on hobbies and other pursuits.
6). Get Social. Treat work associates to lunch; gather regularly with former colleagues, associate with company retirees. The sense of community is still important as we’re deep inside, social animals. As a financial partner I’m happy to spend time with new retirees in casual settings, engage in conversations to light a path out of the black hole.
So who said retirement was supposed to be easy?
The first year, the one mile out of the comfort zone of once was, can be incredibly stressful.
But with a little self-help and assistance from others.
There’s a way out of the darkness.