Transitioning into retirement is a major life event. While some romanticize retirement and even see it as an achievement in personal status, it can be difficult for others. Add in a turbulent economy and a global pandemic, and questions abound for those preparing for this next stage in life. To help people who are either preparing to retire or have retired and are looking for something different, Ruth Tongen, a Certified Professional Retirement Coach, helps people design and live their retirement years with greater purpose, delight and better health.
Tongen will be the keynote presenter in our upcoming virtual session, “Surfing the Waves of Change: Transitions and Meaningful Retirement,” on September 23rd. She recently shared with us some of her insights for those who are ready to embrace this new life.
How did you get into your line of work and why is that work important?
I come at this work from a health background because I was operating a clinic and I was seeing people who were coming in. What I really noticed was a huge difference between people who were really engaged in life and retirement and people who were not and what their health outcomes were. So I started doing research into that to figure out, 'What am I going to do to be healthy as life goes on?'
It turns out that there is quite a lot of correlation between how we live retirement and how our health proceeds as we go along. I have a background in geriatrics, wellness and human resources and so I combined all of that and started working with people talking about retirement.
What is the most common concern about retirement that people bring to you when they ask you to work with them?
I have yet to have a client come to me and I say 'Oh, it’s that again,' because everybody is unique. Yet, I would say there are three themes.
- Not being sure how to let go of work because work plays such a big part of who they are. We see this in a lot of corporate executives who aren’t quite sure who they are going to be when they are not “that” person anymore. Or they want somebody to talk out loud with about the last things they want to accomplish before they retire so they have closure.
- Not having a clue what to do. Sometimes during retirement, it feels like there is not enough going on. People find themselves having to fill their time and there is nothing that quite excites them. Frankly, it is more often the spouse that initiates our working together more than the retiree themselves because the spouse notices their aimlessness or boredom.
- Something changed after retirement. When someone's health, life experiences or circumstances change, their retirement plans have to change, too. They now need to come up with a plan “B.” There is grief about that because they think they have their retirement planned as this one thing when retirement is really a set of different cycles.
How does one know when they are ready to retire?
Well, that is an internal thing. For some people what I find is that they have a date on the calendar. The date might be based on social security or it might be based on some date they had always set. They don’t care about what is going on in life or in work – that is going to be their retirement date.
There are other people who might decide that they don’t have the zest for what they're doing with their life right now. Or it may be that someone decides to retire because their partner's health isn’t great so they are making their decision about wanting to have quality years. And because of COVID-19, some people are going to find themselves unexpectedly retired, and maybe they didn’t have a plan to retire right now.
Two signs I tell people to look for when deciding if they're ready to retire are 1: if work is feeling like a chore, that's a good clue. And 2: If what's calling out to you in retirement is bigger or more important than what's keeping you in your daily working life, you might be ready for retirement.
What advice would you give to someone who isn’t sure when or why to retire?
I work with a number of people about this and so we run through practice scenarios. For example: How one uses their vacation might change up ahead of time as they are debating retirement. Where I may have always done the same thing on vacation well now this time let’s lump the vacation together, so it is a little longer period and let’s not do the same thing we have always done. Let’s set up a practice run, if you will, so this isn’t going to be about traveling nonstop for most people and this isn’t going to be about grandchildren because they are not going to be your whole life in retirement. This is about figuring out how you can be with yourself as you think it through.
One of the exercises I encourage them to do is to work with a calendar to think about:
A) How much time do they need for themselves?
B) How much time are they already committed to?
C) How much time are they going to need to look for things to fill?
I also do a lot of passion work with people. I help them get really clear on 2 – 3 passions and although they may not have any idea on what they are going to do with that it gives them a starting point to build on.
What are three steps in designing and living a successful retirement?
We could divide it into a bunch of steps, but three main one are:
- Creating a great ending. If you have a choice in that, making sure that you have good closure as you are retiring is important. Building some vision and strategies, looking out over the horizon ahead of time is also important. A mistake I see made is assuming retirement is going to be the best time in your life and yet not having any vision for it.
- Making sure your vision is realistic.
- Living it out. Sometimes people have a great plan, but they need help to get off the starting line. What are the little steps you can take to move in that direction? Learning how to live in the context of that great retirement.
To hear more from Ruth and learn more about how you can plan a meaningful retirement, please join us on September 23rd at either 12pm CDT or 5pm CDT.