I retired at age 24. Kinda.
I voluntarily choose not to work for two-and-a-half years, from age 24 to 26, while I traveled the globe. Whether or not that constitutes a “retirement,” a “mini-retirement” or some other word/phrase is a matter of semantic debate.
But during those two-and-a-half years outside the workforce, I experienced something unexpected: a sense of ennui.
The first few months were like a honeymoon, characterized by excitement and euphoria. After that, I began feeling bored.
I’d stand at the base of a 1,000-year-old temple in Burma and think, “Now what?” I’d fly to a pristine white beach in Indonesia and think, “Is this all there is?”
My physical self would sit on a tropical beach in Malaysia while my mind daydreamed about the contributions I’d make when I rejoined society: I’d launch a website! I’d write a book! I’d start a company!
I’m not complaining; I loved those two years and I’d travel again in a heartbeat. But finding purpose and direction OUTSIDE of a traditional career or childrearing requires immense mental fortitude.
So I was immediately intrigued when I saw this book teaser, promoting a new book called The Retirement Maze:
“If you were to ask our opinion about retirement, the answer might surprise you: ‘Be careful what you ask for.’ Retirement is a full-time job: it demands constant attention and a great deal of effort to do it well. If you’re not up to the challenge, stay at work.”
“I know exactly what they mean,” I thought. “I have to read this book.”
“I Am Nobody.”
One of the book’s authors, Rob Pascale, thought he loved to paint. He imagined devoting his retirement years to art.
But after he retired, he discovered he didn’t enjoy painting as much as he thought. Painting had been a distraction from work-related pressures. Without those pressures, his interest in art waned.
His life took on a sense of drifting, without purpose or direction. He started feeling bored, anxious and, ironically, stressed.
“At some point, I had to come to terms with the fact that I am nobody,” he said. “Whatever I accomplished before had no relevance to my life going forward.”
Sweating the Small Stuff
When Anne, an education administrator, was busy balancing work and family, she didn’t have time to let the “small stuff” bother her. Her brain was jam-packed with schedules, emails, conference calls, and memos.
Once she retired, though, she had plenty of mental space to wallow in minor irritations.
“The smallest issue could become a major tragedy – like a broken fingernail … I had no time for the small issues when I was working; now, unstructured time allows you to waste time on insignificant issues.”
She also found herself squandering time more:
“The five-minute breakfast that I used to eat became the two-hour coffee break. I was up at 7:00, but by the time I looked at the clock, it was 10:30. How could that be? Time flies when you’re not doing anything.”
As Anne learned firsthand, retirement can lead to boredom, irritation, and inefficiency.
Data, I Want Data
Still not convinced that retirement can be psychologically troublesome? Consider these facts reported in the book:
* Only 47 percent of retirees achieved the retirement goals they set at the start of their retirement. The majority, 53 percent, did not.
* Non-retirees spend about 30 hours per month with friends. Retirees spend an average of only 17 hours per month with friends.
* A 2009 study found that retirees who move to a scenic area with warmer climate reported less happiness than expected. Retirees who moved to areas with greater access to medical care reported higher happiness levels. Maybe practicality wins the day?
* If you MUST retire, it may be better to wait until you’re older. Among people who retire between the ages of 45 to 59, only 37 percent report feeling satisfied with retirement six years into it. In contrast, 57 percent of those who retired in their 60’s or later say they’re satisfied.
* Twenty-nine percent of people who retired between age 45 to 59 take antidepressants, and roughly half of those (44 percent) started taking antidepressants after their retirement. Only 17 percent of people who retired in their 60’s or later take antidepressants.
Should I Read It
Most people – especially those who read Afford Anything — know they need to financially prepare for retirement (or for their mid-career mini-retirement).
But that’s only one piece of the puzzle. Retirement demands tremendous mental, emotional and spiritual preparation.
This book helps readers grapple with the psychological factors that can disrupt your retirement (or your mini-retirement). The first two sections explain the mental/emotional risks and dangers. The final section offers pointers on how to steel your mind for it.
The book also discusses how stay-at-home wives cope with their husbands being home all day. (Hint: not well. The retired husbands are compared to “invaders,” and marital satisfaction declines. Don’t worry, this book offers advice on how to cope.)
Important note: This book is written in academic-speak. The authors, for instance, say “subjective well-being” instead of saying “happiness.”
This Book Is For You If: You’re interested in an academic and research-driven analysis of the psychological and emotional factors surrounding retirement.
This Book Is NOT For You If: You want to focus on the financial-planning aspects of retirement.
Check out more reviews of The Retirement Maze: What You Should Know Before and After You Retire.