You’ve spent the last few decades of life being “a grown-up.” You’ve put others first—as a parent, a significant other or an employee. Now retirement is on the horizon, and the Golden Years lie ahead. But how do you make sure they really are golden? The answer to one question may be the key, says Dr. Alexis Abramson, a gerontologist who has written four books on topics relating to the Baby Boomer generation and aging.
The question you need to ask: Whom do you want to be?
Your answer may lie in an unlikely place. Dr. Abramson believes the answer to whom you want to be in retirement requires you to look back to your childhood. “Our lives are moving so quickly that we can easily lose some of our authenticity and ourselves along the way. We tend to concentrate on others’ needs and wants and rarely spend time really thinking of ourselves.”
The concept can be applied to many aspects of adult life. Perhaps you used to love painting, but your kids were outdoorsy types, so you stopped. Could it be time to buy a new set of brushes and begin creating again? Likely so. Your “second 50 years” are a time to reclaim lost childhood dreams and chase old passions. But Dr. Abramson says you must be intentional about it. Here’s how:
1. Clear the clutter. Dr. Abramson says that during much of our adult life, we adopt the attitudes, desires and actions of those around us. Be it our families, our friends or our peers, we adopt their way of doing things or thinking about things as opposed to maintaining authenticity about who we are.
“We need to remind ourselves what our passions are. What is your personal play? Ask yourself, ‘What does play mean to me?’” she says. The idea is to figure out what would make you happy at your core versus what you’ve adopted to ease or please those around you.
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As you figure out what you would call “clutter,” you’ll also begin to get a sense of what your personal play is. Maybe you liked to ride your bike, build things or spend time outdoors, but someone or something else became a reason to quit. Every scenario you come up with can be another window into determining what will bring you satisfaction on your terms, not someone else’s. The clutter to clear out are the things you have been doing because they bring enjoyment to someone else and not you.
2. Plan personal play. This isn’t just a hobby. Dr. Abramson defines personal play as a much more holistic idea, and it can offer more satisfaction than a hobby. A hobby is something that you can do to take up time, but personal play goes to the core of your being. It’s the activity that brings you joy, that lets your mind relax and that allows your spirit to recharge. For some it may be a sport, for others music; and while the activity itself is up to you, it’s the feeling you get while doing it that you need to chase.
Dr. Abramson points out that your second 50 years is the season of life when your time is yours again. But the open-ended nature of things can also be a bit daunting. She adds, “Part of the opportunity that surrounds retirement is the ability to go back to a place of play. If you’ve planned right financially, you can take back your authentic self. Let it fly! Go for it!”
She adds that planning how you will play shouldn’t be a stressor. “This should be something you aspire to. For instance, if you want to take a trip to China, set dates for doing the research, talking to a travel agent and booking it. People plan for every other aspect of life, but they sometimes just let retirement happen.” She adds, “Any successful outcome is about what you put into it.”
3. Establish accountability. When others are counting on you at home or at the office, you’re likely to follow through. But Dr. Abramson says when you’ve only got you to disappoint, there seems to be a different standard. She suggests setting up a schedule related to your play to ensure you follow through on becoming your authentic self.
Another way to establish accountability is to talk about your play with others. This can take shape in a few ways: If you want to travel, tell a spouse or significant other your plan and the next steps you are going to take. If you miss fishing, join a group or club that likes the same play you do. If you’re inspired to relearn a language you used to speak, head online and join a virtual community that will support and encourage you to keep striving to attain your play plan. Finding others who also enjoy and recharge by doing the same things you want to do creates a built-in sense of accountability.
When you discover whom you want to be in retirement, Dr. Abramson says, “it means you’re living your life on your own terms, and it will help you find joy in every single moment. The more clarity and authenticity in your own life, the more easily and gracefully you can handle the struggles that are inevitable with age.” Then, she says, longevity is a gift.
The Northwestern MutualVoice Team is a group of professionals who share insights and opinions from experts and industry leaders across the enterprise. Our vision is to inspire others to take action and plan for their financial future through topics ranging from financial planning, retirement planning and distribution strategies, wealth accumulation and preservation, to leadership, philanthropy and innovation.