Rev. Thomas, the former General Minister and President of the United Church of Christ, is now a professor and administrator here at CTS. Follow his timely, provocative writings on the issues of our day.
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A recent piece in The New Yorker introduced me to the concept of a “retirement coach.” We baby boomers have needed hand holding throughout the seasons of our lives, so why should this be any different? A quick review of the internet reveals a variety of services, many related to finance, but a number pertaining to the broad area of personal enrichment. These coaches range in price from modest to extravagant, with high end coaches for senior executives costing tens of thousands of dollars. While my retirement is a few years off, many of my friends and colleagues have retired, or seem to be talking about retirement a lot. Do I need a retirement coach to help me welcome this new stage of life like I once needed a Lamaze coach to ease my transition into parenthood?
Perhaps some simple common sense will save us all a few bucks. I’m not about to hang out a shingle, nor am I an expert on retirement, not having tried it personally yet. But I’ve watched more than a few people retire, some well, some not. So here are ten tips I’d offer myself if I were my own retirement coach:
- Be grateful that you had an interesting, enjoyable, and rewarding career. And then be grateful there’s a next chapter. Just because you’ve done something you enjoyed for forty or more years doesn’t mean it’s the only enjoyable thing you’d like to do.
- Use one or two of those freed up hours every day to tune up your body. Most of us are out of shape and overweight. You don’t need a personal trainer or an expensive gym. Walk, bike, swim, work out at your local YMCA, or even at home. You used to set the alarm to get to work on time. Now set the alarm to get in shape. A healthy retirement tends to make for a happier retirement.
- Let the next generation do the job you used to do without your commentary other than words of encouragement. It is possible they are screwing things up. But it’s more likely they are just doing things differently. Remember, no one really wants to hear you talk about how things used to be so much better. They probably weren’t.
- If you have a hobby you love, great. If not, don’t let yourself get bullied by peer pressure into finding one. There’s nothing worse than taking something intended for pleasure and turning it into a project shrouded with grim obligation.
- If you aren’t terribly smart about finances, or interested in it, or lucky enough to be married to someone who is, find someone you can trust who can talk over financial questions and scenarios with you. Use the money you’re saving on a retirement coach to pay a financial advisor.
- Explore. Money can help, especially if exploring means travel. But it’s not essential. There are fascinating nearby places to visit that cost nothing, books to read from the library, elder classes to take at the local university or college, free lectures to attend at the museum, book groups to join, art classes to take, etc. Or go to high school plays, concerts, and sporting events. Imagine how much more you’ll enjoy them now that you aren’t tense over how your own child is performing!
- Practice taking naps. There was a time when looking busier than the next person at work was a badge of honor. It was stupid then and in retirement nobody will care how busy you look anyway. You shouldn’t either.
- Figure out what skills you have that you’d like to share. Volunteer them. There are plenty of places that need you for a few hours each week. Discover how much fun it is to work without the pressure of responsibility or the necessity for pay.
- Discover your real worth. You’ve spent a lifetime in a works righteousness world where you’ve valued yourself on the basis of position, earnings, and productivity. Now the days of “what you do” or “what you make” are over. All that’s left is “who you are.” Our vocation in retirement ought to be to bear witness to the centrality of grace.
- Get up every morning giving thanks that you can retire. Most people in the world, and an increasing number of your neighbors can’t. Retirement is a precious gift lots of people can’t afford. Be grateful for your good fortune.
There you are. Hopefully these tips are worth a little more than you paid for them! Notice I haven’t said anything about grandchildren. That’s because they are a grace note, a gift. Their purpose in life is not to make your retirement happy and rewarding. Their job is to grow up well. Your job is to grow old well. Don’t burden their job description with your retirement needs. To the extent you can help them grow up well, wonderful. To the extent they can help you grow old well, wonderful. But they are not essential to retirement so please don’t try to make them so.
One final note: Most of my tips are habits you can begin to practice before you actually retire. And, as with my list, they begin and end with gratitude which is the key spiritual practice grounding all the rest. The more you practice these habits now and the more you nurture gratitude today, the better you’ll be at it when you finally annuitize your pension and sign up for Medicare.
John H. Thomas