Today I’m beginning a new series on the book The Retirement Maze: What You Should Know Before and After You Retire.
I didn’t really like this book and disagreed with much of it.
But that’s kind of why I think it’s worth a read — because it presents a counter-point to what I believe/have experienced as well as what most retirement books say.
Almost every other book I’ve read paints retirement in a mostly positive light. And why shouldn’t they? I think retirement is awesome!
This book is mostly negative when it comes to retirement. They may say they are not in places (they do admit they are working from a negative point of view — se below), but they are.
Here’s a short snippet from the back cover of the book:
This book investigates the struggles faced by retirees in building a new life outside of the workforce. It provides an honest assessment of retirement, based on the not-always-acknowledged fact that it is a difficult transition with pitfalls and obstacles to overcome.
And that’s the cheeriest thing they have to say!
There’s some value in what I consider to be an overly-harsh treatment of retirement — it exposes issues that people may face and thus they can accept/plan for them in advance so these aren’t issues for them.
So it’s worthwhile for this reason, even if I find parts to be overexaggerated and wordsmithing to make their points (I’ll provide specific details throughout this series of what I consider stretching the truth).
I’ll be sharing key passages from the book as well as my thoughts on them.
Let’s get started with the opening comments of the book.
Retire at Your Own Risk
The book begins with these thoughts:
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.”
Despite the fact that retirement looms for everyone, surprisingly few are truly prepared for it.
Our lack of preparedness may be a result of holding onto antiquated views of what retirement is about. In the past, retirement was basically the few remaining years left to us after capping off a life of toil. But retirement has evolved. You can now spend as many years in retirement as you did in your career, and today those added years have led psychologists and sociologists to see it as a separate life stage. It has its own set of issues, problems, and phases of adjustment.
Unfortunately, it is a life stage often characterized by the loss of one’s identity, sense of purpose, and, above all, structure to one’s days—the things that many people derive from their work. From its onset, it entails the adoption of new roles, alternative ways of thinking, and new behavioral and attitudinal patterns. Retirement is very much about building a new life, mostly from the ground up and usually without much help. That’s what makes it such a challenge.
You can probably see why I have a love-hate relationship with this book. And if you can’t, just wait. They are just getting warmed up. LOL.
Lots to comment on already:
- If someone asks me about my opinion of retirement I say 1) it’s awesome! and 2) do it as soon as you can. Yes, there’s more to the story than that, but those are the highlights! I most certainly do not say, “Be careful” though I might advise them to make sure they are ready both financially and from a life perspective.
- “Retirement is a full-time job.” No, it is not. I have not thought about retirement as a job for a single minute in the 5+ years I have been retired. What I have done is see people rushing out of the gym as I’m headed in so they can get to work. I see people scurrying by me as I eat breakfast in the cafe and they are headed to work. I see people driving like mad to get to work as I walk the neighborhood, look at the mountains, and head to the park to play pickleball. I see my friends who try to fit in some enjoyment into their lives but it’s always rushed because they have a full-time job. What I see as being a full-time job is…a full-time job. I see retirement as a time that’s full of doing whatever you want to do to live your life.
- “It demands constant attention.” No, it does not. This is the over-the-top sort of thing that drives me nuts about this book. They are trying to make some points, many of which are valid, but some of their claims are silly and outright wrong (which detracts from their opinions and suggestions). BTW, two of the authors had never retired when they wrote this and one had retired, failed at it, and was back at work (details on this later). What a shocker. They failed or never experienced it so it’s a bad thing. LOL.
- “It demands…a great deal of effort to do it well.” No, it does not. I do it well and it requires almost no effort. Three terrible, false statements in a row. They are on a roll!
- “Surprisingly few are truly prepared for it.” I don’t know if I’d say “few” are prepared for it, but I would say that far fewer than you might think are prepared for it, which is surprising given that retirement is a multi-million dollar decision, is something people prepare for for 3-4 decades, and is something people live out for 2-3 decades. You think more people would be prepared for an event such as this…and yet they are not.
- So this is where the book is right…if people do not prepare for retirement, it can be rough. I’m not sure that it ever gets to the point where retirement is “a full-time job”, “demands constant attention”, or “demands a great deal of effort”, but it can be a challenge if a person doesn’t plan for it. How many people fall into this category? I’d say 25% would be my best guess — 50% at the most. It’s certainly not the vast majority as the book implies.
- I do think some issues people have are tied to an old definition and perspective of retirement. When my grandparents retired, they lived a few more years and played golf, bowling, and sat around reading during that time. These days retirees are living 30 years and running marathons. So yeah, it’s different. And yet the “old” definition of retirement lives on…where people think it’s a 30-year vacation. I can see how that messes some up.
- “Loss of one’s identity, sense of purpose—the things that many people derive from their work.” I’ve said it before, but I feel sorry for people whose identity is so wrapped up in work that when they stop working they fall apart. And lose their sense of purpose. I just don’t get it. But, I do have some recommendations for those who have this issue: 1) Keep working. Find a job or side business working as many hours as you need to keep your life from falling into shambles. 2) Find other things that bring purpose into your life. See my Huge List of Awesome Retirement Activities for hundreds of possibilities. 3) If you want to stop working and still hold it together in retirement, counseling may be in order. Seriously. Cut the cord between who you are and what you do for a living.
- “Loss of structure to one’s days—the things that many people derive from their work.” Really? Really? We need work to provide structure? What are we, preschoolers? What do these people do on weekends before they retire? They have no structure!!!!! Do they lay around in a fetal position waiting for Monday morning to arrive so structure reenters their lives? For goodness sake, simply learn how to organize if you haven’t in your previous 50, 60, or 70 years. Read Getting Things Done or something similar and learn how to manage your own life (which is something that should have been learned long ago IMO.)
- “From its onset, it entails the adoption of new roles, alternative ways of thinking, and new behavioral and attitudinal patterns.” I would say there’s some of this, but I don’t think I had to change a lot when I retired (though thinking differently has opened up new possibilities, but that’s about it). And, BTW, if you have to change a bit and think differently, what’s actually wrong with that?
- “Retirement is very much about building a new life…and usually without much help.” Educate yourself people!!!!!! This is not some unsolvable mystery that only the few, select can master. It’s a pretty easy process and the knowledge needed to succeed at retirement is simple to understand and implement. But it does require being proactive, applying yourself, and learning new things — all of which require effort. And we all know the average American despises effort and would rather have life served up on a platter. But that’s not how life works.
All of this can be summarized in the following IMO:
- Retirement is a different life stage and requires a person to adjust to be successful at it.
- Fortunately the steps a pre-retiree/retiree must take to be successful are easy to grasp and apply.
- So if you simply give retirement the commitment a 30-year, multi-million dollar decision warrants and plan in advance for a successful one, you should be fine.
- In fact, you should be way better than fine — you should have the time of your life!!!!
Let’s move on. We’re all the way up to page 4 now. LOL!
The book shares these thoughts next:
Many anticipate their retirement with enthusiasm, and a few even enjoy it when they get there.
However, for some retirees-in-waiting, there can be worries, and sometimes these can be overwhelmed. There are questions as to what their life will be like without the sense of meaningfulness—and often perceived financial security—that work provides. And for some who have already entered his phase, things may never be quite right. Even those who claim to love retirement will feel occasional discomfort after they give up their jobs. In walking into this shapeless void, almost all retirees may at some point ask themselves whether leaving the workforce was the right decision.
You can see how they are already getting on my nerves. there’s some good stuff ahead, but really? We have to put up with this to get there?
- “A few even enjoy it when they get there.” This is so nonsensical that it’s almost not worth commenting on. A FEW enjoy retirement? I don’t think so. I’d say that most people enjoy it. What the what are these guys talking about? Here’s some data: “Transamerica’s 2017 retirement study found that 97 percent of retirees with a strong sense of purpose were generally happy, compared with 76 percent without that sense. These retirees spent more time with family, traveling, doing volunteer work, and pursuing hobbies.” So at worst 76% are generally happy — far more than “a few”.
- All of the objections they raise above can be managed in advance with education about how to do retirement right. It’s such a simple solution — and is available to everyone. What’s the issue?
- “And for some who have already entered his phase, things may never be quite right.” Here’s something I hate in a book: when authors try to create an issue and then verify it with wordsmithing. For instance, these guys want to show how terrible retirement is. But the facts don’t back that up. That’s of no consequence, they can make it sound like that’s the truth by the way they write, employing words like “some” and “may”. If those are the standards, then I can make anything terrible. For example, I could go outside and begin to give everyone I see $100 bills. I would bet that “some” (i.e. more than one) “may” (maybe so, maybe not) complain about my generosity. Why am I only giving out $100 and not $200? Why cash and not an electronic debit? Why at random to people in this area? So then, we can conclude that me handing out $100 bills is a terrible thing, right? What nonsense! And the book does this quite often.
- “Even those who claim to love retirement will feel occasional discomfort after they give up their jobs.” I do not use profanity but this book has me on the verge of it. What an absolutely false statement. I love retirement and have never felt ANY (much less an occasional) discomfort at leaving work. You know what I felt? Relief. Joy. Thrill. These guys are killing me!
- “This shapeless void.” They keep using words and phrases to demonize something that’s so amazing that it’s driving me crazy!
- “Almost all retirees may.” Wordsmithing again. “Almost all” and “may”. How about this: “Almost all retirees may not”? Will they or won’t they? We don’t know. They may do this or they may do that. How about this — let’s make a big deal out of what may happen. Or something that is nothing. Ugh.
- The only question I’ve asked myself about leaving the workforce is “why didn’t I do it a decade earlier?” Other than that, no questions about work after I retired.
I think I have a bit more that I can take without blowing a gasket, so let’s move on to this:
In fact, we have devoted more of our attention to retirement’s difficulties not out of a wish to be negative but rather from a belief that the positives of this life stage are their own rewards. So as you read on, we are going to take you on a journey through the various aspects of day-to-day living in retirement, one that may at times make you a little uncomfortable. But it’s all for the good because in the end, you may see there is a light at the end of the tunnel.
So at least they admit it. Don’t forget this as we go through the book — they are being purposefully negative (and stretching it to the bad side at that).
Then in some sort of way to justify their findings and attitude, they say this:
We’ve done more than study retirement as an intellectual exercise, one of us has lived it.
Dr. Rob Pascale, research psychologist and founder of Marketing Analysts, Inc., a market research firm, decided to retire in 2005 at the age of 51.
As you might imagine, Rob was a big retirement failure. And the other two authors had not retired prior to writing this book.
So in the end, they all have less experience, knowledge, and (certainly) success on the subject than I do. So how great is that?
Details of a Retirement Fail
Before we end this section, let’s hear Rob’s story and what the issues were. In his own words:
Throughout my career, I lived by the clock, arriving at the office at 7 A.M. and heading home about 7 P.M. After a quick dinner, I often worked for a couple hours. My life was very structured, and I defined myself as a person almost entirely based on what I did for a living. When I retired, the first few weeks of retirement were great. My days were completely stress free, and I felt liberated from all pressures. I didn’t care what time I went to bed or woke up because to me every day was a holiday and every night Saturday night. I thought at the time that my life could not get any easier.
Then they start commentating on what happened to Rob:
Gradually, however, the lack of structure and reduced sense of purpose caught up with him. Within a few months, with no need to be or go anywhere, he began to loosen his grooming habits, shaving less frequently and paying less attention to his wardrobe. Furthermore, despite his planning efforts and variety of interests, it became harder and harder to fill the hours of each day with things that were personally meaningful. One example in particular caught him by surprise. During his career, Rob had always thought he loved to paint, but soon after retiring, he realized that for him painting has actually been mostly a diversion, a way of breaking away from job-related pressures. When he retired and those pressures were eliminated, his interest in painting waned with him.
A few months deeper into Rob’s retirement, his initial joy eroded still further. He began experiencing frequent emotional ups and downs. At times he was happy about the freedom and lack of stress, but other times he felt the loss of his personal identity and prestige, a sense of just drifting along aimlessly, feeling useless and unproductive. He felt his difficulties might have been compounded by the fact that, as an entrepreneur and business owner, his job had provided some level of prestige and a feeling of personal control over his life. As his retirement proceeded, he came to feel that both of those important aspects of his life had been radically diminished if not surrender completely.
Back to a quote from Rob:
At some point, I realized I had to come to terms with the fact that I am nobody. I was no longer an important contributor to the company I founded. My partners were focused on maintaining the business and no longer had much time for me, and my advice and opinions were no longer sought after. Whatever I accomplished before had no relevance to my life going forward.
And they sum up the situation with this:
Over time, it became increasingly clear to Rob that he had to break the emotional connection to his former life and start building something new.
Wow. Lots of things to comment on here.
- Did Rob have a family? I’m guessing he did not as there’s no mention of them. And what family would tolerate that work schedule anyway? I think having a family you love and like to be around does make retirement easier, so this could be one strike against him.
- Next, what the heck is with that work schedule? Even in my crazy just-out-of-grad-school-and-proving-myself days did I rarely work that much. No wonder he fell apart when he retired — his work was his ENTIRE LIFE!
- Work structured his life. Now come on. This guy started a company which was at least successful enough to allow him to retire at a pretty young age. And you’re telling me that he couldn’t structure his day by himself without work doing it for him? That’s sad. Very sad. And pretty unbelievable to be honest.
- “I defined myself as a person almost entirely based on what I did for a living.” This is sad to me too. Maybe he was saving the whales or curing cancer. But even then, is that (or any) job so amazing that it was his life and without it he was nothing? And BTW, he was doing market research, something so dry that it makes me think of eating burnt toast in the desert at 120 degrees and washing it down with a glass full of sand. Yes, it’s that dry. I spent many hours of my career reviewing such research and it was drier than dry should be. But maybe he was into dry.
- “My days were completely stress free, and I felt liberated from all pressures.” I have noted before that I could literally feel the stress melting away from me when I retired. It took me a few months to totally destress, but every day was better than the previous one and I felt FREE! It was amazing!!!
- “I didn’t care what time I went to bed or woke up because to me every day was a holiday and every night Saturday night. I thought at the time that my life could not get any easier.” So I was a bit different here. I did still maintain a bedtime schedule. I had things I wanted to do/accomplish and I scheduled for them (yes, I was able to create my own structure). So this meant I couldn’t sleep whenever I wanted (and I didn’t want to). That said, the holiday feeling lasted a couple years for me. During this time I got up at 5 am or so every day (many days it was before 5 am). I was just so thrilled to not be working that I got up early, full of energy and ready to hit the day. These days I get up at a much later 6 am. Hahaha. Yes, I’m living life to the fullest and still thrilled that my life couldn’t get any easier.
- By the way, I liked my job and career, so it wasn’t like I was running away from something terrible. But to be honest, I didn’t LOVE it and it certainly didn’t define me. But even though I did like it, I found something I really loved: doing what I wanted when I wanted. LOL!
- “Shaving less frequently and paying less attention to his wardrobe.” In what bizzarro world are these negatives? I LOVE shaving less (currently every four days) and wearing comfortable clothes (if someone doesn’t like what I’m wearing, they can kiss my Nike workout shirt and shorts — which is what I wear 90% of the time.) I did manage to wear a suit to two of the three funerals I’ve been to since I retired, but even to the dinners with financial planners (here’s an example of one of them), I dressed very casually (BTW, I was not the most casually dressed person there.) So how could the book imply these are bad things? I think they are amazing benefits.
- “It became harder and harder to fill the hours of each day with things that were personally meaningful.” This is because the only meaningful thing in his life was work — and it was gone. He had no time to develop outside interests or even try anything new before retirement — he worked all the time.
- “His interest in painting waned with him.” Ok, so he had one interest. But he lost interest in it. This is because people need to develop multiple interests before they retire. They need to test them out, see what they like, and take a bunch of activities into retirement. Author Wes Moss’s research says that the happiest retirees have 3.5 or more “core pursuits” ( see The Top Five Money Secrets of the Happiest Retirees for details) — things they love doing and spending time on. Rob had one. And then he lost even that. That’s one big reason he wasn’t a happy retiree.
- In addition to taking several activities into retirement, you need to try new things once you get there. Because some things you love doing now will become less interesting/enjoyable over time. So you need to find new things to replace them. My biggest “find” in retirement has been pickleball which is now a huge part of my life. My next test of something new/big is going to Florida for the winter.
- “Loss of his personal identity and prestige, a sense of just drifting along aimlessly, feeling useless and unproductive.” Again, so sad. The guy was so tied up in his job that he was nothing without it.
- “I am nobody.” I don’t believe this. I think every person is a somebody. But he felt like a nobody because he didn’t have his job.
- “He had to break the emotional connection to his former life and start building something new.” Yes, this is correct. And as I recommended above, this is one of the three options for people who are so tied to their work that leaving it is a disaster.
As we end this section (and the post), let me say that for being a market researcher, it sounds like he did very little research on retirement prior to taking the plunge. It seems like this would be a natural step for someone in his profession, but he missed it and suffered the consequences.
Ok, that’s a wrap for part one of this series. As I said, I have a love-hate relationship with this book, so we still have a lot of love and a lot of hate in store.
For the next part in this series see The Retirement Maze, How to Define Retirement and Problems Retirees Face.