When Retirement is a Bad Fit

Oct 26, 2018 / Amanda chase, Horsesmouth Assistant Editor

The idyllic retirement: free time to enjoy doing things you like and spending time with friends and family. The reality of retirement for some people, according to Michelle Pannor Silver, author of the new book, Retirement and Its Discontents: unfulfilling, rudderless and filled with a loss of identity.

While most authors writing about retirement and retirement planning focus on the financial side, Silver—an assistant professor in the department of sociology and the interdisciplinary center for health and society at the University of Toronto—looked at the sociological side. She interviewed dozens of former doctors, professors, CEOs and homemakers who viewed themselves as retired, all of whom found the transition to retirement challenging at best.

Many felt forced into retirement by their employers or strongly pushed into it by friends, colleagues and families. Some miss doing the work they had done. Most just felt unprepared for their new life, which echoes a statistic from the Charles Schwab 2018 Boomer Study. Schwab asked 278 participants in 401(k)s age 54 to 70 what they planned to do when they retired from their primary job or occupation and 17 percent said: “Not sure what will happen.”

Silver says, “When I started talking with people about what marked their retirement turning point, they often pointed to the party leading up to it. One man, an academic physician, described it as being more like a funeral; he felt like he was sitting there and people were talking about him as if he had died and it was the end of his life. He realized he had a lot of things he was still working on, if not his best work still to come. And he decided to focus on doing the research he sought to be his life’s work. The party sealed the deal.

One of most obvious surprises was with the homemakers. It was surprising off the bat that they identified themselves as retired at all. Yet that’s how they saw themselves. I was also surprised by the CEOs who were discontented in retirement and couldn’t wait to find some paid work that was fulfilling. For them, volunteering wasn’t going to cut it. And nonfulfilling work wasn’t going to cut it.”

To read the rest of the interview, visit nextavenue.com.


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