Pension Revolution | Smith College

When Abbott began researching retirement, she noticed one thing: the literature was mostly focused on financial issues, but what the group of women really wanted to know was, “What should I do with my life?” Abbott says.

Abbott’s work with this first group became the basis for her book Retirement by Design: A Guided Workbook for Creating a Happy and Purposeful Future, recognized by the Wall Street Journal as one of the best books on aging and retirement in 2020 . Using the concepts of Design Thinking – which begins with considering the needs of the end user – Abbott has developed a series of exercises to help readers create a plan. Today she has expanded her advisory services to include retirement. Here she talks about her approach to planning – and life – for your best life in retirement.

The perfect plan

It has to be individualized. It really is a time to focus on yourself – something that is especially difficult for women. I also think that you need to be very flexible, as opposed to the traditional way we learned to plan – set a goal and work towards that goal. When you talk about how you want to live your life, it has to be open. You want to be flexible so that you can change when things change. This is why design thinking is a great way to start thinking about retirement.

Design thinking and life planning

The concept starts with the end user. If you apply this to the design of your life, you are the end user – what will give you the most comfort, most meaning, most joy? And then it’s action-oriented – trying things out, then evaluating them. I didn’t realize I was thinking that way until I read about design. But even more goal-oriented people get versed in it very quickly.

Visualize the retirement you want

The first thing I do with clients is determine how confident they are. There are people who know exactly what they are interested in, what is most important to them and what they want to do. For those who don’t know, I’ll help them figure out what they like to do and start making lists of those things. As a rule, people have a lot more interests than they realize. A lot of what you do as a coach is to bring things to the surface that were somewhere in your head, in your heart. Somewhere you haven’t paid any attention to in a long time. One of my recommendations – and I encourage people of all ages to do this – is to keep a rolling list of things that sound interesting. That’s something I think everyone should be doing. That way, when the time comes to identify activities for retirement, you already have a long list of opportunities.

Be ready to change course

The perfect example of the need to be flexible is the pandemic. Our lives changed in an instant and all of a sudden you couldn’t do the things you wanted to do. Imagine the people who retired in 2020 and expected to travel. If that’s all you’ve been looking forward to, then that was a problem. Or you may find yourself doing something that you thought sounded great, but find that you really don’t like it. If you’ve always wanted to sail and take sailing lessons every week, you can continue with the lessons for as long as you want, but if you find that you don’t really enjoy sailing, you can stop and try something different instead. What will it be? You can choose. That’s the beauty of this process.

The big adjustment

Lots of people are happily retired from day one, and that’s great. But for many, it’s a big change. You’re excited to sleep late and do reading and gardening – and that’s great for a while. But they find that they miss work friends or have a daily structure. Some feel lost. That is why it is so important to have a social network.

The myth of money

Many people feel that they cannot afford to retire. Some people really can’t afford it, but I’ve spoken to people with millions of dollars in bank or investment who are doing the same. There is always uncertainty; there is always risk. But I find that when people sit down with a financial planner, many are surprised that they can easily retire.

Consider a side appearance

There are opportunities today for people who want to leave the demands of their full-time job but still want to make money. First, if you enjoy your current job, maybe you can negotiate a part-time arrangement. Can you start your own business? The gig economy offers myriad opportunities – from providing dog excursion services to making jam to selling it at farmers’ markets – and those opportunities continue to grow. You can start a business or be a consultant. Most entrepreneurs in this country are over 50.

Retirement is for all ages

A lot of the people who contact me are in their thirties and forties and they think about retirement much earlier because it means different things to them. Young people retire from work for a while to raise a family or travel, and then go back to work or school or change jobs. And nobody trusts that social security will be there forever. Nobody has pensions. So what is the source of your income over the course of your life? Many people try to answer this question by planning ahead.

Life is not linear

The idea that we are living longer, healthier lives means that people will work longer. So instead of thinking of careers as a steady climb, there will be hopping patterns. It becomes more staccato. There will be breaks. I was told, “I failed retirement and got back to work.” The definition of what retirement means is becoming more fluid. Many people begin to look at life in a way that is not necessarily linear.

Tips for the trip

Before you retire, it makes sense to set up a personal advisory team. Friends and family members can be encouraging. Retired colleagues can advise you on their experience. You may also want to involve your doctor if there are any health issues or an estate planner.

Retirement “retirement”

Nobody likes the word – it’s no longer useful. I’m not a big fan of labels, but basically for me it means that you can make decisions. You decide what you want to do or not do. And that is liberating. In Spanish, the word for retirement is jubilación – jubilation comes from the same word. So it is seen as freedom, as an opportunity. You can choose to stay at work in your 70s or 90s and stay productive that way, or you can choose not to. But the concept of retirement – that is, sitting on the porch and waiting to die – is long gone.

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