It's no secret that millions of baby boomers are approaching their retirement years with meager savings and no pension. This means retirement in the traditional sense of "not working" while maintaining your standard of living just isn't a possibility for many boomers. And that's causing a lot of anxiety and frustration, with some people simply giving up and planning to work indefinitely.
Should you just hunker down, keep your nose to the grindstone and accept your fate? Maybe not. And you might find inspiration in a new book by Bernie Roth, one of the founders of Stanford University's prestigious design school. Roth shares a simple yet powerful method that can help you break through the obstacles keeping you from achieving important life goals.
The book is titled "The Achievement Habit: Stop Wishing, Start Doing, and Take Control of Your Life."
If you're in your 50s and 60s, retirement is one of those important life goals that deserves careful attention. Deciding when and how to transition from your career job is one of the most important decisions you'll make. Many people in their later years are dissatisfied with their working situation for a host of reasons. When that's the case, it's common to think that "not working," aka retirement, will make you happier.
Indeed, many retirees report that they're glad they retired. Wanting to retire is a very reasonable goal.
Roth's technique goes like this: To overcome obstacles to your goal, ask yourself what you stand to gain from achieving the goal, and then explore all the possible alternative ways you can realize these benefits.
Applying this technique to your retirement decision, you'd start by asking yourself, What do I stand to gain if I retire? How will my life improve?
Typical positive reasons to retire might include spending more time with your spouse, family and friends; having the freedom to pursue hobbies and interests; taking a new career direction; volunteering; traveling; taking care of your health and so on.
Typical negative reasons might include leaving an unfavorable work environment or a boss who's a jerk, boredom with the same job you've done for years, being tired of a long commute, not keeping up with new skills required for your job, having poor health, needing time to care for a family member and so on.
Most people have a combination of positive and negative factors that might affect their decision to retire, and those reasons will be different for everybody.
By answering the questions above, you've defined what's really important for your life by identifying all the ways that retirement will benefit you and improve your life.
So, how can you get these benefits? Can you realize them without retiring? Let's look at a few examples to see how that might be possible.
Suppose you want more time to pursue hobbies and interests, or to volunteer. You can free up substantial time a number of ways without being fully retired. You could work three or four days a week instead of five. Consider this to be a "practice retirement" because you'll be earning 60 percent to 80 percent of the income you received while working full time. This percentage is a typical target for retirement income. This would help you see if you can live on a reduced income while gaining more free time.
You can also find more time by deciding to stop watching TV, say, for two days a week. If you're like the average American, you watch four hours of TV per day, so this frees eight hours a week, or more than 400 hours a year. This might give you more than enough time to pursue your hobbies or interests.
Suppose you're tired of the commute, a common complaint of career workers. Can you move closer to work, carpool or telecommute a few days per week instead?
Suppose you don't like your boss, you're bored at work, or you want to take your career in a new direction. Can you apply for a transfer, ask for different responsibilities or find another job?
Have a cause that you're passionate about? Use some of your newfound free time to give it a try. Some employers actually encourage their employees to volunteer and give them time off for that purpose.
Want more peace in your life? Design your own sabbatical day where you set aside all electronic devices and take a walk, read a book and just spend time away from your normal routine to refresh and reboot.
Want to take better care of your health? Many employers offer wellness programs, with time and incentives to participate in health-promoting activities.
Clearly, you don't have to retire completely to enjoy the benefits of retirement. If you identify how retirement can improve your life, you might find other ways to realize these benefits now. You might be surprised with your ingenuity. If you use some of these ideas to delay your retirement by just three to five years, you'll significantly improve your financial situation when you do fully retire.
Of course, applying Roth's technique to retirement won't magically take care of the very serious issues boomers face in retirement. They'll still need to deal with inadequate financial resources and costly health challenges. But his method doesn't involve putting lipstick on a pig, either. Instead, it gives you the power to overcome the barriers to happiness and life satisfaction in your retirement years.
Many people have legitimate obstacles to retirement, many of which may seem unfair. It's your choice, however, whether to accept your fate or do something about it.
If you're in your 50s, 60s or older, a better definition of retirement might mean finding the determination and creativity to fix the important things that you don't like about your life that are within your control. Then make peace with the things you can't control -- and live the best life you possibly can during the time you have left.