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After the Rat Race, What Next?
Experts Say You'll Want a Plan to Make the Most of Your Retirement Years

By Jennifer Huget
Special to The Washington Post
Tuesday, December 5, 2006

So you're about to retire. You've got your finances in order and your health care in hand. But have you written a mission statement for your life? Sat down with your spouse and written post-retirement job descriptions? Discovered your retirement path? If not, you'd best get busy.

Now that life expectancies have rocketed up into the 70s and above, many retirees are looking at 20 or more years of post-career living. That time can be happy or hellish, depending in part on the kind of planning you do, according to experts in the hot new field of retirement coaching.

Here are some of their top tips:

Tip #1 What's Your Line?

Figure out what you're going to say when people ask you -- as they inevitably will -- what you do for a living. You can't call yourself a welder or an astronaut or a barista anymore. It's important to pin your answer down, the experts say, because it is tightly bound to your sense of identity and social status. Once you've figured out what to say ("I'm a full-time granddad!" or "I dabble in watercolors"), practice saying it out loud. Really.

Tip #2 Pick a Path

Nancy Schlossberg, author of "Retire Smart, Retire Happy: Finding Your True Path in Life," identified six retirement styles that are tied to personality types. Are you a Continuer (wanting to do more of what you've been doing, but in a different context), an Adventurer (looking to do something new), a Searcher (taking advantage of this opportunity to finally find your niche), an Easy Glider (content to go with the flow), an Involved Spectator (still in the game but happy not to be a key player), a Retreater (ready to just give up; not a propitious choice), or some combination thereof? Thinking this through opens your eyes to the zillions of possibilities before you, says Schlossberg (clearly a Continuer; the Florida resident is a professor emeritus of the department of counseling and personnel services at the University of Maryland).

Tip #3 Plumb a Passion

Michael Burnham, chief executive of the Memphis-based retirement counseling firm My Next Phase ( http://www.mynextphase.com), notes that for many retirees, playing golf gets old fast. "You need to find some reason for moving forward, a reason to get up in the morning," he suggests. And once you decide what that passion is -- whether it's writing the Great American Novel, building a Lego replica of Graceland or mentoring a teenager -- "test-drive it." Burnham offers the cautionary tale of a man who set his sights on becoming a writer but who waited until he was retired to put pen to paper. Turns out he didn't much enjoy writing after all. Whoops.

Tip #4 Sit Down With Your Spouse

Before retirement, "most of your together time has been weekend time and vacation time," Burnham says. Now things will be different: "You're going to end up spending a lot more time together, so you need new rules and roles around the house." Establishing boundaries is key so you don't end up getting on each other's nerves. Burnham suggests sitting down together and writing new job descriptions -- including what's not your job -- and spelling out other details, such as whose music gets played when.

Tip #5 Only Connect

Lots of retirees find themselves suddenly lonely, says Cynthia Barnett, creator of a retirement-coaching program called "Re-fire, Don't Retire: Seven Secrets of Highly Successful Retirees" ( http://www.refiredontretire.com). "If you go back [to your former workplace] to visit, you find you're not talking the same language anymore." The best way to find new playmates, she says, is through exploring things you love to do, whether it's by joining a gardening club or starting an acting troupe.

Tip #6 Seek to Serve

Barnett notes that retirement "is time for service to others. The happiest people in the second half of life are those who have found fulfillment and meaning in their activities. It's not all about them; they give back to society." Think of these as your "legacy years" and ask, "What kind of legacy do I really want to leave?" Going on cruises sounds fun, Barnett notes, but "doing things just to keep busy is not meaningful."

Tip #7 Be Patient

Schlossberg points out that retirement is one of life's biggest transitions. You can't expect to adjust overnight. Burnham agrees, adding that you should allow yourself time to mourn the job -- and the attendant status -- you've left behind. "It's going to take time to restructure your life," Schlossberg says. "See it as part of your evolving career -- it's a career change."

Tip #8 Get Started -- Now

Barnett, who parlayed her experience as an educator into her retirement career as a coach, says she started planning her retirement a decade before it happened. "Way before you leave [your job], really look at the kind of life you want to live. How healthy do you want to be? Ten years out, start working on your health so you'll have energy and a strong immune system" when you retire. "Get in touch with whatever spiritual life you want to have. Get to know yourself, who you are, not what you do." It's a long, involved process, Barnett advises: Give yourself time.

Yikes. Gotta go make some plans. ยท

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