Bucket lists and painting a picture help frame retirement

April 22, 2012
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Preparing for the next stage of life is not always an easy task. Younger people know the steps that are required if they are going to make something of their life: study, go to the right school, do an internship, join the army for training or do an apprenticeship, etc. But once you start to work through a career, life sort of takes over and the planning stops.

Then we get to middle age — whatever that is — and we begin to wonder what we are all about and maybe question earlier decisions. We may even think seriously about changing a few things, like getting a different job or relocating or going back to school. Such amendments can make notable changes in your life but are generally narrow in their focus. 

The most typical, broad-focus change takes place when you retire. For many, the issue of retirement comes when they hit some milestone that triggers a financial lever, and they perceive they can get by without working. For some, it’s a medical matter that is the trigger. For a few, it happens when they have all their “ducks in a row.” This latter group is pretty small, but it doesn’t have to be.

What is your strategy?

There are two approaches: 1) Work on a “bucket list”; 2) Paint a picture.

The first option is often a bit fragmented in that the items on the list may be unrelated, but it has good possibilities. You’ve identified a number of goals and that is the most important part. However, the “bucket list” requires a few more things. It has to be reviewed on a regular basis — at least annually, if not more frequently. It needs to be supplemented and culled as interests change. Next, you have to set priorities and then a timeframe. Then you have to put the plan is place: Line up your ducks!

The second option typically involves constructing a fleshed-out scenario of what the next phase of your life is going to look like. This is usually more integrated than the bucket list and therefore perhaps more complicated, but not necessarily more difficult to achieve. It requires more upfront thought and vision. After constructing the broad outlines of this “picture,” it’s necessary to fill it with objects, colors and shading. Once you know what it looks like, you follow the same methodology as the bucket list: review, modify, prioritize aspects of the picture using appropriate timelines.

Some people refer to this as pre-retirement planning. Perhaps that is a misnomer. The retirement terminology implies doing a complete shift away from something. It depends on the intent of your plan and how you view what you have been doing. Your new life phase may just be a modest shift of activities but with different controls or fewer restrictions.

The bigger picture

People often associate pre-retirement planning as a program provided by “enlightened” organizations. Smart people and smart companies see such activities as an opportunity to integrate everyone’s planning and needs.

An organization gaining an understanding of employees’ thinking and needs is a very important aspect of strategic and succession planning. You don’t want to build your organization goals on a house of cards. It may also be an instrumental aspect of employee retention, which seems to be more important as we pull out of the recession and begin to realize that we can’t always find the necessary skills to meet organization goals and objectives. Setting up systems to collect and work with employee perspectives and intentions can pay big rewards.

As for the individual, the transition from engaged worker or business owner to a new or revised status is just as important as business planning and perhaps even more crucial. The transition requires a look at a whole range of factors — for yourself and, in many instances, a spouse or significant other.

More than money

The most critical factor, and the one that is most often given least consideration, is the psychological aspects of a life change. That’s why the bucket list and the painting are so essential to figure out in advance. You must ask the question: “What am I going to do?” It has to be addressed not only in the first six months of transition, but with today’s lifespan statistics, perhaps as much as 20-25 years. Those who don’t know the answer to the question will not likely have a satisfactory outcome.

The issue obviously also involves financial matters, but, maybe even before that, health status for you and others. You also need to consider the social network you have — or lack. I don’t mean how many Facebook friends you have, but live, interacting folks such as family and friends — people who will be involved with you when you leave your “work.” If you have been working 8-10 hours, five or six days a week, this is a lot of time to fill. Life is not very fulfilling when the TV is your main companion.


Get started

The focus on your new life stage, whether driven by your bucket list or your picture, requires extensive consideration and planning. The smart employer will help you with these decisions and, in turn, may help themselves. Involve family and others who are impacted by such life-changing decisions. A collaborative approach will likely yield the best results.

Ardon Schambers is president of P3HR Consulting and Services LLC.

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