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There’s a children’s book called, “Stan the Hot Dog Man.”(1)  It’s about a man who works at a bakery for his entire life. When it comes time to celebrate his retirement, he doesn’t wonder what he will do next because he already has a plan. He buys a hot dog truck and sells hot dogs for a few hours during the day. He leaves “work” early to go fishing with his wife Emma. When he sees a family in need who can’t afford to buy his hot dogs, he gives them away for free. Once a week, in the evening, he plays cards with his old friends from the bakery. The key to his happiness is in his “retirement plan.”

1) He finds a meaningful new “occupation.”
2) He makes time for his family and his hobbies.
3) He contributes and gives back to the world.
4) He maintains friendships.

Retirement may be the longest vacation of your life – a time to celebrate – a time to travel and have fun with family and friends. While congratulations are always in order upon achieving this goal, retirement is a major life change and it may not always be sunshine and rainbows. We often talk about retirement in terms of income needs, but we seldom discuss the myriad of emotions you may experience when you finally become “Retired.”

You look forward to your retirement date for years, but there are some psychological effects of retirement to consider. On one hand, you may feel a sense of relief and freedom once you leave your career. On the other hand, you might face a difficult transition after ending the work routine you had for 30+ years. The loss of a consistent schedule may leave a void that can lead to anxiety, depression, and a loss of identity. Many retirees struggle to find a new sense of balance and purpose. In a 2012 study published in the Canadian Journal of Counseling and Psychotherapy, John Osborne writes, “Psychological repercussions associated with the transition (e.g., identity) are to be expected, given the impact of such a major event upon the lives of many retirees.”(2)

Maybe your idea of retirement doesn’t look like that of Stan the Hot Dog Man. But, if you picture retirement as an endless stream of exotic trips and fulfilling encounters with family and friends, you may find yourself disappointed or bored on the days when your calendar is empty. Anxiety can be increased if you experience health complications or worry excessively about the loss of your regular paycheck. If you enter retirement with a plan and realistic expectations, you will be more likely to enjoy the less exotic moments.

Retirement is a time to look back and look forward. Take time to reflect upon your successes and failures, but also make plans and set small goals for the future. Goal setting can mimic the structure of your former working life and may help to ease any stress associated with the transition. Your plans may be different than Stan the Hot Dog Man. Or maybe, like him, you will choose to take on part-time work that you enjoy. Maybe you will be fulfilled by hobbies and join clubs or take classes that allow you to pursue new dreams. Voluntary involvement in your church or other non-profit organizations can fulfill an inner need to give back and contribute to the world as a whole.

Although the 24 hours in each day may be wide open in retirement, you can create your own structure by filling in your calendar with activities to look forward to in the weeks, months, and years ahead. A successful Retirement Plan should not be strictly about income and investments; take time to create a plan that includes both your financial and emotional well-being.

(1) “Stan the Hot Dog Man,” by Ethel and Leonard Kessler. Harper Collins Publishers, 1990.