Baby boomers, those born between 1946 and 1964 and span ages 55 to 73, are facing tough decisions as they approach or continue to deal with retirement.
Depending on whom you ask, the word “retirement” can either invoke feelings of delight or terror. But what if the main thing separating the two emotions, and thus determining whether you have a happy, successful foray into the golden years, is how you approach the journey?
That’s what a lot of it comes down to, according to Marianne Oesher, a retirement coach and author of “Your Happiness Portfolio for Retirement: It’s Not About the Money,” who was the keynote speaker for the 2019 Boomer Conference at the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at Ringling College recently. The fourth annual event featured speakers and networking sessions offering strategies on retirement’s social, financial, and practical implications.
The conference’s theme this year was a simple but important one for baby boomers facing or currently experiencing life after work: “Making Retirement the Best Time of Your Life.”
“We’re going to talk about how to avoid living a sad story. My intention is for you to walk away with a vision for the possibilities that lie ahead of you, the inspiration to take action, and the enthusiasm to truly live during this wonderful time in your life,” said Oesher. “I have an important question for you: Are you living your life right now by chance or by choice?”
A lot of retirement, Oesher said, comes down to the choices we make and how we look at things. She cited Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck’s research on the ideas of “growth mindset” and “fixed mindset” as being pivotal in deciding our level of happiness during retirement — even more important in many instances than money. A growth mindset is usually characterized by feelings that we can improve and that outcomes are directly tied toward effort. In contrast, fixed mindsets are defined by feelings that our traits are innate without the ability to be improved.
Being able to look at the uncertainty of retirement with a growth mindset, Oesher said, and seeing it as an opportunity rather than as a loss, is critical for baby boomers who find themselves looking at what many have called a retirement crisis, which is often characterized by high health costs, inadequate savings, and unrealistic expectations.
You might not be able to control rising health care costs, but you can control how you approach retirement, and that, according to Oesher, can make just as much of a difference. Many older adults lose their identity and sense of worth during the transition into retirement — that’s why it’s important to find activities post-work that give your life meaning and fulfill a sense of purpose while continuing to diversify your happiness portfolio. In other words, continuing to pursue a variety of activities that make you happy.
This is important, according to Oesher, so that your happiness isn’t locked up entirely in any one hobby.
“Some people are lucky enough to retire and play golf for the rest of their lives, and that makes them happy. But that doesn’t always work for all of us,” said Sandra Moulin, whose presentation “Stage Fright” at the conference focused on confronting the unknown.
Other speakers at the conference, which was described as a retirement toolbox included Robert Foulton, whose presentation “What’s Next” focused on the concept of letting go and refocusing during what can be a difficult transition period, and Judith Levine, whose presentation “Retirement: Adolescence 2.0” illuminated some of the pitfalls and difficulties that surround finding a new identity.
Being able to find your new identity when you’ve always defined yourself by your career is perhaps the greatest challenge of retirement, according to Levine. But it doesn’t have to be. If you can find things that spark your happiness, she said, you can take advantage of retirement and enjoy it instead of feeling lost in the transition.
“To me, this is the best time of my life right now. It really is. And I hope you’re going to make it the best time of your life too. Keep searching, keep exploring,” said Levine.