Pitfalls in Retirement Planning (and Some Things to Consider Early in Your Career)
February 17, 2023
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Yet another person in my age group is retiring early. I am fifty five. The woman who is retiring is fifty one.
I may be a bit jealous, but nonetheless here’s my hope for her: That she’s well prepared for her retirement.
I assume that this new retiree is well prepared financially. She seems to have gathered enough income to be able to quit her job at a relatively young age.
I also assume that she has a plan for what she will do in retirement. Perhaps she will volunteer, travel, learn a new language, spend time with family, golf, etc., etc.
But I wonder: Has she prepared herself for a life-giving retirement rather than a life-draining retirement?
My observation is that many people fall into one of two retirement ditches: Some step into retirement with a sense of triumph over the drudgery of work. They’ve found their jobs to be less than satisfying for some reason, and so they see retirement as a pathway to happiness because it means freedom from the job. The reality of retirement ends up being disappointing because it can't meet the high expectations that people sometimes set for it. I wonder if the woman in the story will experience her retirement this way.
Meanwhile, others retire with a deep sense of diminishment. They’ve cherished their jobs and benefitted from the many perks that have come with their jobs. Retirement comes along and they experience two significant losses: The loss of full-time income and the loss of a voice in important conversations. It’s especially true in Western cultures: Older people aren’t valued, generally speaking. Fewer people ask them important questions or are interested in their opinions because of their age. So retirement becomes a season of significant grief. I wonder if the woman in the story will experience her retirement this way.
In either case, retirement can lead to disappointment because of a) its failure to meet high expectations or b) deep grief over some significant losses.
Over the past few years I’ve talked to a lot of pastors in their sixties—people who see retirement on the horizon. I observe many of them wrestling with similar things. Some have been hanging on for dear life, barely surviving the demands of ministry and the decline of their church/congregation. Retirement looks like a heaven-sent rescue plan.
Others have been workaholics for years, and the prospect of not having a regular way to overfunction and gain the approval of others is a bit frightening. They fear losing their stature in the community, their voice. They aren’t sure what will get them up in the morning.
Wise pastors who are now retired tell me that a life-giving retirement is more likely if you make a few key decisions early in your work life:
Let’s think of it in these two ways:
Maybe retirement is still far off for you. Or maybe it’s next month– like the woman mentioned above. In any case, it’ll be more life-giving if you keep these things in mind. Retirement doesn’t have to be merely an escape and/or a diminishment of yourself. It can be an opportunity for you, a child of God, to pursue your life-long vocation in new ways, ways that give expression to your giftedness and respond to the needs of a Shalom-hungry world.
NOTE: This blog comes out of a Pastor Church Resources study of ministry transitions, including the transition into retirement. An update of the 2006 retirement resource "Closing Well-- Continuing Strong" (https://www.crcna.org/sites/default/files/closing_well.pdf) is on the way.
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