Who Are You?

Mike Drak

THE PRODUCERS of retirement commercials would like us to believe that all retirees are the same. They aren’t. To be happy in retirement, we need a good handle on what our needs are—financially and otherwise—and then find ways to satisfy them each and every day.

That might sound difficult, but it isn’t. To help get you started, here are the three general types of retiree I discovered during my research on retirement:

1. Comfort-oriented retirees. These folks like to avoid stress, instead favoring a safe, predictable retirement. They no longer have any goals. Retiring was their big goal and, now that it’s behind them, they just want to rest and take it easy. Comfort-oriented retirees don’t need much to be happy. Just the basics will do: food on the table, a roof over their head and some level of financial security.

My mother was a comfort-oriented retiree. She lived a simple life and, after my father passed away, was content to help family members, take care of her cat Boots and enjoy time with friends. She never felt the need to run a marathon or travel the world. She was happy with how things were and wasn’t inclined to take risks that might bring discomfort.

2. Growth-oriented retirees. These retirees have a need to keep stretching, exploring, learning and experiencing new things. If they can’t do that, they aren’t happy. They’ve created a bucket list a mile long and plan on knocking things off that list for as long as they can. They have a hardwired desire to feel “significant” and a need for accomplishment and contribution.

Their work nourished these needs, and they lost that source of nourishment when they retired. Until they can find a way of replacing it, they’ll always feel like something is missing in their life.

Abraham Maslow, the creator of the famous “hierarchy of needs,” called individuals like this “self-actualizers.” They have a constant need for personal growth and an insatiable hunger to realize their potential, and thereby become everything that they can be. They can accomplish this through many means, including succeeding athletically, creating art or starting their own business.

Self-actualizers, even retired ones, are never satisfied with how things are. They’re continually setting new personal goals that will challenge and improve them, so they can realize their full retirement potential.

3. Self-transcenders. Near the end of his life, Maslow was in the process of amending his model to include a higher level of psychological development—even higher than self-actualization—which he called “self-transcendence.”

Self-transcenders look for a cause, a need, a problem to be solved, something that they’re passionate about. This becomes their mission. They know it isn’t how much you give that counts, but rather how much love you put into the giving. Helping those who are struggling leads to the “helper’s high,” a feeling of intense joy, peace and well-being.

Helping others gives self-transcenders a strong sense of purpose. When they have what they consider a purpose-driven retirement, they’re happier. They can sleep peacefully at night knowing that they did something to help others. They wake up in the morning feeling excited and wondering, “Who can I help today?”

Now ask yourself: What type of retiree are you? If you can answer that question, you’ve taken a crucial step toward a happier retirement.

Mike Drak is a 38-year veteran of the financial services industry. He’s the author of Retirement Heaven or Hell, which was just published, as well as an earlier book, Victory Lap Retirement. Mike works with his wife, an investment advisor, to help clients design a fulfilling retirement. For more on Mike, head to His previous article was Retirement Preview.

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