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Rough Start

Mike Drak

RETIREMENT AT FIRST is fun and feels pretty good. No more setting an alarm. No more dealing with a long commute. No demanding work schedule that leaves you exhausted most evenings.

Best of all, no one is telling you what to do. You can sleep in or travel to all those places you dreamed about. You can golf as much as you like or spend lots of time with the grandkids.

You’re as free as a bird. For some—those I call comfort-oriented retirees—this will be enough. But at some point, many retirees will feel a need to do something else—something more meaningful, interesting and challenging. This is when the slide down into retirement hell begins. That brings me to the graph below, which is from my new book.

In retirement hell, you get a feeling of being incredibly lost and vulnerable. Your heart isn’t into the hobbies and activities that used to bring you joy. The life of leisure that you dreamt about for so long becomes empty and meaningless. This is when the depression sinks in.

When I was forced out of my banking career, I was happy. I had been planning on leaving anyway because the stress was getting to me and I really didn’t like working there anymore. Getting that severance check at age 59 made me feel like I’d won the lottery. Things seemed good until that first Monday morning hit.

My wife had gone to work and I found myself sitting at home alone. Things were pretty quiet. I missed the phone calls and daily emails I used to get at work. I started to get a little antsy. I couldn’t even hang out with my friends because all of them were still working.

What was really frustrating was that neither my friends nor my wife could understand what I was going through. They couldn’t relate to me being unhappy. It just didn’t make any sense to them.

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I had trouble sleeping most nights and would get this ringing in my ears from all the stress I was experiencing. After falling asleep, I’d usually wake up around 2 a.m. and spend the rest of the night tossing and turning. That’s when the fear would creep in.

My wife would sometimes wake up and ask me what’s wrong.

I would say something like, “I’m worried we don’t have enough money saved up.”

She’d say, “Don’t worry, we’re fine.”

For the record, my wife is an investment advisor who manages our portfolio and pays the bills, so she has a good grasp of what fine is. But hearing her say that just stressed me out more. I couldn’t relate to what fine was. I sure wasn’t feeling fine.

Eventually, I realized it was my fault. The problem: I wasn’t able to define fine. I didn’t know what I wanted to do in retirement, nor how much that would cost. Until I nailed that down, I couldn’t feel fine. Instead, I felt uneasy, with the need to have just a little bit more in savings.

Once I finally figured out what I wanted to do in retirement—and confirmed that we had sufficient retirement cash flow to cover that—I slept better at night. Knowing that we had enough allowed me to start focusing on the possibilities instead of the problems. That’s when I started on the road out of retirement hell.

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 BoomingEncore.com. His previous articles were Who Are You and Retirement Preview.

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booch221
booch221
2 months ago

So what did you decide you wanted to do in retirement, pray tell?

Mike Drak
Mike Drak
1 month ago
Reply to  booch221

I became an author, started my own retirement coaching business and became a public speaker. I want to help people avoid ending up in retirement hell like I did.

elaine thomas
elaine thomas
2 months ago

Thank you for your thoughtful piece. I know several people aged < 60 who recently retired (both voluntary and involuntary) who share your experience.

Last edited 2 months ago by elaine thomas
Rick Connor
Rick Connor
2 months ago

Mike, thanks for the honest article. I saw some of they behavior in the aerospace industry. There were a number of employees who identified themselves with what they did. I was also let go at 59. I was managing an engineering group at the time. We had known for a few years that our contract was going to end, and any follow-on work would be moved hours away tot he DC area. I spend much of my time trying to get our work extended, or to find jobs for my employees. I was the last one to go. When it happened I really hadn’t planned for my own retirement. I still don’t call myself retired, since I do occasional consulting.

I think Richard (below) is on to something. I have two brothers-in-law who planned their retirements well, announced them a year in advance, and never looked back. The shock of leaving unprepared harder to manage. Good luck with he book.

R Quinn
R Quinn
2 months ago
Reply to  Rick Connor

A year after I retired after fifty years, my former boss asked me to lunch. When I got there she had a lawyer with her. Contrary to my expectations of her asking me to help with some communications projects, her purpose was to tell me to stop communicating with any of her staff. When I pointed out I was only alerting them to errors in what was being communicated (about plans I had designed and negotiated) she said it didn’t matter because it upset the staff. My feelings were a mix of anger, rejection and empathy for their stupidity. I complied with the request. Instead I sent future comments to her boss, the CEO.

Boozo Boy
Boozo Boy
2 months ago

This is more about the author’s mental health and feelings of rejection … not particularly useful.

R Quinn
R Quinn
2 months ago

I can see a period of adjustment, I experienced a mild period of that when I retired. But I retired voluntarily at age 66+ I never had any hobbies, or special plans for retirement. Somehow between grandkids, travel and I’m not sure what, free time was rare and after 11 years still is. I worked with thousands of retirees over many years and never heard one suggest the experience you relate although I suspect it did in a few cases.

I am not a professional, but could it be that your experience was caused in part by a underlying feeling of rejection as a result of the unplanned layoff at 59. Forced out as you say. That’s a pretty vulnerable age between career and it ending in some way.

Mike Drak
Mike Drak
1 month ago
Reply to  R Quinn

Being forced out didn’t bother me because I was planning on leaving anyways and getting a severance cheque at age 59 was like hitting the lottery. I’m a growth oriented individual who likes to work at something interesting, something that gives me a sense of achievement. If I can’t do that I’m not very happy.

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