The myths vs. realities of retirement

Everyone dreams of retiring someday. Even when people love their job, the idea of having more freedom and flexibility with their schedule is a strong allure of retirement.

After working hard for decades — often at jobs they don’t like, and with or for people who could care less about them — many people look forward to just taking it easy. They envision sleeping in, golfing, fishing and pursuing endless recreation opportunities.

Sleeping, golfing and fishing all day are certainly options, but will they leave you fulfilled? That’s debatable, especially after a few months of doing those things every day.

Too many people embrace certain myths about retirement which work to prevent them from making the most of the experience. Let’s explore a few of those myths.

Myth: Many people think they’ll be missed at the job

They envision their coworkers and boss will finally truly appreciate everything they did for the company. They may even daydream that long-term clients will take their business elsewhere after the person retires rather than work with someone else.

As a result of being missed, retirees think former coworkers will be calling all the time for advice.

Perhaps the retiree saw himself as the only person capable of doing specific tasks “the right way.” Without him, chaos will erupt and the firm will be sheepishly calling seeking his advice or instructions. But, what if phone doesn’t ring?  Many times, retirees become depressed by thinking they are no longer needed.

Someone once said if you want to envision what will happen to the company when you retire, stick your fist in a cold bucket of water, then remove it quickly and look for the hole.

In reality, the notice regarding your job vacancy will be posted online or on the company bulletin board before the leftover cake from your retirement party is thrown away. In fact, there are likely at least three people waiting in the wings for their shot at your job.

Myth: People need less money in retirement

I have no idea where people get that idea or how it started.

Perhaps it comes from not having to drive to and from work every day, pay for parking and not eating out for lunch as often. Retired workers may not have to buy business clothes for themselves and gifts for coworkers. So, in that regard, it’s true that working requires more money than retirement.

But, that only works if retiree will be content sitting home all day and watching television while waiting for the mail to arrive so it can be tossed into the recycling bin.

In reality, with extra time on their hands, retirees will want to do things like travel, visit museums and go to shows, all of which require money. Retirees will have more time to pursue their hobbies, which also costs money to buy equipment or supplies and fix things that break or wear out.

Let’s not forget that as people get older, medical bills often increase. While their job-related expenses may decline, their lifestyle expenses will likely rise. That brings us to the flip-side of the money dilemma.

Myth: People need a large nest egg in order to retire

This probably comes from the financial advisors who sell investment products for a living.

When my mother died earlier this year at age 89, and we were disposing of her assets, we discovered she had less than $150,000 in various accounts and items of value. Granted, she did not live an active life by traveling around the globe. But, with social security and her pension, my mother had everything she needed for a comfortable life.

Some of her assets included investment products. The pressure was intense by those firms to keep the funds invested in their company’s products and interest-bearing accounts. The planners tried to engage the same type of scare tactics with my sister and I to keep the funds for “when we need it,” which I think is code for “when you’re dead.”

Yes, money does provide options, but the idea that people need $2 million in the bank in order to retire is insane. I know of hundreds of seasoned citizens who are making recurring income every month with small businesses of their own that require a few hours a week to operate.

I have also interviewed hundreds of people, and know of thousands more, who live full-time in recreation vehicles. They travel around America working short-term, part-time jobs in exchange for a free or low-cost RV site and some extra spending money.

If they had waited until society told them they were allowed to retire in order to start traveling, they’d be dead before they ever had an opportunity to pursue their dreams.

The No. 1 key to a good retirement is to stay out of debt. Having no debt is often just as good as having a large nest egg.

Reality: Some people will be more depressed in retirement

After they retire, people should be on top of the world. Hopefully, their kids are finally out of the house and starting their own lives. Many people are financially secure with no schedule and much more time on their hands.

However, retirement can be especially hard on some people, especially men. Consider this:

  • Retirees lose the respect, prestige and power they once enjoyed from their jobs.
  • Retirees lose their identity, which was often wrapped up almost entirely in work. When two men meet each other for the first time, one of the first questions asked is usually, “So, what do you do for a living?”
  • People lose those tasks that once gave their lives meaning and purpose. The emails stop. The phone doesn’t ring. There are no more staff or client meetings. There isn’t anyone waiting for their next report.
  • After retirement, people lose their income, perks or benefits. That’s significant because a regular paycheck or annual bonus was often considered a reward and recognition for the contribution they made.
  • Retirees lose the validation they received or felt from working. A job suggested they were needed, had an important role to fill or an essential tasks to perform.
  • Retirees also lose a significant part of their social life. Nobody stops by their desk to chat. There are no more working lunches. They can’t escape to the breakroom in hopes of having a brief encounter with another person.

Depression is even more likely when a worker is pushed out of job through no fault of his or her own, such as a downsizing or company closure. The feelings of abandonment and betrayal are strong.

I coined the term Grumpy Old Man Syndrome to describe what happens to men who suddenly realize that whatever once provided purpose and meaning for their lives is no longer there. You can read about that at

Reality: You need purpose for your life

The key to a successful and enjoyable retirement is purpose. You need a reason strong enough to motivate you out of bed every morning, or off the sofa that afternoon.

Proverbs 29:18, explains that without vision, people perish. Some translations say people cast off restraint. Seasoned citizens make up about 12% of the population, but account for 18% of suicides.

Lack of purpose leads to depression, which leads to isolation, which leads to complete loss of enthusiasm for life.

However, there is no reason for people over 50 to become wandering generalities just going through the motions of life. This is the ideal time to do things you’ve always wanted to do.

Playwright Gertrude Nelson Andrews said it best when she noted:

“There is no reason why a person shouldn’t be young at eighty, but there are a whole lot of people who die at fifty and aren’t buried until they are eighty. We have a right to be useful and creative if we live to be 100. A man at eighty should be a masterpiece, not something to be thrown on the dump heap.”

I don’t know when Americans developed the idea the purpose of their lives was to get a nice little situation going for themselves, and then kick back for 20 to 30 years. Jesus himself addressed that type of thinking in Luke 12:13-21. He called those people “fools.”

When people arrive at the pearly gates, a lot of them hope to hear Jesus proclaim, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

But, if all they’ve done for the past two decades is play golf, assemble puzzles, go swimming and craft pottery, what is there to get excited about? We should be living each day to the full, and run with perseverance the race marked out for us.

Now, more than ever, the younger generations NEED our skills, talent and wisdom, even if they don’t realize it.

What will you do to utilize those things to make someone else’s life a little better? Make it your goal to change so many lives for good during the final years of your life, that it will take the police hours to control traffic at your funeral.

If you need help identifying a purpose for your life or getting clarity regarding the first steps you need to take toward pursuing it, I would love to do some brainstorming with you.

Pick a date and time for your impactful conversation at There is no change for that meeting and I know we will come up with several great ideas to contemplate.