Rhonda Kemmis is owner and lead trainer at Elite Leadership Consulting.

Much of our working life is spent thinking about how great it will be when do not have to work anymore, AKA retirement.

But actually planning for this major life transition is quite a task, and that’s during normal times. Making concrete retirement decisions during a worldwide pandemic may be better described as unnerving.  

Many aspects of people’s work lives have been changed since the spring. If an employee is decades away from retirement, the only option was to be flexible and make the adjustments necessary to stay gainfully employed. However, the closer people are to retirement, the upheaval that came with COVID-19 may be one more reason to consider a leap from the nine-to-five grind.  

Prior to the pandemic, transitioning into retirement was gaining momentum as a financial adjustment and an emotional one. 

Retirement comes with three big losses: Identity, purpose, and relationships. There is no mention of money here. While finances are extremely important, most people realize by retirement age that true contentment cannot be bought. 

If retirement is on the horizon for you, enhance your intellectual portfolio with the following factors to help navigate through the preparation process and the first stages of freedom in a time when a microscopic virus can disrupt the best-laid plans. 

  • As Mike Tyson famously once said: “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.”  
  • Reserve your energy for that which you can control.  
  • For some, work is a passion. If you love what you do, keep doing it.  
  • About 14% of adults indicate they plan to claim Social Security earlier than they had planned due to COVID-19. 
  • About 26% of adults feel they need to postpone retirement due to the virus and the economic impact of it.  
  • A furlough can easily turn into a permanent job loss. Keep all options open.  
  • The virus has produced more devastating economic outcomes for older workers, especially women.  

If you plan to proceed with retirement: 

  • Meet with your financial advisor. You may be better off than you feared. Financial plans are only solid if they incorporate market volatility. 
  • Take note of how spending habits have changed in 2020. A good reminder to all: It’s not what we earn that counts, it’s what we spend. The Golden Years are certainly a time to enjoy the fruits of our labor and we should. But now may not be the wisest time to splurge on that luxury car or Rolex we planned to reward ourselves with.  
  • Postpone filing for Social Security if you are able. This is where patience pays off. Experts agree even dipping into your retirement savings account will put you financially ahead over time than drawing your benefits immediately at age 62.  
  • Protect your future with exceptional health care and adequate insurance. COVID-19 has been a solemn reminder that our health is our wealth. Incorporate an exercise routine into your new life.  
  • Relationships at home will change when 40-plus hours per week are no longer scheduled. Arm yourself with the knowledge of common pitfalls people fall into emotionally when their careers come to an end. 
  • Find something that feeds your passions. In the past, another job with less stress was often the answer. That will be harder to find during COVID-19. The need for volunteers has not diminished, but for seniors more at risk of succumbing to the virus some restrictions have closed that door as an option.  
  • Read the “Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up” by Marie Kondo, and then begin to declutter.  
  • Don’t go it alone. The isolation of COVID-19 has not enhanced our collective mental health as a nation. Humans are wired to be in connection with others.
  • Do not live in the past. Enjoy the great memories of the lean years, the progression of your career, and the feeling of a job well done. Look toward the future and practice gratitude. If you notice signs of depression or anxiety, contact your physician. 
  • A meaningful, purposeful retirement will not fall into your lap. You have to create it.  

If you decide to postpone retirement: 

  • Relish the fact that you were not forced into a retirement date that was not of your choosing. 
  • Pay little attention to what others are doing, especially those retiring much younger than you.  
  • Take all precautions that your work environment is a safe place to be with regard to COVID-19. 
  • Take advantage of the extra time and money you will be earning to prepare for your preferred retirement date. Meet with your financial planner to ensure you are on the right path for you.  
  • Begin to diversify your social connections. Some retirees find too late that their greatest source of socialization was centered around work.  
  • If cutting back on hours with your current position interests you, make that known to your leaders. Negotiate your vast knowledge and skill set.  
  • Begin to have the conversations now with significant others about downsizing, expectations of travel, spending time with family, relocation, retirement budget, etc.
  • Begin to do some engaging reading on aging and retirement.  
  • Practice mindfulness and gratitude each and every day. You are creating your destiny.  

Some readers here may still be sitting on the fence regarding retirement and that is OK as well.  It is a major decision and should not be made in haste. In general, if you find you are inadequately prepared at the current time and another job is not an option, it is best to stay put. If your personal circumstances and financial resources are where you would like them to be and you are more than ready for the freedom of retirement, it may be time to move forward and embrace the next chapter of life.  

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