With Robert Laura, Founder of the Retirementproject.org and Retirement Coaches Association, Author of Naked Retirement: Living A Happy, Healthy, & Connected Retirement
Can people who have successfully navigated their lives really fail in retirement? To find out, Steve speaks with Robert Laura, founder of the Retirementproject.org and the Retirement Coaches Association, and author of Naked Retirement: Living a Happy, Healthy and Connected Retirement.
Retirement’s Emotional Woes
While Steve mostly focuses on the math behind financial planning and investments, his guest, Bob, sees the more emotional aspects of dealing with retirement. For example, Bob speaks of the emotional predicament of a recently retired woman who never had trouble with low self-esteem before retirement when her husband was working and she was taking care of the house and raising their kids, but now feels she’s no longer needed on the home front. He sees retirement as a difficult transition where people cannot adjust to a new and very different routine and counsels them so they can better transition into their golden years.
The anguish that retirement brings is termed “disenfranchised grief.” While conventional grief—such as from the death of a loved one—evokes sympathy from friends and family, disenfranchised grief brings no consolers, making it an even more lonely road.
In Naked Retirement, Robert writes that this is where friends, advisors, and family have an opportunity to step in and help people live happier retired lives. In addition, he advises grieving retirees to maintain a daily journal of their feelings so they can objectively understand what’s causing them grief. This simple writing exercise often helps them recognize such emotions in others, come to terms with their own grief, and coach others entering retirement.
Next, Steve wants to know what makes people fail at retirement. Bob’s take is that retirement is yet another phase of life. Much like going to college, getting married, or having kids, one needs to adapt to the change and be emotionally and financially prepared for it. One of the main issues with retirement is the social void it creates, where people stop seeing friends at work and don’t quite know how to make new friends or set comfort-giving routines.
Additionally, in Naked Retirement, Bob identifies four root causes that make people fail in retirement. The first is going into retirement without thinking it through, with only vague assumptions of what you’re really going to do in retirement. He recommends making a plan, finding volunteering or part-time work opportunities beforehand, and being flexible about changing your plan based on whether you like what you’re doing or not.
The second root cause is role ambivalence, especially with married couples where both are retired and at home, invading each other’s privacy and space. Another type of role ambivalence is tied to the pressure to stop working as people reach retirement age; this pressure can be overcome by having a concrete financial plan so you clearly know if you can afford to comfortably retire or need to keep working to save more for later.
There’s also peer pressure from retired friends and colleagues to do things you may not quite be ready to do or even want to do, such as spending your days playing golf instead of being in an office.
Steve throws out a good statistic from Bob’s book, Naked Retirement, which clearly shows that most people are ill-prepared for retirement. Surveys show that 70% of pre-retirees think their lives will be better in retirement but only 40% of actual retirees find that to be true. That’s a stark gap which Robert Laura believes can be addressed by preparing ahead.
Improve Your Communications
The fourth root cause of emotional angst in retirement is poor communication— with your spouse or partner, family, and friends. People hold their thoughts inside and never communicate them, which leads to misunderstandings and arguments that are easily avoidable by opening up about your thoughts and feelings in retirement.
Recognizing your grief in retirement and talking about it isn’t a one-time thing, he writes in Naked Retirement. Instead, it could take months to figure things out, and the sooner you start that process, the less you’ll fail in retirement.
Disclosure: The opinions expressed are those of the interviewee and not necessarily United Capital. Interviewee is not a representative of United Capital. Investing involves risk and investors should carefully consider their own investment objectives and never rely on any single chart, graph or marketing piece to make decisions. Content provided is intended for informational purposes only, is not a recommendation to buy or sell any securities, and should not be considered tax, legal, investment advice. Please contact your tax, legal, financial professional with questions about your specific needs and circumstances. The information contained herein was obtained from sources believed to be reliable, however their accuracy and completeness cannot be guaranteed. All data are driven from publicly available information and has not been independently verified by United Capital.
Steve Pomeranz: Is there such a thing as failing in retirement? Can a person who has successfully navigated their life and to finally reach this stage of rest and relaxation, can that lead them to become an utter failure in the one thing they’ve been planning for so many years? It’s a good question and one that Bob Laura, founder of the Retirementproject.org, and Retirement Coaches Association has written extensively about, and he joins me today. Welcome to the show, Bob.
Robert Laura: Hey, Steve, how are you?
Steve Pomeranz: Hi. Hey, I read a lot of financial planning and investment articles. They mostly focus on the math of financial planning and investment articles, and they mostly focus on the math of financial planning, you know, investment rates of return, charting your financial course, probability analysis, and so on, but you look more closely at the emotional impact of these aspects of our lives. In a recent blog, you quoted a woman who had written to you, and this is really what got me interested in having you on the show because it really moved me. I’d like you to read an excerpt from what she wrote you.
Robert Laura: Sure. Stuff like this comes across my desk on a regular basis and when it does, I definitely want to tune into it, but the lady wrote: “I never had trouble with low self-esteem before retirement. I always associated my worth with what I did and/or being needed, not just being. That was a big mistake. I am no longer needed in my relationship. I was a good corporate wife who stayed home to raise her children so that Bill could focus on his career. Now that he’s retired I’m not needed the same way and the kids are grown, so no use in that function either. When Bill was working, I was the first to hold down the fort, but those days are over. I’m no longer needed because he is here all the time. I know he used to be so proud of me and happy about my performance, but no more. Of course, I’m not doing all those things he needed from me in the past. I have an active outside life, a healthy self-esteem there, but not as a wife. This can’t be so unusual, I guess.”
Steve Pomeranz: Wow. That’s a very grievous statement. It’s a real emotional sense of depression in that language. What did you make of that?
Robert Laura: Yeah, you can feel the anguish that she has, so I think it’s really … Helping people understand to figure that stuff out because really, it doesn’t get talked about enough because everyone pictures retirement as this perfect picture-time where everything is just happy and perfect, but she’s really grieving the loss of her role. She used to be a mom, she used to be a corporate wife and that’s gone and there’s really not a simple process to think about who do you really turn to to talk about stuff like that?
Steve Pomeranz: Yeah, there’s a vacuum that can be created, and it takes time to figure out the next part of your life and how you’re going to fill that vacuum. I think this process is pretty natural. Do you see it across the board or is this something that just a few people seem to experience?
Robert Laura: No, it happens all the time, and that’s the power, I think, or the opportunity for, whether it’s financial professionals, human resource people, just friends in general, to help people to recognize this, to help them see that, “Hey, this can be … retirement is a difficult transition. There are things that you’re going to lose that may take time to replace,” by just making people more aware of it. In this situation with this lady, what I said, “It sounds like you’re grieving the loss of your role.” It created some awareness for her that just had not put grief in tune with what was happening to her.
Steve Pomeranz: It’s a disenfranchisement. You’re no longer a part of the world that you were. Is that a particular kind of grief, once you’ve recognized it that you can start to work with?
Robert Laura: Yeah, you’re spot on with that. It’s actually referred to as disenfranchised grief. Really, if you think about grief normally, it’s typically associated with losing a loved one or maybe something like a divorce, but in the case of retirement, it’s not honored the same way. People can’t empathize with you the same way they can when you lose someone. When it’s disenfranchised, it’s not honored, but it doesn’t take away—and feelings aren’t right or wrong—so it doesn’t take away from how that person is feeling, and again, the opportunity is to open the door for them to really talk about their situation, talk about what they’re missing because that’s a big part of restoring the situation, finding ways to move on and replace that piece.
Steve Pomeranz: This grieving process, what can one do in order to reduce it? I know you wrote that at first it feels like a 100-foot wave is crashing on you, but over time it becomes a 50-foot wave and, obviously, it reduces over time. Though you say in your writing that it never really goes away and that’s a good thing, but what can you do?
Robert Laura: Well, I think finding support, whether that’s family and friends. Again, I think a big part of it is restoring it. Writing a journal and, again, as you go through these tough times, you actually become an expert at them, so sharing what you’re going through with other people and then eventually, when you get to a point to coach other people, it repositions you to do that. The other thing is you can honor the situation by again, putting a booklet or articles or a blog or teaching a class on the different things. You don’t have to … in the past one of the big myths about grief is, you have to forget it and move on. That’s not really true, you can maintain a bond and over time it becomes something positive instead of something negative that you can leverage in your life.
Steve Pomeranz: All right, we’ve been talking about grief, but I want to get to this idea that it is possible to have retirement failures. What would constitute a failure in retirement? It doesn’t seem possible, actually. Let me say this first. You spend your whole life trying not to fail; you’re going to fail at certain things but then you pick yourself up and you start all over again as the song says. Retirement’s not supposed to be about that. It’s supposed to be about living your one best life now that you don’t have those kinds of constraints.
Robert Laura: It’s like any other phase of life, whether it’s having kids or marriage, going off to school, whatever the case may be. There are things you have to adapt to. That’s a massive vacuum that happens. Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of people who make a smooth transition, but they understand what it takes, they’ve planned beyond the dollars and cents. The issue with retirement is there’s so much focus on the positive aspects that nobody thinks about the negative. What’s going to be removed? What do I have to replace? What’s this going to feel like? Again, one of the biggest issues you see out there with people is socially. Who are they going to connect with? Yeah, you’re still best friends with your friends at work, but they’re working and you’re not.
A lot of dynamics play out, and again, there’s … vague assumptions is probably the biggest thing that people just kind of assume. “Hey, this is just going to work out and be great.” That’s just not how it goes.
Steve Pomeranz: My guest is Bob Laura. He’s Founder of Retirementproject.org and he’s a retirement coach and head of the Retirement Coach’s Association, so that’s why he knows this stuff. Bob, you described four of the root causes. A lot of the discussions center around the symptoms, how I feel, but they don’t talk about the root causes and you’ve identified four of them. Tell us about them.
Robert Laura: The first one, as I’ve mentioned, is vague assumptions. The piece there is people kind of assume, “Oh, when I retire I’m going to volunteer, I’m going to do this and that,” and then they get there and it doesn’t turn out to be that way so they just make these assumptions. Or “Oh, I’ll work part-time from 10 am to 1 pm with no weekend work or holidays and make a good living,” you know. That stuff doesn’t work so it’s really about the opportunities to put practical, concrete things in place to know where you’re going to volunteer. You may decide to volunteer at the local hospital, but the work isn’t rewarding. That’s okay, you want to do that trial and error. You may find a job that you don’t like or you have to work weekends, so going into it with good expectations is important, not just assuming it’s going to work.
Steve Pomeranz: Yeah, I want to go back to this idea about things you think you’re going to do when you’re going to work part-time after retirement. You said it, you went by it fast; I want to repeat it. You may think, “Hey I’m going to work 10 am to 1 pm Monday through Thursday.” The world doesn’t necessarily work like that. The jobs you may find may not even exist, so you’re going to have to change your expectations. This is all under the idea of the root cause, is that you start out with vague assumptions and you want to get more specific and find out. I guess if you were active in business or in art and you achieve something and now you’re ready for retirement, you probably know how to organize things and to look ahead a little bit and to write some things down. The second root cause you mentioned is role ambivalence. What is that?
Robert Laura: That’s just where … it primarily happens with married couples at home where now that you’re both at home and retired, do roles change and if so, how do they change? How do you even talk about it and orchestrate it and how do you reciprocate and honor each other’s space and their routine? I think the other role ambivalence is you don’t think about bullying or peer pressure when it comes to retirees, but as you get close to retirement, then all of a sudden you feel like “Well, gosh, I’m 65. I’m supposed to retire. Well, gosh, I’m 65 and now there’s a buyout offer.” You can feel pressured into different situations, so this mental tug of war takes place. That, again, is why you want to start to develop these concrete plans. You want to have a financial plan so that you know your numbers and where you stand so that when these situations come up, you don’t have to be confused, you can be prepared to take action.
Steve Pomeranz: There’s some peer pressure here too because if you’re of retirement age and now many of your friends are retired and they’re going, “Hey, Bob, why are you still working? I don’t understand.” You’re like, “Yeah, why am I still working? Well, I kind of like it, but I should be playing golf with my buddies more often or something like that.” There’s that issue like peer pressure. I thought only middle school and high school, but peer pressure … You know, I had a 90-year-old client who basically would not tell her friends her age. I said, “Why wouldn’t you do that?” She says, “Because they’ll treat me differently.” It’s like, “Oh no.” She’s 90 and she’s still worrying about that stuff.
Well, that us got off base here, but let’s go to talent and skill reversal, because now if you come home and you’re a CFO and you go, “Okay, I’m taking over the bills; I’m reorganizing the house,” that’s got to cause some problems.
Robert Laura: Well, it disrupts the routine. Again, we live in a strength-based society so use your strengths, do what you’re good at, right? At work and at home are two different scenarios. You really have to take a look at what life is going to be like and step back and say, “That’s not going to necessarily work.” It’s being really mindful and conscious of your own situation as well as the other people around you. A mechanic can fix lots of stuff. Well, he can’t fix his health problems, and so really understanding where you can plug in and do the good things is important. This is why I really suggest people consider retirement coaches because it’s not easy stuff to talk about or figure about, but if people go in prepared, or at least are aware of it, they know how to manage this stuff better.
Steve Pomeranz: That’s a very good … You have a good statistic here, that 70% of pre-retirees will think that life will be better in retirement, but only 40% of actual retirees find that it is. Very, very interesting dispersion there. Finally, poor communication is the fourth root. Tell us about that.
Robert Laura: I think one of the issues for most people is they have these great ideas in their head but it never makes it to their mouth or a piece of paper, and that’s fertile ground for arguments, disagreements, and not being on the same page. Whether it’s with a couple or a single, divorced, or widowed or widower and their children and grandchildren, it really is about taking the time to tell people what’s going on. Also, recognizing the stuff you’re going to talking about with this transition to retirement isn’t a one-time conversation. It could take months to figure some things out, but it’s about starting that process and moving things from what you’re thinking about to what you need to say and share and write down.
Steve Pomeranz: Good stuff. Good stuff to avoid being a failure in retirement if there really is such a thing. My guest Bob Laura, Founder of RetirementProject.org and Retirement Coaches Association. Bob, what website can you be found at?
Robert Laura: RetirementProject.org. It’s got all sorts of stuff. It’s got our book, Naked Retirement, which is about the non-financial aspect, my new book Retirement Rx, which is kind of a Chicken Soup for the Soul. That’s the best place to check my stuff out.
Steve Pomeranz: Sounds great. Thank you so much for joining me Bob.
Robert Laura: Thanks, Steve.
Steve Pomeranz: To hear this conversation again, don’t forget to go to StevePomeranz.com and all the links are there for Bob’s website as well as his books and other things as well. Once again, StevePomeranz.com.