In uncertain economic times, the idea of retiring rich seems to be more like a Utopian dream for many close to their long-awaited retirement years.
Americans have been forced to "bite the bullet" as they have come to realize more of their retirement income will have to be drawn from their own resources.
Talk of the Social Security system eventually running dry, coupled with evidence of fewer American being able to enjoy the potential rewards of a traditional pension, has nearly destroyed optimism in the hearts of the people.
According to a recent Gallup Poll, a majority of non-retired Americans, 52%, doubt they will have enough money to live comfortably once they retire; only 41% say they will. In 2002, by contrast, 59% of non-retirees were confident that they would have enough retirement income to live comfortably.
Retirement forces individuals to get clarity on their value system, and face questions which have been on the back burner for decades such as :What matters most to me? What's really important in life?
Though most people cannot reverse the damage done to the economic system easily, retirees can try to find ways to prepare themselves emotionally for retirement, so they can still experience a sense of purpose in their lives.
Dr. Beth Erickson, a psychotherapist based in Minnesota, counsels others to find meaning and purpose in their lives before they retire. Part of the process includes having an outlet. "Some who are blessed to get their sense of purpose from their work. Whether they do or do not derive meaning from their work, when they no longer do, who are they now? One strategy to prepare themselves is to find a creative outlet such as taking the art class they’ve always wanted to take, or signing up to volunteer pre-retirement so that stopping work doesn’t mean the end of their lives," she said.
"Spiritually rich" means different things to different people, but for Dr. Erickson, it can be found in the every day, mundane tasks and interactions of life.
"When you live a life with a mindset of abundance, rather than one of scarcity, you are spiritually rich. When you think of the finer things in life as “collecting” sunsets, Sunday afternoon naps, cuddling with pets and loved ones, having children and grandchildren who love you, causes you believe in that are larger than yourself, having some sort of daily spiritual practice even if only journaling, you are spiritually rich indeed. None of these costs a penny but they yield bounty and richness to life," she said.
Now it is true that those individuals who embrace spirituality when their coffers are empty, might be perceived as eccentric by others.
Dr. Erickson affirms judgements can happen, but it can go both ways. "I’m sure it depends on whom they are talking with. Some people, especially those who are motivated by the almighty dollar, will think they are nuts. But let them. Because you probably think they are slightly off, too," she said.
Retirement is meant to afford liberation from the demands of a stressful career, or family life.
According to Dr. Allen Elkin, a program director of The Stress Management and Counseling Center in New York, retirement may also play a role in undermining self-esteem. This may be true, in the sense that one has to make a violent transition, and move on to uncharted territory
His ideas are in alignment with Dr. Erickson's. He wrote: "It's not what you retire from, but what you retire to- that's important. You have to prepare for retirement."
When asked if she felt most people have a fixed idea about what retirement means, in terms of lifestyle changes, Dr. Erickson said she didn't believe most people reflect too deeply about it. "I don’t think people think a lot about retirement. Or if they do, it’s probably mostly about whether they’ll have enough money to maintain a certain lifestyle or where they want to live in retirement. From the perspective of spiritual richness, those are important questions. But they aren’t the most important questions. Instead, they need to be asking themselves how they want to life their life. It does people little good to have enough money to live on if they have nothing to live for," she said
Whether individuals think about it, or not, the retirement years offer an opportunity to open up new frontiers in all aspects of one's life. Through the engagement in new endeavors, fresh energy can begin to take hold, thereby potentially bringing a sense of new found youthfulness.
One's retirement life can take on the quality of possibly being more progressive than the previous one.
Dr. Beth Erickson appears to have proved to be an exception among those who feel they are just cogs in a wheel.
She said since she graduated college, she's never been satisfied with the status quo, but has been a seeker. "So I seek out other seekers. Those who are not afraid to ask questions, seek meaningful relationships, and give as well as receive are worth their weight in gold," she said.
Developing outside interests can bring enrichment in any stage of one's life, but more so during the retirement years.
Dr. Erickson is no stranger to learning new skills. She said in her mid 50's she was invited to a retreat with friends for a week-end where she took up watercolor painting, and later continued to develop her talent. So much so, that today, it is still one of her passions, and she often displays her art at home, or gives paintings away as gifts.
Retirement years have not been able to thwart Dr. Erickson's motivation to grow as a person.
She said she wants to learn how to paint better watercolors, and develop her new career as a radio talk show host. She dreams of making the leap from Internet to terrestrial radio.
When asked hat advice she would give someone facing retirement, she said the earlier one starts thinking about life after the working years, the better. "The question you will spontaneously ask yourself will be a reflection of an adolescent question: Who am I? Only this time, it will be, who am I, now? Seek what is meaningful before retirement, so you can carry that knowledge with you into retirement," she said.
By Jackie O’Neal
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Beam of Hope For the Disadvantaged
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