How to survive retirement

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First aired on Type A (19/03/12)

There is a vision of retirement that many people have in their heads, of finally throwing off the shackles of their nine-to-five work lives after decades of paying mortgages, college tuition and saving pennies for rainy days. Maybe now you'll finally get to spend as much time as you like in the garden, or on the golf course, or travelling the world with your partner (instead of with your partner and some fussy children). Or maybe you just want to stay home and watch sunsets.

Canadians invest and save and spend wisely so they can do these things in financial comfort. But many are unprepared emotionally for this major life change, says Carol Baird-Krul, a former teacher who made the decision to retire in 1999.

During a recent interview with Type A, Baird-Krul said that everyone reacts differently to retirement, especially in the early stages. Some are immediately bored or feel sadness at the loss of their career and colleagues. Others may throw themselves into activity and adventure, feeling freedom and elation.

"[But] eventually you realize those leisure activities that gave you so much pleasure during your career don't fill the days that you have in the ways that you thought they would," she said. "And you start to look for a balance. And as you do that, then you start to think about 'Well, what can I do? What should I do? Who am I? What am I?'"

Baird-Krul and her husband experienced the same emotional uncertainty when they retired.

"We still had lots of energy and wanted to do things but we didn't really want to remain in the career that we had left. So we were floundering around."

Interestingly, when they met for social engagements with our retired couples, they heard similar stories of restlessness and questions about how to be retired. So Baird-Krul put her research and academic skills to use. She and educator Enise Olding developed a course to help people transition into retirement. That course has evolved into the book Transition to Retirement: The Uncharted Course, which combines their personal stories with research and practical advice on how to plan and navigate the hurdles of retirement. And there can be many hurdles.

A common problems for retirees is when they realize their vision of retirement may not jive with their partner's desires. That's why Baird-Krul believes it's critical that couples have an "open and honest conversation before you retire."

And no amount of planning may help if one (or both) of you falls ill.

Retirement is supposed to be a time when we've got it mostly figured it out, but Baird-Krul believes it's prudent to plan to be surprised.

"You have to be ready for the unexpected."