Here’s a story from the retirement belt about a good friend of mine who retired abruptly after a long and successful career in a small family business.
During his working years, Hank could best be described as the kind of person you would want to know—warm, supportive, funny, smart, and the kind of friend everybody wants.
And for my money, he lived one of the best descriptions of a successful life… He raised five fabulous kids.
So it came as a big surprise to me when a mutual friend related a story about Hank that was so out of character, I asked him twice if he was sure he was talking about the Hank I know. Unfortunately, he was.
It seems on a recent outing, Hank’s behavior was bizarre—nothing like the person I have known for decades. He interrupted people constantly, talked nonstop about everything and anything, was negative to the nth degree, and could only be described as someone you would want to avoid.
What happened to Hank? Retirement happened. He retired too abruptly, with no plan except to do nothing—and it’s driving him crazy.
If you’ve ever run, or known someone who ran, a small family business, you know how much work goes into it. It’s a 12- to 16-hours-a-day job, seven days a week. And Hank always appeared to love what he did. Frankly, I was surprised to hear that he retired at all.
Going from that kind of schedule to zero activity other than television, the gym, and the occasional outing is a formula for disaster. And from what I’m hearing, Hank’s retirement so far has been exactly that.
His problem is called “work withdrawal,” and it’s not a whole lot different than giving up cigarettes. The psychological withdrawal is more difficult to beat than the physical symptoms, and it can go on for years.
All the research can’t be wrong. This transition from work to 20 or 30 years of unemployment is no joke, and it requires serious thought and planning to do successfully.
Too many of us think of our after-work life as a return to the carefree days of our pre-work life… sleeping late, hanging with our friends, and staying totally oblivious to the challenges ahead.
It just ain’t so. Most of us can’t sleep late, our friends are long gone, and life isn’t carefree.
The only solution that appears to prepare or properly warn people about this first-year jolt of retirement reality, especially for people who have been going at 120 mph for 40 years, is a dry run.
A retirement dry run is when you take two to four weeks off before you step down to find out what it’s really like not just to be around the house 24/7. And this dry run isn’t just going without all the structure and demands on your time that come along with a work life, but it’s also a financial dry run too.
This test period can give you a good idea of if you really want to get out of the work world completely and if you can really make it on the money you have set aside for retirement.
I’ve watched first-year work withdrawal disassemble so many of my friends’ lives that I have serious concerns if I’m ever going to be able to step down completely. And maybe that’s the answer—not completely.
Hank’s a smart guy, so he’ll figure it out. And my hope is that you will figure it out too and go the dry run route. If nothing else, you’ll get a nice break.