Preparing for the next step: retiring with peace of mind

Some people are curious about retirement and they are not fully content with the idea. For the first time, a statistically significant quiz exists to tell you where you rank, compared with more than 2,000 others tested, in preparedness for retirement. This article gives tips on how to prepare for retirement both fiscally and non-fiscally.

So you are curious about retirement or you are not fully content with retirement. For the first time, a statistically significant quiz exists to tell you where you rank, compared with more than 2,000 others tested, in preparedness for retirement. You can find the quiz on our Web site, http://www.theretirementdocs.com/.

How did all of this start? Well, my father wrote some of the music for "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs" and worked for all the major Hollywood movie studios. When he retired, he had nothing to replace the high he got from show business. In fact, he had done no planning for the non-fiscal side of retirement.

I watched this and said, "I don't want this to happen to me," especially because he lived into his mid-90s. His first career in Hollywood was shorter than his second career, retirement. So I read everything I could about the non-fiscal side of retirement. I found little that I could use, however, except for anecdotal material supported by little or no scientific data. Along with another physician, Jim Gilbaugh, MD, and the help of a professional statistician, I designed a study of more than 1,200 people. The result is the book "Retirement Rx," by F.T. Fraunfelder and J.H. Gilbaugh, published by the Penguin Group.

The other traits were the ability to accept change, a sense of purpose, involvement in leisure activities, a positive attitude, reliance on a strong support network, maintaining a healthful lifestyle, and enjoying the expression of spirituality.

We also found that retirement has four phases. The importance of each of the eight traits varies depending on what phase the retiree is in.

For example, the importance of spirituality does not vary between retirees in phase I (planning) and those in phase II (semi-retired, still doing some work for income) or phase III (no work for income). Those in phase IV (restricted), however, due to aging, health, care-giving responsibilities, or the death of a person in the retiree's inner circle, find themselves confronted by insoluble problems; the importance of spirituality increases markedly.

Expressions of spirituality include participation in organized religion or spending time with family, in nature, or pursuing the arts or sciences. Many baby boomers seem to be following Ken Kesey's dictum on religion: Take what you can use and let the rest go.

Prospective or current retirees often ask me to give them a "quick fix" rather than asking for an entire book to read for direction. We know that the amount of time spent with a mate increases dramatically in phases II, III, and IV. Therefore, we recommend starting early, field-testing 10 activities to do with a mate or mutual friends, 10 activities to do by yourself or with friends, and 10 that provide a feeling of contributing and giving back to society, a reason to get up in the morning. (If you have some real passions that consume large amounts of time, each of these can count for two or three activities.) Remember, however, that you will need many activities, in large part because as you enter phases III and IV of retirement, you no longer will be able to do some activities.

Our data clearly show that the leisure activities you engage in before retirement also will be your primary pursuits after you retire.

Our data also show that people with higher levels of education keep working. Sure, they slow down, but they keep doing things that they enjoy, often including work. In this group, the average age at which retirees stopped doing any work for some income was 74 years old. This age is near the average mortality of an American male.

Research data show that you can teach a dog at any age new tricks. No matter what phase of retirement you are in, you can improve.

By Fritz Fraunfelder, MD is professor of ophthalmology and director emeritus of the Casey Eye Institute, Oregon Health and Science University, Portland. He currently is in "semi-retirement" and always working on the eight traits that are common in highly successful retirees.

Readers may contact Dr. Fraunfelder by phone at 503/494-5686 or e-mail at fraunfel@ohsu.edu
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