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The Importance of Goals in Retirement

Friends setting and celebrating goals in retirement

When you’re still working, the thought of retirement may sound wonderful. Who doesn’t like the idea of a wide-open schedule and no one to report to? With people living longer, though, the traditional age of retirement can leave decades to fill, which presents a challenge. As a result, setting goals in retirement is essential for your mental well-being.  

It’s important to determine what you’re going to retire to—something you can look forward to,” says Dorian Mintzer, Ph.D., founder of Revolutionize Retirement, a retirement coaching firm.  

Identify New Goals 

Mintzer asks her coaching clients to describe the role work played in their lives. “Work is often a reason to get out of bed in the morning,” she says. “It can provide a sense of self-esteem, a sense of community, and a sense of connection and meaning.” 

Once you identify what you need to replace, set goals to build those things back into your life. “What will get you out of bed in the morning once you don’t have to get out of bed?” asks Mintzer. “It could be exercising, meeting a buddy for coffee, volunteering, or spending time with children or grandchildren. There’s no right or wrong answer.”  

Before retirement, many people set goals to create more work/life balance, says Jerry Cahn, PhD, CEO of Age Brilliantly, a community for people who want to live long, fulfilling lives. During retirement, he suggests setting goals in the six essential areas of your life: health, finance, relationships, purpose, passion, and time. 

“Purpose and passion are the things you didn’t do when you were young because everyone told you survival was the key and so you gave that up,” says Cahn. “You get to go back and revisit what is most interesting to you.”  

Put Goals Into Action  

It can help to retire in increments instead of all at once. While you may not want a full-time job, some recent retirees look for part-time work. “Many people are not ready to stop working,” says Mintzer. “Maybe they loved what they were doing or maybe they realize financially that they need to keep working.”  

If your industry or organization allows it, consider phased retirement, stepping down slowly. Another option is to find gig work, which is popular today. For example, you could take on projects either as a consultant or through temporary job agencies. 

You may also be ready to launch a second career. “This is often referred to as encore career,” says Mintzer. “They use their skills but in a different way.” 

Cahn also recommends learning new skills. He recently read a book on artificial intelligence by Henry Kissinger, former Secretary of State; Eric Schmidt, former executive chairman of Google, and Daniel Huttenlocher, dean of the MIT Schwarzman College of Computing.  

“Kissinger helped presidents, and now he’s writing a book about AI. He’s not retired,” says Cahn. “We should all be lifelong learners.”  

And volunteer work is another option. “A lot of people are choosing to go into things that feel more socially responsible, giving back,” says Mintzer. “If money isn’t a factor, volunteer work can allow you to use your skills.” 

Set a Goal to Transition 

Just like there is no one career path, there isn’t one way to retire. The best advice is to give yourself space to plan and adjust along the way.  

“Retirement is a transition, and like all transitions, there’s an ending, a period of unknowing, and a new beginning,” says Mintzer. “I often ask people to think about how they have handled transitions in the past. Do they have more trouble with the ending? The unknown? The new beginning? Give yourself time and permission to think about what’s next.” 

Setting goals for yourself—even if you change them later—can help you avoid feeling isolated or depressed. “Retirement can be a slippery slope,” says Mintzer. “You can feel like you don’t matter anymore, especially if you did not retire by choice. It’s important to find connection, engagement, purpose, and meaning.” 

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