In my last post, I mentioned how surprised I was by my feelings around retirement. Right up to the day I walked out the door – and into my first week, I’ve been shocked at the level of anxiety and tears that seem to spring from nowhere when least expected. This was something I NEVER anticipated. So what in the world does all this mean? Was retiring a mistake? Why wasn’t I happy, happy, happy? Am I ungrateful? Foolish?
Have you heard of the Holmes and Rahe stress scale? In 1967, Dr. Thomas Holmes and Dr. Richard Rahe published an article in the Journal of Psychosomatic
Research, titled “The Social Readjustment Rating Scale”. The “scale” is a listing of common life events, along with a “ranking” for each (you can find a brief explanation here). By adding up the ranking numbers, you can arrive at a sum that provides a broad indicator of how likely the combination of stressful events may negatively affect your health.
Retirement is number 10 on the scale of 40 ranked stressful events. And this doesn’t move up/down the list based on whether retirement is voluntary, or forced. The most immediate thought is that the stress may center around finances. If you read popular articles on what it takes to retire these days, you are probably frozen with anxiety. Who, I ask you, on the average wage/salary, can save up the “required” one-to-two million these articles suggest? Most Americans are woefully behind on saving even a year’s salary – let alone becoming retirement millionaires (more on THAT in a later post). Add to that the expected continuing astronomical rise in health costs and the insecurity surrounding government programs such as Medicare and Social Security, I’m surprised retirement comes in at just the 10th slot.
I think finances are clearly a part of the stress. But I have been poor before – VERY poor. Make that VERY VERY poor. One thing I learned while VERY VERY poor is that financial security is pretty much an illusion. One broken down car, one bad run of health, one freakish weather event, and everything you saved for, created, built out, built up, and laid carefully aside for your future disappears. But, honestly, although stressed a bit, I mainly felt empowered by the challenge. What’s different now? Time.
Everyone talks about “time” when you retire: “You are going to have so much time.” “I hope you are prepared for all the time you will have on your hands.” “Now you will have time for everything you always wanted to do.” In reality, “retiring” means facing head on that there is a real, unstoppable limit looming to the number of days you have to accomplish all those things you have been setting aside. You have always known that was the case – no day is “promised”. Stepping into the retirement arena brings your opponent right up in your face. And he stares back at you unblinking and totally confident. He WILL win, you know it, he knows it. No retreat, no do-overs.
I added up my score on the Holmes-Rahe stress scale for the past 12 months and came up with a whopping 368. Scores higher than 300 point to an 80% increase in the likelihood of a major health issue. But don’t count me out. Retirement is a BIG change. Big changes take big adjustments. I’ve made progress this week by beginning to look at how I can emerge from this fear and anxiety with more insight, more compassion, more courage for whatever chunk of time remains ahead.
Next up: some financial recommendations that may surprise you.