It’s official: the first baby boomer, Kathleen Casey-Kirschling, is on Social Security. There’s going to be a long line behind her–USA Today reports that an estimated three-fourths of boomers will start getting Social Security checks before reaching their full retirement age in 2012. Given the disincentives for working while taking early benefits, you’re likely to see more and more sixty-somethings trying to figure out when (or whether) to quit their jobs. Here are some ways to help clients, both individuals and couples, figure out how to balance work and play in their Third Age.
Q: A longtime client of mine, a successful business owner, is being pressured by his wife and family to sell the company and retire. However, he’s afraid he’d be “bored to death,” and has seen other CEOs retire and become non-persons among their peers in the business community. Considering how deeply he’s wrapped up in his work, should I encourage him to detach himself from his business? If so, how?
A: Ever since the days of Wat the Tyler, John the Smith, and Ethel the Brewster (and probably earlier), people have been defining themselves by their work. Many men, and increasing numbers of women, derive enormous satisfaction and the lion’s share of their identity from their career accomplishments. Stepping back from this can be truly scary, unless other passions and commitments are able to take its place.
I think your best chance of helping your client is to sit down with him and explore what he feels and thinks about working and not working. Does he enjoy running his business as much as ever, or is he finding himself more tired, bored, and risk-averse? If he is still passionate about his work, what is it about the work that satisfies him?
Then I’d determine how he feels about “down time” with friends and family so that you can help him enjoy it more. Would he be interested in becoming a Junior Achievement or Boy Scout leader, or coaching new entrepreneurs as a volunteer with the Service Corps of Retired Executives (SCORE)? You might suggest a book I highly recommend: Changing Course: Navigating Life after 50, by William A. Sadler and James H. Krefft (Center for Third Age Leadership Press, 2008).
If you give your client the space he needs to probe his preferences and his fears, you’ll be able to decide whether to support his family’s view fully, partially, or not at all. I think you will then feel more comfortable meeting with him and his wife to determine a course of action that works for each of them, at least for the short term.
Q: A 55-year-old client of mine constantly complains about his grueling work, long commute, and abrasive boss. When I suggest that he look for something more satisfying, he says he can’t imagine quitting his job. What’s worse, he spends so much on himself to make up for his “suffering” at work that he’s saved hardly anything for retirement. I’m concerned about his future. How can I get through to him?
A: Your best hope is to find out where these patterns came from and see if you can counteract them. I’d tell him you’re puzzled by his attachment to a job he resents so much. Was he brought up to believe that work should be endured, not enjoyed? Did he see examples around him of people who slaved away at drudge work, living only for payday? Are there other reasons why he feels he needs to keep working at an unpleasant job for an impossible boss?
Once you better understand your client’s motivations, you may be able to open a dialogue about the importance of preparing for the future. It’s possible that he has resisted saving more because he thinks retirement means freedom from work–a concept he can’t buy into. Encourage him to view it instead as the freedom to work at something he would really enjoy and find fulfilling.
Q: A client couple of mine are planning to retire in a few years, but they have totally different dreams. He wants to run a charter fishing boat in the Florida Keys, and she wants to manage a B&B in New England. How can I bring them together?
A: In conflict negotiation, there are often major differences between what people say they want and what they actually need deep down.
As you discuss this couple’s “wants,” keep digging to see if you can discover what lies beneath. If they insist on holding fast to their different pictures of the future, you might suggest that they take a couple of “vocation vacations” to try out these fantasies in real life. For instance, they could look for a bed & breakfast establishment in New England where the hosts are willing to answer their questions, let them help run the B&B, and maybe even review their business plan (if they have one). Similarly, they could charter a fishing boat in the Keys and learn whether running this kind of boat is as rewarding as it seems. (Vocationvacations.com is a good resource for trial retirements like these.)
Q: My new client’s husband, who is 10 years older than she is, is retired and spends most of his days playing golf. Although this woman enjoys her work, she resents his lifestyle, which she calls “totally frivolous.” She asked me to explore how their financial situation would be affected if she works less, but I think her real motive for cutting back their income would be to induce her husband to go out and find a part-time job. How should I handle this?