Donald Smith wasn’t ready to retire.
At 71 years old, he was still running his business and meeting with clients. It was the interactions with people that kept him working.
“I thought I was going to live forever,” laughed Smith. “It was my wife that said, ‘We’re not going to live forever. One of us could get ill.'”
The couple’s retirement plan included trips to the United States and a holiday home in Arizona.
After checking out of work for good, and spending time south of the border, the return to Edmonton, Alta., was more difficult.
“I had trouble the first couple of years,” said Smith about his retirement. “I’m sort of like the racehorse that wants to still keep running.
“I had some long days and long nights because I really didn’t know what to do with myself.”
Shirley Adam felt the same. While she was prepared financially for retirement, she didn’t expect the boredom.
Adam retired in February 2001 at 56 years old. Just two months later, she went back to casual work.
“You almost had to get away,” said Adam, “because everyone else is working and you’re not.
“When everyone else is working what are you going to do?”
After a while, Adam said: “working doesn’t work for you.”
Both Adam and Smith found ways to fill their days and enjoy their free time, which includes meeting up with a coffee and chat group, through the SouthWest Edmonton Seniors Association (SWESA).
“They’re all talkers, every one of them,” said Adam. “We learn so much from each other.”
Adam said SWESA events are now one of her top priorities. She raved about guest speakers the group has brought in, talking to seniors about everything from condo associations to cannabis.
SWESA offers instructional classes and drop-in activities, like book club, choir, fitness, arts and crafts, games and cards, as well as access to home support services.
Smith reiterated social connections he has made in the coffee group are “very important.”
Candace Konnert, a psychology professor at the University of Calgary, studies aging and said emotional planning for retirement often gets overlooked.
“The focus has been on the financial preparedness and people underestimate, kind of, the social and psychological issues in retirement,” said Konnert.
“We have this term called the ‘sugar rush of retirement.’ That’s that sort of six-month period, sort of post-retirement where you’re just euphoric.
“You don’t have obligations, your time is unstructured, you can choose to do whatever you want,” said Konnert. “Then after that sometimes people have difficulty coming to terms because they simply don’t have a plan.”
Konnert said if your self-worth has been tied to what you do or your occupation, retirement can lead to feelings of worthlessness.
She stressed a retirement plan should also include how you will spend your free time. Being socially engaged with friends or through activities is crucial.
Without those connections, said Konnert, retirees could face isolation and loneliness.
“I think people can experience depression and anxiety and that’s in fact more likely if they have a history of depression and anxiety.”
Konnert said successful retirement goes hand in hand with successful aging. Being able to adjust to transitions in your golden years and planning for possible health changes and long-term care is also paramount — especially since retirement can now last decades.
“Your retirement plan at 66 may not be the same at 76, 86, or even 96.”
Konnert provided a couple questions to ponder before retirement:
- What are the things you want to accomplish?
- What is going to provide you with personal meaning?
Twelve years after leaving the workforce, Smith, now 82, said he found ways to find joy outside of a job and considered his retirement “blessed.”
“You set a date and that’s it,” chuckled Smith, “and there’s no going back.
“It’s like old age. You can’t put it off.”