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Is Retirement Meant for You?

Published:October 13, 2022DOI:https://doi.org/10.1016/j.amjmed.2022.10.001
      At this stage of my life, I often hear that another colleague at the university or in the community has retired from practice. Not surprisingly, I then find new patients in my clinic who were referred by one of the retiring cardiologists. After these new patients have gotten accustomed to me, they usually ask “Are you too going to retire, doctor.” My joking reply is that I will retire when I die! Of course, that tongue in cheek comment is not totally true. I expect that at some point in the future I will decide that it is time to hang up my stethoscope and spend time with my spouse traveling, reading, visiting with friends and family, exercising, and doing some of the many small repairs at our home that now require outside help. But I think that time is somewhere in the distant future because I still love doing what I do every working day: clinical care in the hospital and clinic, teaching and mentoring students, residents, trainees, and young faculty, and participating in research and publishing. In fact, on the last few days of a vacation, I find myself looking forward to going back to work. That having been said, my spouse and I do talk about what we would likely do together when we retire. I am sure the moment will come when we decide that it is time to slow down and stop full-time work.
      Over recent years, I have discussed retirement with colleagues and friends who are about to take the plunge. I ask them what they plan to do with their newly acquired free time. Many have carefully considered how they will spend their otium. I believe that this is an essential preretirement activity. When individuals do not plan carefully for what they will do when they stop working, I have observed that depression frequently sets in. One patient immediately comes to mind. He was the chief of a busy urban fire department early in his 60s when he suffered an acute inferior wall myocardial infarction. His recovery was uneventful, but this illness mandated retirement, albeit at full pay. When I saw him in clinic some months later it was obvious that he was depressed. He told me that he now felt totally worthless because he was not working and that he often still followed his colleagues at a distance when they were called out to a fire. We spent most of that office session talking about this depression and possible ways to work out of it. During subsequent visits, he gradually recovered by filling his time with family visits and a variety of volunteer activities. I saw this patient many years ago, but I think about him and his postretirement depression whenever I talk with a colleague, patient, or friend about to retire.
      Another potential problem that can arise during retirement involves the couple who finds themselves home together for long periods of time, a situation that did not occur when one or both were working. This reminds me of the humorous saying attributed to a home-going wife whose husband was planning retirement: “Honey, I promised to love you for better or for worse but not for lunch.” This witty saying emphasizes the possibility that friction can develop when couples are home together for long periods of time. Thus, it seems clear that one needs to prepare for retirement with the same care used many years previous when planning a career.
      Seeking to discover what others think about beginning retirement, I did an internet search on the topic. The first 5 pages of information all related to important financial considerations such as the amount of money needed, investments, financial advisors, annuities, and so forth. The 6th page brought forth what I was looking for, that is, how to find meaning in your life after retirement. Two articles by Kathleen Coxwell

      Coxwell K. 120 big ideas for what to do in retirement. Available at: newretirement.com/retirement/what-to-do-inretirement/. Accessed October 9, 2022.

      ,

      Coxwell K. Prepare for life after retirement: 6 ways to find meaning and purpose for this stage of life. Available at: newretirement.com/retirement/prepare-life-retirementways-find-meaning-purpose-stage-life/. Accessed October 9, 2022.

      written in 2021 discussed how a retiree might find meaning in life following retirement. Victor Frankl's insightful book, Man's Search for Meaning,
      • Frankl VE
      Man's Search for Meaning.
      was quoted and recommended reading for the newly retired. Coxwell suggests a variety of approaches to finding meaning in life after daily work has ceased, including practicing mindfulness meditation, exercise, volunteer activities, part-time employment, learning a new language, adult study courses, developing a hobby, and sundry other excellent, rewarding activities.

      Coxwell K. 120 big ideas for what to do in retirement. Available at: newretirement.com/retirement/what-to-do-inretirement/. Accessed October 9, 2022.

      She also suggests consulting a retirement coach with whom one can explore a wide array of possible postretirement pursuits.
      In conclusion, I would suggest that when you reach retirement age, think deeply and carefully before you decide to continue working or accepting retirement. Benjamin Franklin reminds us that “by failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.”
      As always, I enjoy hearing from readers at [email protected] about this or any other commentary.

      References

      1. Coxwell K. 120 big ideas for what to do in retirement. Available at: newretirement.com/retirement/what-to-do-inretirement/. Accessed October 9, 2022.

      2. Coxwell K. Prepare for life after retirement: 6 ways to find meaning and purpose for this stage of life. Available at: newretirement.com/retirement/prepare-life-retirementways-find-meaning-purpose-stage-life/. Accessed October 9, 2022.

        • Frankl VE
        Man's Search for Meaning.
        Beacon Press, Boston, MA1959