The psychology of retirement

Retirement is not a single event; it involves both emotional and financial considerations, writes Roelof Bezuidenhout.

The psychology of retirement
Some farmers never fully retire, retaining some involvement in the operation. Farmers need to ask themselves honestly whether their presence is helping or hindering the operation of the business. Photo: Wikimedia

Several years ago, a life insurance company screened a TV commercial that showed an elderly man saying, “Farmers never retire. They only retreat.”

By this he meant that retired farmers tend to retain an interest in the farm even when their children have taken over. This is sometimes to the frustration of the child, but it can also be welcomed, depending on the relationship between parent and child.

Farmers often find it difficult to retire, either because they don’t really want to or because they are afraid of not having enough funds to do so, or both.

It is probably safe to say that the average age of farmers worldwide hovers around 60, while the average retirement age could be around 75. This puts them 10 to 15 years older than the usual retirement age for most other jobs and makes timely planning for retirement essential, and not only to beat inflation.

It’s not just about you
Nobody can force a farmer to retire. The best a family member or close friend can do is to suggest downsizing, or selling or letting the farm and moving to a retirement village.

The truth, though, is that elderly farmers have a responsibility to themselves and their families to consider the situation objectively.

While you might still be fit enough to farm at the age of 75, you need to consider how long you will still enjoy your health. You also need to ask yourself what effect your stubborn refusal to quit farming will have on your spouse and those waiting to take over the farm.

It is difficult, of course, to blame someone who has spent 50 years of his or her life building a business for being stubborn when confronted by uncertainty about the future. But there are ways of dealing with this uncertainty.

US gerontologist Robert Atchley breaks down the process of retirement into phases. These are the pre-retirement and retirement stages, followed by a period of contentment, which could switch (depending on the individual) to disenchantment and eventually reorientation.

Plan it properly 
He explains that a full retirement plan should consider more than just how much money to save.

A strategy for tackling the emotional aspects of retirement, such as finding meaningful activities to replace work, will help ease the feelings of loneliness, boredom and disillusionment that sometimes set in after the initial excitement of being job-free wears off.

Atchley also recommends that soon-to-be retirees try to visualise their retirement. Using a blank sheet of paper, make a sketch of what you’d like to do in retirement without any financial, geographical, health or other limitations.

On another sheet of paper write the words you want to use to describe your retirement. In a second column write the words you do not want to be used to describe your retirement.

For some, retirement is seen as a time of opportunity; for others, it is a time of fear and uncertainty. This exercise can illustrate the positive and negative expectations we have of this phase of life.

Now write a paragraph about the things you want to do in retirement. Some of these may have shown up in your picture of your retirement fantasy. Follow this up with a paragraph of the things you want to be in retirement.

Use a third paragraph to itemise the things you want to have, own or hold in retirement. Consider whether they are tangible, like property, or intangible, like recognition in the community.

In a fourth paragraph, write down the things you want to contribute, give or help to bring about in retirement. These could be financial, time-related, or perhaps to do with political or social change. This section can help provide the positive expectations of retirement.

The final step is to outline the things you need to do now to make your future dreams a reality. The most important thing to avoid is ending up without any interests and doing nothing at all!