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Confronted with reality, retirees bust myths wide open

Retirement signals a much deserved break from the daily grind of work obligations-relaxing, traveling, perhaps playing some golf or bridge, having coffee and catching up with old friends.
Not necessarily.
“Everybody tells you how wonderful retirement is and you’re doing things you’ve never done before. They paint a real rosy picture,” says Robert Zinnecker. “In the first year I retired it was true for us as well.”
Zinnecker retired from the telecommunications industry in 1998 and currently works as a counselor with the local chapter of Service Corps of Retired Executives.
“We traveled and we did a lot of fun things that we hadn’t had time to do before,” he says. “But the second year it kind of caught up with me. And I went through a period of depression where I found out I had to have an agenda.”
Though many may think of retirement as the life of leisure, with endless time and finances to relax or travel or play golf or mahjong all day, some say these are myths.
Zinnecker says after 40 years of the 9-to-5 routine, he had to get used to having time on his hands following his retirement. And he was not alone in his dilemma.
“I thought I was unusual that I was having this struggle. So I would talk to my friends who had retired before I had who’d been telling me how wonderful retirement was,” he recalls. “Almost uniformly all of them said they went through a period where they had to adjust.”
While the idea of trading in a suit and tie for a golf shirt and shoes might appeal to some, in many cases it does not, Zinnecker says.
“Some people, they take up a hobby. They think, ‘Gee, I’ll play golf three times a week,'” he says. “And some of them really enjoy that.
“Then there are others that I know who find out playing golf three times a week isn’t that much fun after a while.”
It did not take retirement to convince Bruce Peters that the life of leisure would not be for him. After 30 years practicing law here, Peters several years ago spent a summer playing 120 rounds of golf and listening to his contemporaries-fellow attorneys, doctors and business professionals-complain about financial pressures, how their jobs had changed through the years and increased levels of bureaucracy.
Peters discovered that summer that he was running away from the practice of law because he was every bit as unhappy doing what he was doing as his golf buddies were.
“Why I was playing golf was because it was better than going to the office,” he says. “And it gave me a glimpse of retirement that scared the hell out of me: same old golf course, same old guys, same old jokes, same old complaining in the locker room.”
Though he enjoyed his summer-and improved his game a bit-Peters realized retirement, and a life of leisure, were not for him.
“What it did was, it crystallized in my mind that this was going to have a bad outcome for me,” he says. “I was the kind of person who liked living my life with purpose.”
Peters sold his law practice and began working for a company as an executive coach. In 2003 he founded CABHQ LLC, a Pittsford consulting firm that provides business solutions and facilitation services, as well as legacy and retirement planning.
Through his work and personal associations Peters has found that many people approaching retirement age rely on several myths of retirement and have a tremendous amount of anxiety around two closely interwoven issues.
“One is, will my money do for me what I want it to do and will it last? And secondly, because we’ve statistically been granted this incredible gift of potential additional time of life, what am I going to do with my time?” he explains.
Adds Peters: “You can’t really answer either of those questions in isolation, because if you don’t know what you’re going to be doing with your time, how do you know how much money you’re going to need?”
A recent report by AARP’s Public Policy Institute notes that many baby boomers-those poised to retire in the next few years-are on track to a comfortable retirement. However, some will not retire because they cannot afford to.
“Many boomers, even those on the verge of retiring, are clueless about how much income they’ll need,” the report states. The Center for Retirement Research at Boston College uses its National Retirement Risk Index to project how much income households are expected to have in retirement relative to their pre-retirement income. The index states that nearly 45 percent of households are at risk of being unable to maintain their pre-retirement standard of living in retirement.
“The reason for this gloomy picture is a rapidly changing retirement landscape defined by a rising Social Security retirement age, a sharp decline in traditional pensions coupled with modest 401(k) balances, low savings rates and longer lifespans,” the report states.
Because people are living longer now than in any time in the past, Peters says, those looking at retirement need to account for the extra years and save accordingly. Financial advisers, he adds, did not always take that into consideration, so some individuals are falling short now.
“They didn’t anticipate when you get to be 65 that you might live to 95 and the last five or six years might be in a nursing home that costs $10,000 a month or more,” he says. “So now, this whole concept of retirement is being reworked.”
The myth of constant rest and relaxation in retirement is one that many retirees willingly bust wide open, some sources say.
“I broke the myths before I was retired,” says Julian Yudelson, retiree and SCORE counselor. “I have not made enough time to do the leisure kinds of things in terms of hobbies that I planned to do a lot more of.
“I can get involved in productive futzing, but to sit and do nothing but smell the roses, I’m going to be out pruning them.”
Yudelson retired several years ago from Rochester Institute of Technology, where he taught marketing for 25 years. When the time came, he was worried about what he was going to retire to, he says.
“I saw my father, who had his own business. When that disappeared he had nothing to do. It was a very lonely existence,” Yudelson recalls. “I was reluctant to retire because I didn’t want to get into that rut.”
Rather than follow in his father’s footsteps, Yudelson drafted a retirement mission statement, which said he would strive to be “non-responsible but not irrelevant.”
By non-responsible, he says, he meant he would not get involved in things where if he went out of town for two weeks it would be a problem for someone. At the same time he had to something, otherwise it would be irrelevant.
So, Yudelson got involved with SCORE and remains on some committees for non-profit organizations. He also tutors one day a week at School No. 5. Yudelson and his wife also take long vacations each February and he has taken some adult education classes.
Prior to retiring, Zinnecker also wrote a personal mission statement.
“In writing that, one of the things I said I wanted to do was give back for all the things that had been done for me in my career,” he says. “That’s where I’ve found a lot of satisfaction.”
Zinnecker now volunteers for the Make-a-Wish Foundation and is active in his church. He also is a director at a few local companies.
“We do a lot of volunteer work so we get an opportunity to share our experiences, share our knowledge and give back to people,” he says.
Peters says another myth of retirement is that many businesspeople think they can retire and open their own companies to fill their days.
“They do not have a clue how to do that. If you spent 30 years at Xerox, it is no training ground for you to go off and start a business. Zero,” he says. “Most of these folks are not used to selling themselves and they’re not used to starting or running or building a small business.”
But that is not to say it cannot be done, Peters acknowledges. Seeking advice from the numerous organizations around town that help entrepreneurs-such as SCORE and his own company-can help prepare retirees who are interested in starting a new venture.
“If people are going to do that they need to be prepared all of their working life for the ‘what’s next,'” he advises. “And that has financial aspects, but it also has psychological underpinnings as well as very practical methodology underpinnings. You have to be ready.”
The myths surrounding retirement, Peters says-how much money is needed and what to do with the additional free time, for example-can cause anxiety not just for the retiring individual but for his partner as well.
“Because the husband may want to do this and the wife may want to do that,” he says, adding that in some cases couples opt to go back and do things they might have wanted to do when they were younger.
In his business, Peters says, he suggests that retirees step back from the myths surrounding what they should do in retirement and contemplate what things are most important to them and what things were passions early in life.
“All of us have kernels of passions that either we’ve deferred or haven’t done,” Peters adds. “Most people have them but going back and picking and choosing which ones you want to do and how you want to do them is an opportunity you have.”
vspicer@rbj.net / 585-546-8303

Myth vs. Reality

Myth: Time for leisure
Reality: Too much time for leisure

Myth: Plenty of retirement funds
Reality: Not enough funds

Myth: Finite number of retirement years
Reality: Healthy, long life

Myth: No agenda, no anxiety
Reality: Anxiety because of no agenda.

05/02/08 (C) Rochester Business Journal


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