5 ways to avoid becoming a failed retiree

A meaningful retirement doesn't just happen.

  • By Robin Ryan,
  • MarketWatch
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An energetic, vivacious lady with a big smile, Barb Foster worked in technology sales. When she got laid off, she came to me for career counseling. She worried that it would be very hard to find a permanent job because she was 56 and her last two positions were as a contractor. It seemed to me that this career might be done for her. She was burned out and needed to consider a different option. She could retire, as her husband had an excellent paying position. So we began to plan out what her retirement would look like.

To begin developing a new future, we discussed her interests and one stood out — painting. She loved it and painted in her free time. Together we determined this creative hobby would be the basis of her new part time business. We discussed how she could paint landscapes and flowers that would appeal to consumers. Then we talked about community festivals where she could show her work and sell it. Most of the festivals required an entrance fee, so she did a lot of research and entered a couple, to try it out. She sold several paintings and even got a couple of custom orders.

Several months later, she launched a website for her business, Create Your Wow (http://www.createyourwow.com/), and started a Facebook page for her customers and those interested in what other festivals she'd be showing at. Foster now paints in her free time and books only the festivals she wants. November, December and summer are the prime months. She is getting a better idea of what is commercial and sells. To fill in during the slower period, she teaches art classes at YMCA's and senior centers. Foster is very happy and says her retirement is so much fun she wishes she'd retired sooner. And the business is profitable — something she wasn't sure would happen. Yet it did.

Developing a meaningful retirement doesn't just happen. In fact, many people actually become a "failed retiree." That is someone who is depressed with long days ahead and no fun or meaningful activities that they partake in. By following these five action steps, you can avoid becoming a failed, miserable retiree.

1. Develop your life plan

Waiting until you are finished with your job is not the time to start your planning. It's a smoother transition if you begin about a year in advance and think through key questions such as: where will I live? Who will I do things with? What activities do I want to do? What about traveling? What would I like to learn how to do? Keep the plan flexible.

2. Explore a hobby

Foster enjoyed painting. And she found a way to make it commercial and turn it into a part time business. You don't need to start a business but you sure can expand your favorite hobby. Gardening is most popular along with doing other things like photography, bike riding, swimming and reading. Men and women alike often flock to the local library for their book club events. Retirement gives you the freedom to explore your hobby and find other people who participate in that too. A great way to find community groups who might share your passion, say for hiking, is to search Meetup (https://www.meetup.com/).

3. Learn something new

Baby boomers are interested in keeping their minds sharp and learning new things. Whether it is taking up a new sport like yoga or learning a foreign language, you don't need to look farther than your local community center, library, state colleges or continuing education departments. Many colleges offer seniors steep discounts (a lot of college courses are free as you just audit the class and don't take any tests). There are many online courses and free tutorials on YouTube to help you learn something new too.

4. Give back

What social problem matters to you? Do you care about children, homelessness, or pollution? The world has many problems that you can volunteer to help out on. Start at your community level. Someone who cares about homelessness might work with a church that clothes the homeless or serves meals. Another person who cares about children might volunteer at a hospital or foundation that helps support children's causes like cancer or autism. By volunteering 5 to 10 hours a month, you can make a difference in your local community and help out neighbors in need.

5. Do your bucket list

You need to really consider what is realistic and should be on your bucket list now as you head into retirement. These activities need to be ones you have the ability and resources to do. Say goodbye to being a pro baseball player or prima ballerina. You might want to attend these types of events but you are now too old to actual achieve these goals. Think about what really matters. What are the things you'll truly regret not doing? These ideas belong on your bucket list. And there is one more step in this process: Write a date after the activity so you'll have a hard deadline by which you will have to complete it. This isn't a fantasy list, this is your to-do list, so make sure you have things that are important to you and start doing them immediately.

Happy, meaningful retirements don't just happen. You need to develop and implement a plan that allows you to enjoy life to its fullest.

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