founder and Chief Executive Officer of 10X Investments,
the asset management company that is
disrupting the South African retirement savings scene,
shares some thoughts on key questions
that occupy the minds of people approaching
the end of their working lives
As you near retirement, a few questions are likely to occupy your mind: What lifestyle will my retirement fund savings buy me? Will my savings last as long as I do? And, on a happier note: What will I do with my free time?
For a smooth transition into retirement, you should apply your mind to all three. 10X Investments’ comprehensive free e-book will help you tackle the first two, by explaining the different options at retirement and the associated risks and benefits. The third ‘problem’ is more pleasant to ponder, but don’t underestimate the psychological effects of stepping into a new life that does not include formal work.
It is that much harder if it is not a transition, but an abrupt change. Work is not just a source of income, but also of identity, visibility, status, self-esteem, power, belonging, networks and structure. It is usually only once someone has left employment that they fully appreciate how much of their identity, and importance in the world even, was tied into their career or job.
The point is, you will no longer receive the external affirmation that came with your job title. It’s on you to come to terms with this, and to replace it with self-affirmation. You will find it easier to adjust if your move into retirement is a gradual process of declining work commitments, reduced work hours and increased leisure time.
There is a tendency to celebrate retirement as the end of work, as though ‘work’ is some kind of ‘four-letter word’. Yes, the demands can be excessive, and much of it is mindless, but it also gives our life purpose, structure and satisfaction (as in a job well done).
Usually, our dissatisfaction is not with work itself, but with the rest of the package: commuting, deadlines, stress, dull meetings, performance reviews, office politics. Retirement allows us to cast off these shackles, but that does not mean we should stop being productive.
It’s up to you how you define “work” from now on, and how you make productive use of your time and identify goals. Housework, gardening, home repairs, DIY projects, physical and intellectual routines, spiritual growth, hobbies, reading, learning, travel, volunteering, the list is long.
Structure your day
Although routines are often dismissed as creativity killers, they give life structure. For most of our days, we have this structure imposed on us: education, work, family life. But it also grounds us and rewards us with long-term benefits.
It would be foolish to throw routine out of the window once we retire. For most people, to live a happy retirement requires some discipline. You need to develop new routines that give structure to your day. It’s about purposefully allocating time to accomplish tasks, such a housework, exercise, social activities and intellectual pursuits.
Structure is different from being in a rut. A rut is “a grave with the ends knocked out”. It’s doing the same thing over and over again. Within your structured time, give yourself ample opportunity to do and to try different things. Your exercise can be as varied as taking the dog for a walk, playing a round of golf, going for a swim or joining a yoga class.
Having structure helps you appreciate unstructured time during holidays, or on weekends. Otherwise there is nothing that sets these times apart from the rest of your life. You will quickly realise how soul-destroying that can be. Free time is precious only because it is a limited resource. Unlimited down time loses its value, at the risk that you then no longer value the time you have left.
The good thing about owning your time is that on any given day you are not bound by these routines. Almost from birth, we are forced to fit our personal life around our commitments; the true liberation of retirement is that you can now fit commitments around your life.
Stay physically active
There is a mountain of empirical studies and meta-analysis that confirm the benefits of exercise.
At a physical level, it helps control weight, blood pressure and blood sugar. It improves heart function, balance, flexibility and endurance, and lowers the risk of disease, including many types of cancer. Aerobic exercise aids skin health and healing of wounds by delivering increased oxygen and nutrients. It may also slow the aging process by retarding cell ageing.
It has also been shown to prevent or slow cognitive decline. Studies suggest that it is, as of now, the best way to prevent or delay the onset of Alzheimer’s disease. It is linked to better memory, quicker learning and improved sleep.
It can lift your mood and relieve symptoms of depression. Exercise triggers the release of chemicals in the brain – serotonin, norepinephrine, endorphins, dopamine – that dull pain, lighten mood and relieve stress and anxiety.
Your exercise session need not be particularly long or intensive – just a half an hour’s walk every day may be enough. Or just staying active around the house, with cleaning and gardening.
There is also plenty of research in support of staying socially engaged as we grow older, with similar health benefits as exercise. Studies show that it can lower the risk of heart problems, osteoporosis, some forms of cancer and rheumatoid arthritis. It helps lower blood pressure and reduces the risk of mental health problems, including depression, and of developing Alzheimer’s disease.
People who engage in close relationships and social activities tend to live longer and have a stronger immune system. They have also been shown to have a positive impact on lifestyle choices, including our diet and levels of physical activity.
Drink from the fountain of use
It is important to keep your mind active, and to challenge yourself mentally in retirement. Although there is no substantive proof that this can ward of a cognitive decline in later years, our muscles deteriorate faster if we do not train them, and this likely also applies to our mind.
We see this happening in our everyday life even before retirement. Our reliance on spell-checkers and auto-correct functions has made us worse spellers and ready access to calculators has blunted our mental arithmetic skills.
So, exercise your faculties, to keep your mind sharp. You now have the time to learn a new skill, a new language, an instrument, a new hobby, or to go back into education. Take a course not because it’s a compulsory credit, or a career booster, but because it genuinely interests you. It will also introduce you to people who share a similar interest.
Stay up-to-date with technology
One way to become alienated and isolated from the world is to be left behind on matters of technology. The use of online alternatives may at first seem like a choice, a different way of doing things, until at some point it becomes the norm, and the old way becomes expensive and impracticable, and then simply disappears. Most millennials have never signed a cheque. Will you cope if your local travel agent closes down and you have to book your own holiday? Or if you have to buy your music online instead of at a record store? Or if your grandchildren share their news on a social media platform? Or when your banking requires you to have a smart phone? Or when you have to book a taxi ride via Uber?
Individually, none of these changes may seem significant, but collectively, they will impair your ability to function in the modern world if you do not keep pace. You don’t have to be an early adopter; a lot of trends peter out before they go mainstream; but do use the technology and terminology that does survive. Remember that it is scary only because it is unfamiliar.
Loneliness in retirement is all too pervasive; the internet enables you to connect with your friends, even if you live worlds apart. Challenging your old chess partner may be just a few mouse-clicks away.
One of the most refreshing aspects of retirement is that your employer no longer owns your time. It is now yours to use and abuse, and waste and donate as you see fit. Your time may no longer have a monetary value, but you can give it a social value by offering it up for a good cause.
How you do this is up to your imagination: share your expertise, or teach, or volunteer for your favourite charity. Become more engaged politically, join a protest march or just baby-sit your grandchildren.
Find your joy
As enticing as the prospect of shedding your work responsibilities may seem at first, the reality of so much free time stretching into the future – when Mondays turn into Sundays and public holidays are like any other day – can feel oppressive. So, you need to find joy in life, in interests and activities that give you pleasure, that you can anticipate and that make you want to get out of bed in the morning. Only you know where yours is hidden.
To make sure that you can afford to get the best
out of your retirement years,
download 10X Investment’s free e-book here