Reframing the Word ‘Retirement’

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This article first appeared in Rethinking65.

I was on a call with a financial services team when the discussion turned toward their clients’ attitudes and feelings about the word “retirement.” One client has a multimillion-dollar portfolio and has been with the firm for years. The lead investment advisor expressed how they could not convince the client that they had enough resources to retire now if they wanted to. I highlighted to the team that their client probably has a negative perception of retirement.

Behind the exterior conversations of financial performance and strategy, inward many of those you serve struggle to accept what traditional retirement seems to offer. Clients are asking themselves serious questions about the concerns they will face when their career comes to an end.

“Will I have enough money to retire?”

“Am I going to be bored?”

“Will I die early because I retired?”

“What’s going to be my self-worth?”

I know these questions are being asked because this is what I hear from people who are considering retirement. In many cases, they have not shared their anxieties with their spouse or partner, let alone their financial planner.

A little history

Retirement for many is a four-letter word. Mention it in a general discussion and about two in ten will vehemently tell you they are never going to retire. That is because the term comes with preconceived notions and biases.

The word “retirement” has a long and varied history. Its origin can be traced to the French word “retirer,” which means “to withdraw.” In the early days, retirement was seen as a time for people to depart from public life and focus on their own personal interests.

Over time, the meaning of retirement has changed. It is now more commonly seen as a time to stop working and relax. However, this definition is too narrow. Retirement can be so much more than that. It can be a time of opportunity, adventure and fulfillment. It can contain work, part-time work, or no work.


Retirement is not a linear or flat existence. It contains phases and changes as people age. A typical retirement day for a 65-year-old is often very different than that of an 85-year-old. When you sense your clients are having an internal struggle, help them reframe the word retirement with more appropriate descriptions that match the life they lead today and the life they want to lead tomorrow.


The term I focus on with my clients is post-career. Of the participants who have taken the Retirement Time Analysis (RTA) self-assessment tool I offer; 51% say their career provides them with one of the main fulfillments in life. Take the job away and they lack aim, direction and purpose.

In this area, encourage clients to create an adaptable goal strategy around their personal interests to show there can be more to life than just work. Even if they still want to have a professional life, you will have challenged them to think differently.

Life Exploration

Travel is a huge component of retirement life. If you sense an intertest there, encourage your clients to formalize what life exploration means. What do they want to do, see and accomplish? Help them put real figures around what that would mean for their long-term budget.

Meaningful Living

Should the self-worth concern surface, assist clients to understand the wealth (pun intended) of options to use their skills outside of a formal professional setting. Non-profit organizations need individuals who can bring a lifetime of business acumen. The National Nonprofits Job Board is a great place to start.

Purposeful Aging

The first exercise I take my clients through is the development of a life purpose statement. It is like a company vision or mission statement.  Participants invest time thinking of their dreams in life and what would happen if they came through. That is aligned with their core values and what changes they would like to make in their life now. The client notes their best personal strengths as well as what others would say is noteworthy about them.

Once all these are compiled, they envision life in 5, 10, and even 20 years. From there, they craft a one or two sentence statement of purpose that becomes the foundation to build their lifestyle strategy.

Enriched 30%

In a recent article, I talked about the importance of having a conversation about longevity. A person retiring today at 63 who lives to 90 years of age, will spend 30% of their life in retirement. Clients with a solid social network (separate from work), strong ties to the community, and a sense of connection to things outside of themselves can find this part of their life emotionally rewarding.

Living in Wisdom

I am amazed at the wisdom and insights of my clients and prospects. I have a better appreciation for the stories and experiences they wish to share they wish to reveal, and I encourage them to share by asking, “What are things you would tell your younger self to do differently?” Living in wisdom is being intentional about passing along knowledge to younger generations. That can take on a variety of aspects and qualities.

Thriving in Grace

I encourage individuals and couples to approach their retirement with mind, body and spirit. The concept of spirituality can have a very different definition for each person. Simply to say, thriving in grace is where the individual places their emphasis on pursuits and goals that are outside their life. Focus is placed in areas or concepts greater than themselves.

The next time you sense a client is masking their true feelings around their upcoming retirement, start to reframe the discussion. Do they need to think more about post-career? Should they see retirement as a further exploration of life? How can they bring greater personal meaning to their current situation? What is their purpose in life and how can they craft one? Why shouldn’t the last 30% of their life be rewarding? Can they impart their wisdom to those who follow them? Finally, can they plan events outside of themselves to thrive in a life filled with grace?

Thriving in grace is where the individual places their emphasis on pursuits and goals that are outside their life.

Learn more about the lifestyle possibilities of your future self.

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