I want you to imagine the following scenario: Suppose you suddenly had to leave your job and move to a new city. You know the layout of the city, but you don’t know anyone there. No friends, no co-workers, no contacts other than your immediate family. How would you feel those first few months?
When I ask this question, I get a number of responses. “Disoriented” is a common answer. So are “disconnected,” “isolated” and “lonely.” One person even said, “I’d probably be bored out of my mind at first.”
This exercise is not about moving per se but retirement. Like moving to a new city, one of the biggest things that will change when you retire is your social network. At work, you spend a lot of time with your co-workers, clients and customers. You may even see some of those people socially – at happy hours after work or as friends on the weekend. When you retire, the nature of those relationships often changes.
There are many benefits to having close personal relationships. They provide much of the “quality of life” in our later years. In fact, researchers have found strong links between the number of close relationships we enjoy and quality-of-life measures such as length of life, number of hospital stays, stress levels and overall happiness.
Unfortunately, we often overlook those benefits as we get older. Forming new relationships can be especially difficult; when we’ve spent our whole lives working hard, it’s easy to get “out of practice” making new friends (and maintaining contact with existing ones).
The beauty of retirement is that we have the time to cultivate those relationships. While I don’t want to oversimplify the process – forming close relationships can be downright hard for some! – there are some simple steps you can take:
1) Accept (and extend) invitations. “Maybe” usually seems to turn into “No,” so make your first response “Yes” rather than “Some other time” or “I’m busy.”
2) Take up a new interest or expand a current hobby. Go back to school or take a class on a skill you may want to learn or improve, such as cooking, computers or a craft. Look for a gym with group classes or leagues for your favorite sport.
3) Volunteer. There are lots of great causes you can find at volunteermatch.org, and you can browse groups that fit your areas of interest. This facilitates new social connections, and the time spent helping others can be very fulfilling.
4) Join a club or get involved in your community. Civic clubs like Rotary or the Lions Club are great for this. Visit meetup.com and look for groups in your area that interest you. There are meetups for everyone: business owners, animal lovers, enlightenment seekers, divorcées over 40 – you name it. There are even groups for introverts that take a “low-key” approach to socializing.
As I’ve pointed out in previous columns, retirement is about much more than your portfolio hitting some magic number. It’s about taking a good hard look at all the aspects of life and finding happiness in the transition. It’s about crafting your “second life.”
So, as you prepare for retirement, spend some time thinking about the social aspects. What do you want to get involved with? How will you meet people? How will you enjoy their company?
Next month I plan on talking about the ways in which retirement affects our closest relationships – those we have with our spouses.
Read this article on Small Business Monthly here.