Until a certain age, most of us spend much of our time at work. Work comes to define the way we see ourselves, the way our friends and family see us, the value we believe we contribute to society and family, and at the most base level, our lifestyle. We are what we do.
Retirement often seems something that happens a long time in the future, and mostly to other people. After all, a valuable contributor—and we are all valuable contributors—dies with his or her boots on. No wonder the transition from an active career can be so full of dislocations, whether planned or unplanned.
A series of posts on Forbes.com by Robert Laura—who himself appears a good distance from retirement—explores the psychological, lifestyle, and financial experiences of eight well-known athletes who have retired from their sports careers.
How Star Athletes Deal with Retirement is not a typical celebrity read. This study looks at the life-changing impact leaving the game has on successful people—often earlier than they would prefer, sometimes without choice.
Like the rest of us, pro athletes “eventually have to make the decision to retire, figure out how to live on less income, and decide how to make the most of the next phase of their life.”
Annika Sorenstam offers, “My income dropped by more than 50%, but I had planned and prepared for that. I was always very conscious of my money and I manage it the way I play golf: I don’t take risks.”
Laura’s theme is that traditional financial planning often misses the crucial personal side of the retirement preparation—the impact on self-image, relationships with family and friends, and day-to-day activities.
“Most guys don’t understand that playing the game is only what you do … it’s not who you are. Players who fall in love with the game get heartbroken because the sport doesn’t have a heart or the ability to love you back,” observes Deion Sanders, who notes he is a very different person—and more cautious investor—than the brash Primetime character he created as a player.
Falling in love with your job or being a workaholic can make for a tough transition. Laura writes, “Unlike a simple break-up, retirement can result in a full-blown divorce, leaving those who aren’t prepared lost and misguided.”
Olympian Shannon Miller, whose career ended at 19, says, “I didn’t know how to be a regular person. I initially watched a lot of TV, gaining four dress sizes on my five foot frame. It was very disheartening but it helped me realize I had to find my next passion in life.”
Many look towards retirement as the time when they will finally be able to live the life they have dreamed of having—writing a great novel, travelling the world, eating well and getting fit, getting their handicap into single digits, walking the beach for hours everyday. Whatever they didn’t have time to do while working.
Laura points out that usually retirement simply amplifies how you already live, “providing more time to reinforce your exiting habits.” He notes that many of the stars suffered anxiety before big games and matches, which they overcame with disciplined preparation. Similarly, the transition from a career to retirement is often fraught with concerns and anxiety. With preparation and a willingness to overcome setbacks, you can be as successful in retirement as you have been in your career. It turns out retirement is a lot like…work. Or in other words, regular life.
So if your retirement goals include living life differently than you do now, the best way to prepare for your dream retirement is to begin living your dream now. Find your passions, and make the time to pursue them. Practice makes perfect.