Retirement used to be a predictable event in one's life. It happened the day you turned 65 and from that point on, you didn't do anything that resembled work. Now, with today's retirees, we're starting to get a glimpse of the new face of retirement and how new information can better equip the millions of people who make this transition each year.
Nancy Waite-Kahn moved to Davidson with her husband, Sherman, nine years ago from Winston-Salem after scouring the state for the ideal "pre-retirement" location - a place where the two would eventually retire and plan to stay indefinitely. A native of the Pittsburgh area, it was important to Waite-Kahn that she be near a large city for the entertainment and culture opportunities, so Davidson was a smart choice.
With a background in Hospice and armed with a master's degree in social work, Waite-Kahn jumped at the opportunity to take a position that opened up at The Pines at Davidson shortly after her arrival. She soon settled in to her position as director of wellness and social services, where she interviewed potential residents, provided social work services for the independent residents and assisted residents through transitions.
"It was so striking to me that I was put into this environment with people in all different phases of their retirement," said Waite-Kahn. "Some people had just recently retired and moved to the community, while others had been retired for 30 or more years."
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That exposure to people in different points in their retirement got Waite-Kahn thinking about the wealth of information that she could gain by observing the residents and asking about their experiences.
"I felt like I had been given the opportunity to work in a learning laboratory of sorts - I knew that I would learn a lot from the wisdom and experience of the residents," said Waite-Kahn.
And she did. Finding so many older adults who remained active , Waite-Kahn knew she did not want her retirement to be what people thought of retirement as being several decades ago - leisurely.
"I think people have the option of having plenty of leisure time when they retire, but that doesn't have to be what it is all about," she said. "It is important to remain active, even into retirement, particularly since you could spend 20-30, or more, years in this phase of your life."
Waite-Kahn and her husband hit the ground running last October when she retired. The day after her last day of work, they hopped in their car and spent several weeks retracing her parents' honeymoon trip from the East Coast to California and back via Route 40 and Route 66.
They have plans to travel more, but for now, Waite-Kahn is forcing herself to get used to operating without a schedule.
"I like structure, so it was important for me to kind of test myself this first 6 months and not give myself a schedule or routine so that I could get used to the idea of doing things more spontaneously," said Waite-Kahn.
She'll soon look into classes to fill more of her time around the knitting, reading, book club and church activities that she's been doing, but for now, she's content to see where this takes her.
"It is an adjustment, and I do think it is important for people to get used to all of the changes - most importantly the social and emotional changes," said Waite-Kahn.
In fact, Waite-Kahn has several tips for people who are approaching retirement.
"I think it is important to consider financial planning, but retirement isn't just about a new budget and a new place to live," she said. "People should prepare themselves for retirement to be very different socially, emotionally and psychologically. There aren't enough people talking about successful transitioning into retirement and that's what people really need information about."
Waite-Kahn also suggests that people approaching retirement talk to people who are already retired.
"The people at The Pines were such great teachers and such great role models for me to use for thinking about my own retirement," she said. "There are lots of people who can tell you what they would have done differently if they could retire again."
Lastly, Waite-Kahn thinks that many people think of retirement as an event and warns that, particularly with extended-life expectancies, it is really smarter to look at retirement as another entire phase of your life.
"It could last several decades, so there's no need to try to do everything in the first week. It is OK to set goals, but make sure you pace yourself and always have things you are working towards," said Waite-Kahn.