What Truly Happens During Retirement?

by Jul 14, 2022Personal Finance

Pop quiz: do you know how long retirement lasts, on average?

Answer: around 22 years.


Everything is relative, so 22 years might seem short to some, and long to others.

Either way, think about how many major changes have occurred in the past 22 years in your own life: births, weddings, funerals, career, financial, personal events, pets, houses, politics, disasters (natural or man-made), the economy etc.

Nobody can predict what will happen in the next 22 years of your life, but we have a pretty good idea of how your 4 stages of retirement will unravel.

Of course, averages are only that – averages. You might live 30 or 40 years after you retire!

Phase 1: The Honeymoon Phase

Your career is (finally?) behind you. Freedom starts here. You can finally spend the money you’ve saved over your lifetime. You can finally travel. You can finally enjoy life. You can visit the grandkids. You can golf or fish or hunt or knit or read all day.

Phase 2: The
Big Decision Phase

Blissful fun has to take a back seat. Now you need to make serious decisions:

  • Where are you going to live?
  • What are you going to do with the rest of your life?
  • Who are you going to be now that you don’t have a career that defines you?

Phase 3: The
Longevity Phase

This is when everything goes south – if you’ve been lucky until now.

So read at your own risk…

Your health takes a turn for the worse.

Bodily functions start to falter.

Cognitive abilities start to fade.

Mobility and agility start to degrade.

Some body parts are not yours: a hip here, a knee there, a shoulder sometimes.

Other body parts may not even sleep in the same room as you do, such as your teeth.

Phase 4: The Solo Phase

Everybody is getting older around you as well.

But some won’t live as long as you do.

Friends pass away.

Spouses pass away.

And you end up all alone…

We are social animals, so loneliness at that age is not pretty. Many people have not lived by themselves since college or their bachelor years.

Money is not everything, but it sure helps if you need to pay for a retirement home or assisted living or activities that will provide a social network.

Not a pretty picture, is it?

So what are some solutions?

Solutions include:

  • Having a strong sense of identity, well before retirement.
  • Having a life outside of work – having a “why.”
  • Having a strong social network, made of people of all ages.
  • Having a strong family culture, so you don’t end up alone, watching reruns of Friends or Oprah for the next 10 years.
  • Having enough financial resources, not only to survive, but to help you thrive, no matter how long you survive after retirement.

Beyond financial preparation, you also need to be ready psychologically, emotionally and intellectually. Many people lose their sense of identity and purpose when they stop working.

People who don’t find a new identity, a new purpose, a new reason to get out of bed every morning, may not even make it past phase 1…

Please take this seriously.

Retirement planning starts now, no matter your age, and not only financially.


Phil Zeltzman, DVM, DACVS, CVJ, Fear Free Certified


* This blog is loosely inspired by a book by Riley Moynes on this topic: “The Four Phases of Retirement: What to Expect When You’re Retiring”.

Besides this book, here are a few very worthwhile, best-selling books:

  • “Half Time: Moving from Success to Significance” by Bob Buford
  • “Lifespan: Why We Age – and Why We Don’t Have To” by David Sinclair
  • “Life Force” by Tony Robbins