Boot Camp for Soon to Be Retired
Boot Camp for the Retired or Soon to Be
New York Times September 15, 2010
Weekend retreats, seminars and boot camps offer help on non-financial aspects of retirement i.e. when to retire, how to balance work and leisure, loss of identity and relationships with friends, family and spouses.
Boot Camps for the Soon to Be Retired
by Elizabeth Pope
BY Saturday afternoon, Dorothy Butcher was calling herself Dorothy the Brave.
A retired nurse from Shreveport, La., Ms. Butcher had spent Memorial Day weekend in Asheville, N.C., at a workshop at the Center for Creative Retirement.
“I’d worn myself out wondering if I should do this or do that,” said Ms. Butcher, a widow in her 60s. “I just wanted somebody to tell me how to do this retirement thing.”
Since leaving an insurance company job two years ago, Ms. Butcher had consulted how-to-retire books, devised a budget with her financial adviser and scouted possible relocation to Sedona, Ariz.; Santa Fe, N.M.; or Ashland, Ore. Overwhelmed at the prospect of planning her next act, she turned the workshop, a twice-yearly program at the University of North Carolina, Asheville, for some answers.
The weekend workshop features self-assessment questionnaires, brief lectures, exercises, case studies and small-group discussions. The program is one of a small number of short retreats, seminars and boot camps focused on nonfinancial aspects of retirement, like when to retire, loss of identify, how to balance work and leisure, and relationships with friends, family and spouses.
Run by recently retired volunteers and structured to build trust and interaction among the 30 or so participants, the workshop sessions are a quick getaway that enable busy people to push the pause button, reflect on their futures and examine difficult-to-discuss topics, said Ronald J. Manheimer, the former director of the center and creator of the eight-year-old program.
“If you raise the R-word at work, you’re a lame duck and no longer a serious player,” he said. “You might as well walk out the door tomorrow.” Even couples may avoid specifics in talking about money, second jobs, travel, where to live and the needs of adult children and aging parents, he said. “In our workshops, we try to encourage participants to be a little selfish in identifying their deeper needs, regardless of what their partner thinks,” he added.
The center’s program aims to build self-awareness rather than provide one-on-one counseling or a didactic transmission of information — an approach that sometimes disappoints participants.
“At first, I thought I’d just blown $850,” Ms. Butcher said of the workshop fee. “I wanted someone to give me a checklist of what to do.”
Midway through the program, she found herself staring at a blank piece of paper, struggling to come up with two or three dreams to share with others. “I felt such angst because I couldn’t think of a thing,” she said. “Then suddenly — and I can’t explain why — I saw myself as Dorothy the Brave. I realized I don’t have to plan the rest of my life, just the next year. Instantly I knew exactly what to do.”
At the closing presentations, an energized Ms. Butcher announced that she had already put down a deposit on an Asheville apartment, instructed a real estate agent to list her Shreveport house and would return to Asheville by July 1.
“I’ve always played it safe because I didn’t want to screw up,” she said. “The workshop helped me realize I have nothing to fear.”
Ms. Butcher’s decisive approach to postcareer planning is the exception. Many preretirees are likely to put off making important decisions on the complex subject of retirement planning, according to a recent study by the MetLife Mature Market Institute. Only 35 percent of 45- to 49-year-olds felt prepared to retire, compared with 64 percent of 60- to 64-year-olds and 81 percent of those 65 to 70. Only one-third who said they wanted to work had planned other careers.
And women were less likely than men to plan for retirement, the study found.
Few resources are available to help those approaching retirement, said John N. Migliaccio, director of research at MetLife. “The current state of retirement planning programs in the United States is abysmal,” he said.
Until the early ’90s, about 35 percent of large and medium companies offered multitopic, even multiday, retirement seminars, he said, but programs were slowly eliminated because of corporate downsizing, liability concerns and the sense that retirement planning was not a company responsibility.
Intensive programs still exist, but they may not be easy to identify, said Judy Goggin, vice president for Civic Ventures, a nonprofit organization based in San Francisco that focuses on baby boomers, work and social purpose.
“There’s no one-stop shopping for this, so you need to make some phone calls,” she said. Many programs emphasize second careers, discovering a life’s passion or making a life transition, and may make no reference to retirement at all.
“The word retirement is out of fashion and isn’t used so much,” Ms. Goggin said. “The model is more living a balanced portfolio of work, lifelong learning, volunteering, hobbies and travel.”
Among places to start looking for life planning or holistic retirement planning programs are libraries, community colleges, universities and adult education programs. Resorts including the Omega Institute in Rhinebeck, N.Y.; Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health in Stockbridge, Mass.; and Point Lookout in Northport, Me., offer life-planning assistance along with yoga and health assessments.
In the latest twist, alumni associations are beginning to host third-age planning sessions as part of class reunions, Ms. Goggin said. “Harvard, Yale and the University of Pennsylvania have done it; Stanford is planning one,” she said.
At MetLife, a program called Retirewise, offering on-site retirement planning education, has nearly doubled its roster of corporate clients to 450, from 250, since 2008, Mr. Migliaccio said.
“The first boomer turns 65 next year and that’s a marker,” he said. “We could be entering the golden age of retirement planning.”
As for Ms. Butcher, she sold her house in three weeks, took her two dogs and drove a 14-foot rental truck to Asheville, attracted by the city’s artsy, friendly vibe. Settling into an apartment, Ms. Butcher spoke excitedly about day trips, farmers’ markets and the Center for Creative Retirement’s packed social calendar and lifelong learning opportunities.
“I plan to play, explore and test the waters,” she said. “If Asheville doesn’t work out, I’ll move on. I don’t want to end up in a rocking chair wondering why I didn’t do something exciting.”
WHERE TO FIND HELP The Web site for Civic Ventures has a directory of more than 80 organizations providing resources to those nearing or in retirement, including Coming of Age, the Transition Network, Discovering What’s Next, WomanSage and Project Renewment.
Life-planning coaches often conduct workshops and classes on nonfinancial aspects of retirement planning. The coach and author Richard Leider conducts walking safaris in Tanzania to help people discover their life’s purpose.
Decide. Create. Share. is a multiyear AARP campaign to help women 50 and older with decisions regarding health, legal, financial, home and community needs.