Filling the Voids in Retirement: Your Emotions and Finances

Anyone who’s considering retirement faces a jarring life change. Owing to their high-profile role with virtually non-stop action, superintendents particularly may find giving up their jobs difficult.

Many who decide to cash in their benefits from a dedicated career in education sometimes land in chief administrative positions outside the field, assume university teaching roles or work as consultants.

That’s not all bad as a strategy for moving into retirement, says Bob Atchley, chairman of the gerontology department at Naropa University in Boulder, Colo. Atchley wrote a 1999 book, Continuity and Adaptation in Aging, based on his 20-year longitudinal study of 1,250 retirees through the Scripps Gerontology Institute at Ohio University.

His studies stress that moving to another job is a way of bridging the gap from one lifestyle to another without sacrificing emotional needs. “In today’s world a lot of people go through a transition that involves a bridge job,’’ he says.

What’s Fulfilling?

But Atchley says getting through the transition involves self-knowledge. The most common problems people entering retirement experience are conflicts about expectations. These individuals don’t consider the things that bring them fulfillment so they don’t replace them with anything.

Atchley suggests that those considering retirement take a look at the activities that make up their lives and identify those that bring them the most pleasure. Then find activities that engender those same feelings.

“For example, what is it about community service that is attractive to you? Is it recognition? Is the satisfaction of doing the service itself? It is the people you’re with? What of your needs does this activity meet? For me, being on boards is satisfying because it gives me the chance to articulate my big-picture muscles.’’

Retirees don’t always consider their personality types, either—including their need for control and their comfort levels working with other people. That is often reflected in how they handle the superintendency.

“You have people who look at that job as a systems job. Their job is basically to hold the big picture and be the conflict mediator and the person who tries to articulate the vision,’’ Atchley says. “They control it by negotiating and working with people. That kind of skill is totally transferable. It’s an interpersonal skill.”

On the other hand, he says, “If you see the job as the colonel of the infantry regiment, you can really overestimate how great you are.’’ People who see themselves that way “are not going to get anyone else in the world to accept that. … They’re not going to have a very good (retirement) experience. They will eventually adapt but will be not nearly as happy.’’


Financial Planning

Emotional considerations are only half of the picture. Paul Berg, an assistant vice president who directs the Ohio office for TIAA-CREF, advises educators at all levels to pay attention to financial investments well before retirement, something superintendents may find difficult with busy schedules.

“People relating to retirement let it stay a mystery,’’ he says. “People often spend more time planning for their vacations than they do for their retirement. The three things I hear the most are ‘I should have started earlier;’ ‘I should have saved more money;’ and ‘I should have been more aggressive.’… The reality is that individuals need to spend time on this particular issue.’’

It’s easy to get comfortable.

“For superintendents and individuals in K-12 who have worked for 30 years, typically under the state system, they will be able to maintain their lifestyle,’’ Berg says. Most of the state pension programs provide as much as 60 to 70 percent of one’s previous income.

Still, Berg recommends:

  • Get a handle on your income sources, including state retirement benefits, personal savings and Social Security.

  • Figure in health care costs. Lately, they have been rising sharply and unexpectedly. * Use realistic assumptions for growth, generally a return of between 7 and 8 percent annually.

  • Understand what you are paying for when setting up other investment mechanisms. Does your investment plan include commission? Does your investment company charge you if you pull out your funds and switch to a different management firm?

  • Investigate what your school district offers. Sometimes there are a range of retirement plans.

  • Talk to others who are retired or are approaching retirement and find out what they are doing and how well it’s working.

  • Create options that including working and not working after you leave. Understand the costs of each.