Clint and I have helped many clients move from the work-mandatory phase of their lives into the work-optional phase of their lives. It is interesting to see the many different ways people define the work-optional phase. Some people prefer the traditional interpretation of retirement: they slow down.  On the other hand, there are lots of retirees who are excited to run faster, chasing the things they have a passion for in life. Whatever you plan for during the post work-mandatory phase, it is important to remember that it isn’t just an extended vacation.

Too often we see clients interchange the idea of vacation and the work-optional phase of life. These are two very different things and will produce very different results. Vacation, inherently, is designed to be a temporary break from our everyday lives. A pleasure high, if you will, with a defined start and end date and a specific purpose. Even if the purpose of the vacation is simple relaxation, that is still a defined purpose.

The work-optional phase of your life is not measured in days and years, or specific goals.  Instead it is measured in years and decades, with emotional peaks and valleys. It looks and feels more like everyday life, however, very different because what had been the main focus has been eliminated. This is where unforeseen consequences enter the picture.

When you remove the very thing that creates structure in your day, and that thing isn’t replaced, you will feel adrift. While most people are excited to move on from their main career because the stress and obligation it demands, they may fail to realize that they are also moving on from the community of their co-workers, the nature of setting goals and then achieving those goals, and daily structure in general. These functions of a career need to be replaced in post-career activities.

Once the financial questions have been addressed, it is just as critical to put a decent amount of time and energy into determining what the first few months of your work-optional phase will look like to ensure a smooth transition. Simply basking in not setting an alarm and relaxing the days away will wear off, and when it does, you will be left with a large amount of free time and you need ways to fill it. In our opinion, it is far better to view this phase of life has an opportunity to have a second “career,” albeit one that allows you the freedom to dictate the terms and path of that career. It can be charitable in nature or based around care for your family and your grandkids. The purpose and structure of that career are far more important than any income that might be gained. More than anything, it is something that can be challenging and rewarding at the same time.

While retirement is not a vacation, think of the amount of time you spend planning a vacation – a vacation that may only last a week or two. The work-optional phase will last for the remainder of your life. It’s important to take the time to think through your passions and desires and set up your work-optional phase to be exactly like you want it to be!

Nate Condon