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Now What? How a Little Planning Goes a Long Way Toward a Fulfilling Retirement

Now What? How a Little Planning Goes a Long Way Toward a Fulfilling Retirement
Robert Hirsch, Ph.D. ‘69

“Like all of life, retirement is not a one-size-fits all scenario,” said Betsy Peck ’82. “People have different ideas of what retirement is, and the reality is, it means something unique to everyone. The old days of a party, a gold watch, and then rocking on the front porch are not even close to reality in today’s environment.”

Peck would know. She retired from a 30-year career in finance in 2018, finishing that chapter as the chief operating officer at JLL, a Fortune 500 commercial real estate company. But for Peck, retirement meant a career shift, as opposed to stopping work altogether. She’s started a consulting business, Peck Advisory Services, with an emphasis on serving on the board of directors of public and private companies and consulting with leadership of future public companies. Her work also includes increasing the number of women in board rooms and leadership positions in corporate America.

Most working Americans expect to retire at or around age 66, according to a 2018 Gallup poll. Some people work longer so that they can have enough money to live comfortably in retirement, while others, like Peck, take a relatively “early” retirement and use their talents in a second act phase of their career.

Whenever you retire, it’s best to do so with a plan in place to help you navigate the social, emotional and financial upheaval of the transition. The keys to a fulfilling retirement are in solid financial and emotional preparation, learning new skills (while using proven ones) and supporting your community.

Prepare

Clinical psychologist and Scranton psychology professor John Norcross, Ph.D. specializes in helping people navigate change, so he has seen hundreds of clients through the transition to retirement.

“I can’t tell you how many times people have pledged to me that they are ready (for retirement), because they are going to play golf or sleep in every day. They say, ‘I’m just going to relax,’” Norcross said. “And that typically works for about one to three months — then they are wandering around trying to keep busy and secure meaning in life.”

That’s why it is best to go into retirement with a plan — even a loose one.

“Even though the amount of structure and participation needed differs hugely for people, I’ve yet to find someone sustained by full-time leisure activity,” Norcross said. “Hence, why we hear about the second act. It’s a desire for integrity. People want to contribute; they want to better the world.”

That was the position Peck was in when she retired from her first career. She knew that she wanted to focus on advising and empowering business leaders, but she also gave herself some time to figure out exactly what that looked like.

“Have a plan and let that plan include some time after your official retirement date to enjoy yourself,” Peck said. “I’ve also developed a strong network of colleagues and friends who are advocates for me, and I continuously engage with them regarding networking, business opportunities and socializing.”

William L. Kovacs ’69 spent his career as a lawyer in Washington, D.C., working on Capitol Hill, in private practice and at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. When he retired in 2017 at age 70, he finally had time to write the book that had been in the back of his mind throughout his 45-year career in D.C.

Kovacs authored the book, Reform the Kakistocracy: Rule by the Least Able or Least Principled Citizens, published in May 2019, to share his views on reforming the federal government. He also blogs and runs a Twitter account dedicated to his ideas and research about reinstating more checks and balances in the U.S. government. While his ideas are gleaned from years in Washington and on The Hill, writing a book and diving into social media is an entirely new challenge for this lawyer.

“Starting the blog, tweeting, I’m just learning a whole new language,” admitted Kovacs. “When you retire, think about, ‘Oh, this is what I would find fun or interesting or encouraging.’ Whatever that is, if you have the passion to do it, you’ll make a contribution.”

Support Your Community

While retirement is a great time to explore new interests and passions, it is also an opportunity to use your skills to help others. Not only can it benefit your community, but it can give additional meaning to your retirement life, according to Carole Slotterback, Ph.D., Scranton psychology professor and gerontology expert.

“If you are plugged into your community, then you know where the needs are that you can help to fill,” said Slotterback. “Think about, ‘What am I most interested in giving back to my community, now that I have time to do this?’”

This type of attitude toward retirement aligns with the Jesuit tradition of men and women for others — and is how Robert Hirsch, Ph.D. ’69 has approached his retirement on the coast of Maine.

“You have to ask yourself, ‘What is it that I’m really good at?’ If you have a sense of your strengths and weaknesses, you can make better decisions about what you’re going to take on,” he said. The best advice he received going into retirement was “to be open to what comes along.”

Hirsch retired in 2004 after a 30-year career at DuPont, the Delaware-based multinational company, where he was global managing director of its technology licensing business and head of their venture investment fund. Now he uses his years of business expertise to help the Camden Conference on Foreign Affairs, plus he co-founded Maine’s Midcoast Leadership Academy, a regional leadership development program. He also manages the budget for the town of Owls Head, where he resides.

The Camden Conference is an annual event focused on U.S. foreign policy, which attracts global, expert speakers for an audience of 1,200 well-informed attendees, along with high school and college students to Camden and four live-streaming sites for a weekend in February. Throughout the rest of the year, the organization puts on more than 50 cultural events all over Maine. As president, Hirsch focused on fundraising and recruiting speakers for programming.

Travel and an active social life are also part of Hirsch’s 15 years and counting of retirement. He has been to 51 countries, between work and leisure travel, and has a weekly dinner with a group that calls themselves the R.O.M.E.O.s (Really Old Men Eating Out).

Whatever path you take, Peck offers a reminder that your former career was what you did, not who you are.

“Prepare for the question, ‘So, what do you do for a living?’ Shortly after retiring, I introduced myself at a networking event and realized I wasn’t well-prepared (to explain my new path); it was awkward, and I fumbled through it,” Peck said. “I realized I needed to update my narrative about who I am as a person and my career; it took me some time to get it right. My role as COO was my job and what I did for a living, but it was not what defined me.”

Even if your retirement is decades away, you can take steps now to set yourself up for financial security. In fact, you have to start early if you plan to stop working in your later years.

According to a March 2019 study conducted by the National Institute on Retirement Security, three quarters of Americans worry about how to finance their retirement. Millennials, in particular, are concerned about how to save for retirement and more willing than previous generations to start saving early. Here are five tips to prepare for success in retirement, according to economics professor Satyajit Ghosh, Ph.D. (pictured at left):

Start thinking about retirement when you start working — but don’t obsess.

“Moderate saving can do wonders,” said Dr. Ghosh. “Some people, when they are just beginning to work, think they don’t have to worry about retirement, they’ll get to it. Others think they have to save a lot every month to get ready for retirement, because they are worried about not having social security or a safety net.” Ghosh said a middle ground is a better approach: Make saving a regular part of your life and monthly budget.

Supplement your employer’s retirement plan with your own savings plan.

Ghosh recommends saving 5 to 10 percent of your salary in a retirement account. “A percentage is better than a fixed amount to save every month, because then you will save more as your salary goes up,” he noted. Also make sure to keep some money in a savings account, to access in case of unexpected expenses or emergencies.

Build an asset portfolio.

“You don’t want to put the money you are saving under your mattress,” Ghosh joked. “So how do you make sure that your hard-earned savings grows?” Invest in stocks, bonds and CDs (certificate of deposit, a federally insured savings account where you deposit money to earn a fixed interest rate over a period of time).

Ask the experts.

How do you know which investments to make? Ghosh suggests getting guidance from a Certified Financial Planner. It isn’t expensive, since there are no out-of-pocket fees or expenses — they make a commission based on a small percentage of the money you invest.

Be realistic.

Be wary of schemes that promise doubling your investment or 50 percent returns. Ghosh warns that if sounds too good to be true, it probably is. “Don’t expect miracles. If everything goes all right, the long-term return you could expect would not be more than 5 to 10 percent,” he said. “When the money you are saving grows, that gives you that cushion, that comfort that you are looking for in your retirement years.”

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