In the years leading up to retirement, many people place more focus on preparing their finances than on making sure they are emotionally ready. But just as you pay attention to your financial portfolio, it's important to rebalance your "emotional portfolio."
When Bob Dever retired at age 56, he wasted no time getting back to work—minus a paycheck.
Dever, a former CEO who spent his 37-year career climbing the corporate ladder of a single company, began retirement by traveling all over the world as a volunteer business consultant. "I've been to Africa 13 times," he said.
Now age 69, Dever enjoys a varied and fulfilling post-career life that includes travel, continuing education, volunteer opportunities, and plenty of friends and hobbies. According to experts, he's a model for how to live a happy and successful retirement.
In the years leading up to freedom from the 9-to-5 view from the cubicle, many people place more focus on preparing their finances than on making sure they are emotionally ready. But just as you pay attention to your financial portfolio, it's important to rebalance your "emotional portfolio," according to a recent study by Northwestern Mutual called "Money Can't Buy Happiness."
When viewed as a pie chart, probably 80 percent of your emotional investment during your career is work-related, said Angela DiCastri, director of retirement markets at Northwestern Mutual. At least five to ten years before retirement, you should begin thinking about how to fill that 80-percent slice with something else.
"The biggest factor in a successful retirement is defining what your purpose is every day," she said. "It could be volunteerism, time with grandkids, church organizations, hobbies—whatever it is, you have to define it; otherwise, it's easy to slip into depression."
Kathryn Smerling, a New York City psychologist, said retirement is a life stage like any other and requires preparation. "You never quite know what's going to happen, but you have to put emotional money in your emotional bank. By that, I mean that you have to develop passions that will take the place of work." The most successful retirees are involved in many activities over the course of their post-career lives, she added.
Dever, who is single and never had children, said his career provided him with an identity as well as a daily purpose. "Work becomes your anchor," he said. Once that anchor was gone, he made sure he indulged in plenty of other pursuits and continued to make new friends of all ages. He took part in a program called Semester at Sea with 600 college students to gain perspective from younger generations. "All your friends can't be 70," he said. He's involved in sports organizations and is a docent at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia. "It's like anything else," he added. "You have to go out and work at it."
Married couples face their own challenges in retirement. Smerling said it's not unusual for one spouse to adjust better to retirement than the other. In that case, she said, the couple has to discuss it, and "one has to kind of grab the other by the hand and get out and go. The best thing to do is to help them stay involved."
DiCastri said even households where one spouse had a career and the other stayed home have an adjustment in retirement. The spouse who stayed at home already has a network of friends and specific duties every day, whereas the one who retired from a workplace may have lost many social connections, she said. "For a lot of employees, social life revolves around work."
That's why advance planning is so important. Instead of waiting until retirement to jump into new activities, DiCastri advised, make a gradual transition into new hobbies and a social network while you're still working. "It's that whole concept of test-driving retirement," she added. When you decide to retire, you'll have a ready-made group to welcome your time and skills.
Retirement—especially a healthy one—lasts longer than it did for previous generations, DiCastri said. According to the Northwestern Mutual study, preparing for the long term includes visualizing the type of retirement you want, understanding the mission or purpose of your newfound time, and developing strategies for meeting objectives.
While planning for post-career life may seem altogether too similar to your efforts in the workplace, your aptitude in this area won't be wasted. Smerling said success in retirement is determined by many of the same skills required for an accomplished career. "Flexibility and resilience are what make us successful in any stage of life."
Written by Judy Martel. Originally published as part of Northwestern MutualVoice on Forbes.com.