A growing portion of my coaching business has been to help lawyers and law firm senior support staff to plan for their retirement.

Traditionally, we’ve gone to accountants to help us plan for retirement because we’ve primarily been concerned about ensuring that once we stop collecting a regular pay cheque, we have enough money to live the way we want to for as long as we plan to live.  There’s no doubt that good financial planning is critical – but it’s not the whole story.   Most of the professionals I know are far more concerned about how they will handle the sudden change in responsibility, status and activity that comes with stopping work.   So much of our self-worth is tied to our jobs. So much of our time pre-retirement is dictated by our work roles.  It can be terrifying to wonder who and what we’ll be, and how we’ll fill our time, when we won’t be going to work each day.

I’m a planner, so it’s no surprise that I believe it’s important that we carefully plan not just our bank account and investment portfolio, but also our mind and body for retirement.  Did I say important? I meant critical.  In a 2013 study, the London-based Institute of Economic Affairs found that after retirement (and quite apart from usual aging), individuals faced an increase of 40% that they would develop depression and 60% that they would develop a physical ailment.  Closer to home, a Bentley University study found that of 12,00 people surveyed, on average people would suffer an ailment within six years of retiring – the most common being hypertension, heart disease, stroke or arthritis.   From within my own circle of friends, I can tell you that I know several lawyers and accountants who have been afraid to retire as they wouldn’t know what to do with their time.  This may sound silly to some of you who are itching to give up the early morning drive and endless hours of responsibility: but for some professionals, release from that lifestyle can throw them into panic.

Whether the concern is financial, physical or mental, the retirement we all dreamed about in our 40’s starts to sound like a dirty word in our 50’s and 60’s.  It’s become such a concern that the American Institute of Stress identifies retirement as 10th on their list of the 43 most stressful events in our lives.

Retirement is supposed to be a good time of your life: when you can take a well-needed break from the stresses of full-time employment and start to relax and focus on the things you want to do.  But most human beings find it difficult to make the transition from work to retirement cold-turkey.  I’ve found that a graduated retirement can be helpful for some clients.  As they cut back on work hours, they increase focus on other areas of their life so that they can “practice” being retired.  It might start with a reduced daily hour, a reduced work week, fewer responsibilities, etc.  My clients make plans for this “extra time” well before they are living it.  They determine what they want their full-blown retirement to look like, then we build a pathway to get there.  We create a decreasing work timeline, then I help them to plan how they will use this “non-work” time.  Then we create a plan for slowly achieving this new life.  The secret is to ensure that retirement is filled with activities to provide mental and social stimulation, and keep the body fit and healthy.

If someone is required to quit working at a particular age and there is no chance for a graduated retirement, the plan might look a bit different.  Generally, I prefer for this type of client to start their planning process further out.  We determine what they want retirement to look like and we start building on a more graduated basis.  For example, a busy lawyer may wish to continue to do some kind of work into retirement.  They could position themselves to work for a not-for-profit, or they may seek a pseudo-legal job (such as mediation, HR consulting, etc.) that relates to their professional expertise but does not conflict with the non-compete from their firm.   This expertise/credibility would need to be built over several years, which is why it must start earlier.  I also encourage such professionals to put increased focus on personal non-work relationships as they move closer to retirement.  In other words, start cultivating relationships with the people you will be spending more of our time with once retired.   Some lawyers express a desire to write once they are retired.  If that’s the case, it might be helpful to take a night course on writing or publishing.

I appreciate that planning for retirement while you are still working full-time can be challenging.  Think of it like insurance, or an investment that may really make a difference when the time comes to step away from the office.

Most of all, I try to encourage my clients to see the exciting possibilities of retirement (or semi-retirement).  There is so much that a healthy, intelligent, energetic human being can give to the world.  Instead of focusing on what you will not be doing, focus on narrowing down from all of the possibilities what you would like to do instead.

I can’t emphasize enough how important it is not simply to think of these things, but to create a plan for your retirement.  Studies identify that when work is removed, individuals can feel lost and that can lead to deterioration.  Having a plan in place provides a guide – help with transition to a new way of living that can be just as, if not more, stimulating and fulfilling if you use that time wisely.

If you need help planning for your retirement, or you know someone who is struggling in this area, send me an email.

Heather Gray-Grant is a business strategist, marketing expert and executive coach for law firms and lawyers.  She can be reached at heather@heathergraygrant.com