This post first appeared on Forbes.
While there are many important questions that go into the retirement planning process, there’s one question that is the most important of all.
Are you retiring to something, or from something?
It is important to understand the difference and importance of this question. Retiring “to” something is very different than retiring “from” something.
Retiring From Something
When you’re retiring from something, you’re often at the stage when you’re burnt out. You may be feeling drained at work, or just overloaded in general. If your job requires extensive hours or travel, this may be wearing on you and you’re ready for a break. You may be experiencing conflict with your boss or coworkers, or feel like you spend more time at work than at home. These are all signs that you are retiring from something – you’re retiring to get away from a situation that you’d like to end. Your retirement plans are relief from a situation in your life that is draining.
Retiring To Something
If you’re retiring to something, the work that you leave behind may have nothing to do with your decision. You’re future-focused on the next phase of your life and what is in store. Perhaps you have plans to travel or begin a new hobby. Maybe your retirement goal is to spend more time with your grandchildren or your family. You may even begin a new career, go back to school, or spend your time volunteering. Whichever path is right for you, when you’re retiring to something, you’re focused on what is coming next instead of what you’re leaving behind. Your retirement plans are giving you energy, instead of just being a relief from what is dragging you down.
How To Answer The Most Important Retirement Planning Question?
Now that you understand the difference between retiring to something, or retiring from something, how can you answer that question for yourself?
First, ensure that you’re financially ready for retirement. Work with a trusted financial partner to determine your risk tolerance, goals, and retirement timing before you determine a potential retirement start date. When you’re financially ready for retirement and want to know if you’re retiring to something, or from something, move on to the next step.
Grab a piece of paper and try this exercise.
Write down the following questions:
1. Am I retiring to something greater than work?
2. Are there things I want to accomplish outside of my work?
3. Do I have other interests to fill my day?
4. Are there things that I know will bring great joy and satisfaction to my life, that I can’t currently accomplish due to the constraints of my job?
Take a few deep breaths, and relax. Close your eyes and think about the above questions for a few minutes, giving them some serious thought. Open your eyes and write down your answers on your paper.
Take your answers that you’ve written down, and review them with your spouse, children or loved ones. Have a lengthy discussion and really listen to what those closest to you have to say about the matter. They have an insight into your work and retirement that is valuable because they see it happen and can see how your work and hobbies impact your happiness.
After this discussion, take your paper with the questions and answers and place it somewhere that you’ll notice it for the next week. This may be on your nightstand, your desk, or on your refrigerator. Make a point to read it when you first wake up, whenever you see it during the day, and then before you go to sleep for the night.
After the week is over, notice how you are feeling. Are you energized by your answers?
Try this second set of questions:
1. Am I retiring from something?
2. Am I running away from a draining work environment?
3. Am I disengaged at work?
4. Am I contemplating retirement simply because I no longer enjoy my job?
Repeat this process by relaxing and writing down your answers. Discuss your answers with your loved ones, and take their opinions to heart.
Take your time to discover if you’re really wanting to retire, or if you’re just looking to escape. You may also be envious watching your peers retire, or you could be in the wrong line of work. Retiring before you’re ready is a retirement mistake that could cost you your happiness.
If You’re Retiring From Something
If you try this exercise, and determine that you’re really retiring from something, perhaps because you’re frustrated with your current job, take inventory with yourself. Retirement may not be the answer for you just yet. Are you really ready to retire, or are you looking for a new challenge in your working life?
Many people are financially ready to retire but would like to continue working for a myriad of reasons. If you’re contemplating quitting and retiring solely based on your dissatisfaction with your job, take a moment to think through what you’re doing and determine if taking the jump into retirement is the right move for you.
Retirement Is A Life Changing Decision
The decision to retire is not one to make lightly, or hastily. Retirement is a life-changing decision. You have a lot to consider, from a financial, emotional, social and logistical standpoint. The most important question before you retire, is to determine your motivation for retiring. So, are you retiring to something, or from something?