Often, when we’re urged to think about retirement, what we’re really being asked to consider is whether we’ve saved enough money to fund our golden years. But in a world where employment is increasingly flexible and people are living and working longer, the concept of retirement itself is also changing.
Australians are living longer than ever. The average life expectancy for an Australian in 2015 was 82.45 years, one of the highest in the world. We’re also working for longer: even as unemployment has fallen from its high in 1994, participation rates in the workforce for those aged 55 and over have risen steadily.
It’s also of note that people rarely retire all at once. Most people gradually transition, switching from full time to part time work. And then there are those who don’t retire. In 2015, the Australian Bureau of Statistics surveyed non-retired Australians aged 45 and over and found that 20% were either not intending to ever retire, or were uncertain about it.
When you consider your own career trajectory, therefore, don’t forget the retirement years - they might just be the next chapter of your working life. Here are some steps to consider to position you for what comes next.
1. Set your course
The first step is to decide what you envision your retirement years to be like. Do you hope to stay in the workforce, take on a self-employed role or ease into a volunteering capacity? Perhaps you want to study, devote yourself to a caring role or explore your creativity. What you decide will depend on your commitments and your goals.
When we’re in the thick of our careers, we’re often also raising children, pursuing learning opportunities, renovating our houses and a myriad of other things that take up our time. As we approach retirement, some of those trees fall away and we can see the whole forest. Ask yourself what’s important to you as a person, and what legacy you’d like to leave. Do you hope to make a difference in the world at large, or get more pleasure from your own immediate sphere?
What are the commitments and requirements which will shape your decisions? That is, will your retirement career need to be profitable, or do you hope to be able to follow a passion, even if it’s unpaid? Will you have caring responsibilities that will dictate your hours and flexibility, as many older Australians do? If you’re thinking about your golden years well in advance, you may not be able to predict all of these variables, but keep them on your list for consideration.
Lastly, consider what gives you joy in your current job and which of your skills you enjoy using. Over a lifetime of work, people build up an impressive set of abilities, from technical knowhow to soft skills, so don’t forget to look at all of them. This exercise will give you an idea of what you want to do and where you need to bolster your talents.
2. Lay in provisions
Once you know how you want to spend your later years, you can start thinking about what you’ll need along the way. Could benefit from some extra training to add to your skill set? If so, it’s a good idea to scope out learning opportunities like an online course or mentor relationship before you leave your current job.
The value of networking also shouldn’t be underestimated. Throughout your working life, you have no doubt already met many people whose skills and contacts you admire. Now is the time to start approaching networking more purposefully in anticipation of a new professional life. Re-connect with old acquaintances and seek out new connections, and when you’re ready to move on, you’ll find a vast reservoir of opportunity waiting for you.
3. Try a test run
Consider getting involved in activities which you hope will form the backbone of your retirement plans. That might be volunteering for a few hours on the weekend, or starting a small business. This will help you confirm if you really do want to spend the next decade or so the way you think you do, and has the benefit of putting you in contact with people who can guide you through.
If you can’t try out the next stage just yet, at least take a break from the daily grind. A period of leave can act as a palate cleanser, clearing our minds of the day to day details of work and allowing us to focus on what’s coming next.
Retirement should be a joyous time of life, when all your hard work and planning comes to fruition. If you’ve taken some time to position yourself right, it should be a journey you enjoy every moment of.
This article was written by Tanya Ashworth-Keppel on behalf of the Australian Institute of Business. All opinions are that of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of AIB. The following sources were used to compile this article: Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, Australian Bureau of Statistics, Forbes and My Lifestyle Career.