The Six Key Life Arenas
Extensive research has been done in the past decade in an attempt to define and determine just what it takes to be happy, content and fulfilled. While there is no one, single answer, experts have identified six different "life arenas" within which all the variables within our lives will fall. Success in balancing and fulfilling each of these Six Key Life Arenas generally leads to a high quality of life. Not surprisingly, these six arenas are the same in retirement as for any other stage of our adult lives. While some may categorize or title them slightly differently, we have identified the following areas as the Six Key Life Arenas of Rethinking Retirement Life Planning.
1. Engage in a Fulfilling Purpose
2. Practice Financial Maturity
3. Continue Personal Growth and Development (including Spirituality)
4. Connect with Family and Friends
5. Maintain Health and Wellness
6. Develop Leisure and Lifestyle Interests
You may notice that career and work are not among the six arenas. That's because our research has shown that while a job may support several of the six arenas, it is not a requirement by itself. Many people do indeed find a sense of purpose, mental stimulation, a sense of identity and opportunities for personal growth among other benefits within their work. Yet many others find all those things without holding a formal job. If one has achieved financial independence they may still (and often do) choose to continue to work to fulfill those needs, or they may find that fulfillment from their hobbies, volunteering or any number of other activities.
Conversely, as it is for the majority of people, if your personal financial situation dictates that you do need to work, finding work that you love and that fills many of these arenas will leave you more energized and engaged in all areas of your life. As those who have found true purpose in their work will say, "If you're doing what you love, you'll never work another day in your life."
Engage in a Fulfilling Purpose
Have you ever asked yourself, "Is this it? Is this all there is?"
Many retirees and workers ask themselves that question all the time. Retirees are often shocked by the loss of purpose they feel upon leaving the workforce, while those yet to retire often ask themselves, "Am I really supposed to be spending my life working 50, 60, sometimes 70 hours a week at a job that (at best) has little meaning to me or (at worst) bores me to death? Is this how it's supposed to be?"
The short answer is no. That's not how it's supposed to be.
And yet unfortunately for millions of people that's exactly the predicament they find themselves in every day. In early 2010 the Conference Board research group reported 55% of Americans are unhappy in their jobs - the highest level of dissatisfaction ever recorded. In 2004 the Gallup research study of job satisfaction indicated that only 29% of Americans feel actively engaged in their jobs and approach those jobs with a sense of passion and purpose. Almost twice as many, 54%, are considered disengaged, essentially sleepwalking through their days while an additional 17% are described as "actively disengaged," to the point of subversively or unconsciously sabotaging the efforts of their organization.
Whether you're retired and financially independent or not, finding a fulfilling purpose in which to direct your energies is key to a happy and contented life. While many people look at retirement as the way out of an unsatisfying job, many retirees and early retirees in particular report that the hardest part of the retirement transition is not having something meaningful to apply your energies to.
In other words, happiness and contentment don't come from retiring away from a job you don't like, but rather come from engaging into activities that provide meaning and purpose. If you're among the 71% identified by Gallup as being disengaged in their jobs, or you're a current retiree fighting boredom and mental atrophy, check out the Resources section of this site for tools and exercises to help you discover your true purpose and bring passion and meaning back into your life.
Practice Financial Maturity
Today, retirement represents a time of freedom to spend our days as we choose pursuing those activities that give us purpose or spending time with those who are meaningful to us. To many, acquiring that freedom requires that we first accumulate at least a minor fortune. Everyday we're bombarded with messages that tell us only by saving more and investing better will we be able to achieve the lifestyle of our dreams. This is simply not true. Countless individuals in all walks of life are creating a lifestyle of freedom, balance, purpose and passion without being financially independent. And you can too. From a financial perspective, all it takes is a bit of knowledge, preparation and discipline.
Like so many things, success in the financial arena often means going back to the basics. In this case, that means truly understanding your personal financial statements and the fundamentals of financial planning. It also requires that you have a healthy relationship with money by understanding your attitudes, beliefs and any self-sabotaging behaviors that prevent you from reaching your financial goals.
Finally, it requires the discipline to stick with your plans. Too often we associate financial freedom with unlimited wealth and the ability to spend on every desire. In reality, financial freedom simply means having the ability to spend your days as you choose to spend them, not in obligated service to someone else so you can pay your bills. It's because they value this ability to spend their days as they choose - this freedom - that motivate the Financially Mature to stick with their plans.
The Resources section of this site provides education, tools and information to help you become financially mature.
Please note, all information on this site is strictly limited to discussions of cash flow and the understanding of basic personal financial statements. We do not provide investment information or investment advice. We leave those discussions to the appropriate professionals.
Continue Personal Growth and Development
Psychologists have long identified mid-life and beyond as a time of renewed personal growth and development. As we enter or progress through this phase of our lives, the challenge of re-discovering who we are, what we're passionate about and re-defining who we want to become takes on new importance.
For many, we've "become" our jobs. We describe ourselves as accountants, lawyers, engineers, managers or something similar. Our very identity is often tied up in what we do, and for many that's no longer enough. It's not unusual to use this time as a period of reflection to evaluate how we've lived our lives up to this point, and confirm a new or existing direction for how we'll live the second half of our lives.
While some have a very clear idea of what this direction will be, others will need to go through a process of self-discovery. Clearly identifying your values, personal and spiritual beliefs, motivators and priorities are all essential to figuring out who you are and achieving inner peace. Many will use this time to embark on an inner spiritual journey to discover their life purpose, while others will be content to develop character traits they feel are lacking.
Regardless of how extensive you wish this journey to become, the Resources section of this site will provide tools and exercises to help. Everything from meditation techniques to personal discovery assessments are available, with additional resources being added all the time. If you don't find something you need, email us with your request and we'll try to find a resource for you.
Connect with Family and Friends
Perhaps the most important of the six arenas, maintaining and deepening your relationships with the people whom you value most is key to a happy life. Often the relationships we value most are the very ones we sacrifice in pursuit of our career and financial goals. It's also the desire to renew and strengthen those relationships that often becomes the primary motivator for seeking change in our lives.
Transitioning from career to retirement however, can by itself, cause significant stresses on those relationships. While the goal is to strengthen the relationship, the sudden change in the schedule of one spouse often has significant impact on the other. That's why the other arenas - engaging in fulfilling purpose, continued personal growth and development and developing leisure and lifestyle interests - are so important. They help to ensure that each of us are emotionally healthy enough as individuals so that we don't become dependent on our significant others to fulfill all of our personal needs.
Beyond our spousal or other committed relationships however, many of us will look to strengthen relationships with our children, parents, and siblings. We'll find time to re-connect with friends we've long neglected, and seek to create new friendships with others who share our newfound interests.
Unfortunately, many who have devoted themselves to their careers find the majority of their social relationships are work-related. When retiring or changing jobs, they often find those friendships no longer have the common ground to keep them active. Staying engaged socially by getting involved in community activities with others who share your interests will help to maintain healthy social relationships.
But creating, maintaining and nurturing those relationships doesn't happen by itself. Relationships require work. The Resources section of this website provides a number of interesting articles, tips and suggestions to help you maintain connectivity with your family and friends.
Maintain Health and Wellness
It's another of life's great oddities that with as much as we know about the importance of diet, exercise and mental stimulation, so many of us continue to pursue lifestyles that are detrimental to our overall well-being. While the process of aging can’t be stopped, it’s important to realize it is not a linear process. It's pace advances in sudden starts and stops, with periods of relative stability followed by periods of rapid or gradual decline, much of which we can influence.
While genetic factors do impact both our physical and mental abilities as we age, new studies are continually confirming that our lifestyle choices do indeed significantly contribute to the pace at which we age. In the book Successful Aging, authors John Rowe, M.D and Robert Kahn, Ph.D, illustrate that the effects of genetics shrink proportionately as we age, while lifestyle choices play an increasingly larger role in both our physical and mental aging. Obviously there are no guarantees, but evidence incontrovertibly now shows we can increase our odds of extended physical health and mental acuity by exercising both our bodies and our minds.
Just as the other arenas are inter-related, maintaining physical health and mental wellness will also contribute to your success in the other arenas. Maintaining your physical and mental capacity will allow you to pursue work you love which in turn contributes to your economic wellness, sense of purpose and personal growth and development.
Check out the Resources section of this site for more information.
Develop Leisure and Lifestyle Interests
Perhaps the most "fun" of the six arenas, developing our leisure and lifestyle interests provides the opportunity to add more pure joy and contentment to our lives. Whether it be developing a personal interest or skill within yourself, or participating in new activities with a group, pursuing the activities that are personally meaningful and enjoyable to you provide richness and color to our lives. Especially when combined with family and friends, this is when we create the memories that stay with us forever.
So what's on your life list? Do you want to trek the Himalaya's or learn to play the piano? Have you always wanted to fly a hang-glider or perhaps write a book? Maybe you've always wanted to live on a beach, in another country or perhaps just in a different community? Now is the time to dust off all those old dreams and even come up with new ones.
It doesn't matter that you may not be able to do all the things on your list immediately. Sure, family obligations or economic limitations may prevent you from sailing the Pacific, but you may also find that many of your dreams are more attainable than you think. You may also find others that, while not doable today, may become attainable as you focus on those goals going forward. The point is that when you dream from your heart, anything is possible.
In the Resources section of this website you'll find information on everything from how to choose where to live, what type of community you want to live in and how to develop your interests. Once you've identified your leisure passions, track your progress by creating your own Life List Top 10 in our Surveys section.