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Retirement Transition: “Mr.” Instead of “Dr.”, What Do I Do Now? by Douglas Carlsen, DDS

The Problems

This is a true story. A dentist friend retired, deciding he would spend his days painting while his wife gardened. The artwork didn't come to fruition, leaving him to bicker about everything to his wife in her garden retreat. It didn't help that he enjoyed his first margarita at noon. Within six months, the dentist faced a choice: divorce or sober up and find an avocation.

Psychologist Robert Bornstein says it's a huge shift for a couple spending two or three hours a night together to spending all day together. "It happens all at once. It would be nice to go from full-time to half-time to quarter-time, but that's not how it works."1

Retirement is about much more than money. First, there is the issue of spousal stress. "We are the first generation who is going to live 30 years in retirement, and we are not prepared emotionally," says author Frank Maselli.2

Second, there is the loneliness factor. After 30-35 years of work, Robert Bornstein further relates, "You lose a ready-made social network... Much of your daily contact comes from the office. When you are no longer going to the office, it's not uncommon for people to discover they have no friends."

According to a UC San Francisco study in 2013, more than 43 percent of the 1,604 participants older than age 60 reported that they often felt left out, isolated or lacked companionship. In the six-year follow-up period, more than half of the self-identified lonely people had difficulty with basic housekeeping and personal tasks. They also had a 45 percent greater risk of dying earlier than older adults who felt more connected to others.3

Interestingly, 62.5 percent were married or living with others. "It's not the quantity but the quality of your relationships that matters," according to Dr. Carla Perissinotto. "You can't tell who may be feeling lonely. It's not just a little old lady living all alone."4

"In the same way you exercise, pay your taxes and eat a healthy diet, you need to start replacing your friends as soon as you lose them, particularly around retirement age," says author Dr. Vailiant.5

Author John Strelecky calls the potential lack of drive, friends and work in retirement The Vacuum. "There is a big difference between saying "I'm going to retire and quit working," and "I'm going to retire and start relaxing, or start swimming, or start traveling... These vacuums create confusion, which often leads to depression."6

I personally spend much of my day researching, writing and e- mailing. I'm home alone. That presents a real challenge. I thought I'd love the isolation. Not so. Social interaction, in my case normally biking or skiing with a friend, is as vital to my psyche as that darn office morning huddle used to be.

As for my dentist friend and his drinking, Joe Heider of Rehmann Financial, says, "I have seen clients who have developed serious drinking problems because they're bored. Happy hour used to start at 5:30; now it starts at noon. Retirement can be a wonderful thing, but depression, drinking, drug usage – they are all symptomatic of people bored and their lives have lost meaning for them."7

My dentist friend got sober and found his avocation: He now works at a local golf course three days a week and never drinks until dinnertime. Result? He is still married and quite happy.

Third, doctors underestimate the loss of being called doctor. Doctor has for many years been an important part of our identity. It's not the same being called mister.

You still have the car, the home and the diploma, yet few see you as the "doc" anymore. You're just another older guy or gal that has more time than ever and less office drama. Add up marriage stresses, loneliness and not being the doctor, and we have high divorce, depression, alcoholism, drug addiction and suicide rates in Boomer retirement.

The Plan

John Strelecky offers a solution: our Big Five for Life.

"Don't retire and quit working, instead, retire with the intention and knowledge that you are going to fill your previous ‘work time' with whatever it is that you really want to do.

"Write the five things you want to do, see or experience in retirement. These are the five things that if you did, saw or experienced, that at the end of your life, you could look back over your retirement and say that it was a success as you defined success.

"If you are struggling to figure out your Big Five for Life, you may be limiting your thinking because of how you view yourself right now, or the career you had. Think about and write down who you wanted to be before you became who you are now. Maybe you have to think back to before you took your first job, or even back to your childhood."

I, personally, had the opportunity to retire from active practice in Albuquerque in 2004 at age 53. That's way too young for a life of gardening, playing with grandkids and Golden Corral ventures. I had not planned on retiring until age 80, yet events led to a decision to quit practicing.

What in the world could I do? I read What Color is Your Parachute?, Unique Ability, The Pathfinder, Finding Your Perfect Work, then The Four Agreements, Siddhartha, The Idiots Guide to Feng Shui, and A Whole New Mind. Yes, I read the last five weird ones, which were as valuable as the first four. I engaged my mind.

I had interests in meteorology, sound mixing, singing, getting a masters degree in physics, and teaching skiing or high school math. What did I do for two years? I took art classes.

To my total surprise, I found I had writing ability and it was fun! Interestingly, English and writing were my worst subjects in high school! So now I write for Dentaltown Magazine.

The Big But

Please realize that many dentists have "dentistry" as number one on their Big Five for Life. To work well into regular retirement is often one of the best and most rewarding decisions one can make. Don't retire from practice just because you think you should.

Educational Resources for Retirement

University of North Carolina Ashville's Osher Lifelong Learning Institute offers weekend couples' retreats. "Paths to a Creative Retirement" and other pre-retirement courses are offered. "Paths" focuses on personal transitions to a meaningful retirement, including timing, identity, relationships and, for some, relocation. All courses are highly rated. Go to www.olliasheville.com/paths-creative-retirement for more information.

For individuals, nearly all universities and community colleges now offer online and distance programs. These include anything from MBAs to non-credit art and design courses. I've taken several local courses over the years.

Take a look at MOOCs (Massive Online Open Courses) at www.mooc-list.com. This is the future of learning, docs. Looking back, I could have taken Fundamentals of Audio and Music Engineering, physics and song writing.

Is retirement really as you picture it? Not even close. It can be a joyous rejuvenation or a hellacious mess. Please prepare and get to know your partner.

  1. Rodney Brooks, "Don't let retirement stress marriage," downloaded from http://www.usatoday.com/story/money/columnist/brooks/2013/06/17/retire-psychological-family-stress/2424623/ on July 2, 2013.
  2. Ibid.
  3. Elizabeth H. Pope, "A Longer Life is Lived with Company," New York Times, September 11, 2012.
  4. Ibid.
  5. Ibid.
  6. John P. Strelecky, Retirement- Avoid the New Retiree Blues, downloaded from http://mail.fsbassociates.com/article_display.php?article_id= July 1, 2013.
  7. 7. Brooks, July 2, 2013.
  8. Strelecky, July 1, 2013

Author's Bio
Dr. Douglas Carlsen has delivered independent financial education to dentists since retiring from his practice in 2004 at age 53. For Dentists' Financial Newsletter, visit www.golichcarlsen.com and find the "newsletter" button at the bottom of the home page.

Additional Carlsen Dentaltown articles are at: www.dentaltown.com. Search “Carlsen.” Videos available at: www.youtube.com/user/DrDougCarlsen. Contact Dr. Carlsen at drcarlsen@gmail.com or 760-535-1621.

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