IT Employment

10 questions you should ask when considering retirement

If you're one of the many IT pros who is wondering whether it's time to retire, these insights from Alan Norton will give you an idea of what to expect and what to consider as you make your decision.

The PC generation is nearing retirement. Some of us have already left the workforce by choice or otherwise. Before you retire, you should understand that you will still have needs in your life of leisure. How you meet those needs will in large part determine how successful your retirement will be.

We ask children what they want to be when they grow up. How many times have you been asked what you want to be when you retire?

As you can read in my bio, I know a bit about retirement and what can go wrong. My current job status is, as I like to call it, semi-retired. I didn't plan the end-game this way -- I just found myself here. And that, my patient reader, is not how you want to enter what is supposed to be your golden years. So, in the time-honored tradition of making lemonade from lemons, let me share with you what I have learned from my unplanned journey into semi-retirement.

Note: This article is also available as a PDF download.

1: Do you have the income stream to support the lifestyle you want?

Determine your projected income stream and your estimated expenses for your retirement years. Compare the two. If the difference is large, you have to determine whether that is the kind of lifestyle you want to live. About.com and The Motley Fool have some basics about this process that you might want to review.

Planning for financial security in retirement is far too complex to discuss in detail here. You might want to look at Web sites like AARP or MarketWatch or search for similar sites. Consider hiring a certified financial planner.

This is one item you should plan from day one. Having your financial needs already satisfied can be a huge step in your journey to a healthy, happy, and prosperous life after work.

2: Are all of your social connections at work?

Don't overlook the interactions you have with your peers. Many of your friends may be at your place of work. Sure, you can still have picnics and social outings with your closest co-workers, but many of these connections will be severed after you leave. If you don't have many social connections outside work, there will be a large hole in your social life. If you fall into this category, it can be all too easy to withdraw and live the life of a hermit. Humans are social creatures. A life without social interactions can be unhealthy. Look for ways to interact with others by joining groups or volunteering your time.

3: Will you be physically active?

You may not consider work as meeting your need for exercise, but count the number of miles you walk in an average day and it may surprise you how much exercise you are actually getting. If your life of leisure becomes too much leisure and not enough life, your working days may indeed provide a healthier lifestyle than retirement.

After years of sedentary living in my post-work days, I now find plenty of exercise doing household maintenance and repair. I particularly enjoy landscaping and working in the yard. I half jokingly tell my neighbors that if it weren't for weeds, I wouldn't get any exercise at all. There is something very healthy about digging in the dirt for the mind, body, and soul.

Being physically active in retirement may require discipline. Have you considered how you will burn calories when you retire?

4: Will your mind be challenged?

"My mind," he said, "rebels at stagnation. Give me problems, give me work, give me the most abstruse cryptogram, or the most intricate analysis, and I am in my own proper atmosphere. I can dispense then with artificial stimulants. But I abhor the dull routine of existence. I crave for mental exaltation."

So said Sherlock Holmes, as told by his friend Dr. Watson in The Sign of Four by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. And though Dr. Watson and Mr. Holmes are fictional characters, it is entirely plausible for such an intelligent man with an active mind to turn to artificial stimulants when his mind is not challenged. Boredom in retirement can lead to alcohol or drug abuse to fill the void.

It is generally accepted that mental acumen, if not properly exercised, will slowly atrophy. It is unrealistic to expect light reading or crossword puzzles to fully challenge minds once tasked with complex systems development or sophisticated design and coding. I didn't find peace in semi-retirement until I found other outlets for my creative nature, my need to learn and explore, and the need to be productive. I found those needs at least partially satisfied by writing here at TechRepublic. Complex home projects turned out to be a good substitute for the development projects I loved to do while working.

IT professionals need daily challenges. How you satisfy that need will have a large impact on whether you will enjoy your post-work life.

5: How will you meet your higher needs?

Learning, creativity, a feeling of self-worth, problem solving, and a sense of accomplishment are all higher level needs. IT jobs are ideal for meeting these needs, but how will you fill the void when you leave a challenging IT position?

Consider creating a list of tasks and projects you want to accomplish. Set goals and reward yourself when those goals are met. By donating your time and valuable skills to your church, library, or a nonprofit organization, you can help others and meet those higher needs.

Retirement is perfect for tackling those IT projects you always wanted to do but never had the time for. You might want to build and maintain your own Web site, learn a new programming language, build the perfect PC, or install and explore Linux. Your employment status may be "inactive," but that doesn't mean you can or should stop learning.

6: What will you do on day 1,000?

A couple weeks of vacation can be enjoyable, but don't use it as a barometer of what an extended life of sequestration will be like. What is it that you really want to do on day 100 or 1,000? Will you travel? Take up a hobby? Take up golf or tennis? Move to a retirement community?

At about age 50, I began looking at my own mortality for the first time. It's not exactly a pleasant exercise, but it does help you focus on what's really important in life. What will be your legacy? Retirement is the time to do those meaningful activities you couldn't do when working.

7: Do you need a structured lifestyle?

My daily morning work routine went something like this: read my email, spend one to two hours on conference calls, listen and respond to voice mail, resolve any crises, and decide where I was going to eat lunch. Your workday may be similarly structured with routines you are comfortable with.

When you retire, you will find yourself with a lot of free time, no schedules to worry about, and little or no structure in your normal day. This can be unsettling as time goes by. Some people need structure in their life. Others thrive in an unstructured environment.

Know which type of lifestyle you are comfortable with. If you need structure, where will you find it when the familiar events of the daily grind are gone?

8: Are you a live-to-work or a work-to-live type?

When it comes to retirement, there tends to be two personality types --the type who takes the plunge and then wants out and the type who takes to life without work like a fish to water. Making the transition from 60+ hour workweeks to full retirement can be a welcome change at first. But if you are the live-to-work type, you may find yourself months later in a meaningless and unhealthy life. Determining which work type you are will help you decide if early retirement is for you or whether you should consider working longer than originally planned.

9: Do you have a fallback plan?

Realistically, what are your chances of being rehired? Assess your skill set carefully. If your skills aren't up to date, retirement may very well be a one-way trip.

Don't burn your bridges with your employer. Discuss the possibility of returning should retirement not work out for you before you leave. Assess both the job market and your network of connections for possible alternate job opportunities before you retire. What you learn may have an impact on your projected retirement date.

Should you decide that retirement isn't for you, your employment options may be limited. You can work as an independent contractor or start your own business. But don't kid yourself. It's not easy running your own business.

10. Is traditional retirement for you?

I admire and envy those who can travel, spend time with family, focus on a hobby, and enjoy their retirement. I have learned the hard way that I am not one of those people. You have to decide for yourself whether you can live the typical retirement lifestyle or you would be happier working full or part time.

Consider carefully before changing jobs as you age. A sabbatical at age 55 probably isn't a good idea unless you are willing to accept that the sabbatical may last until the day you pass from this earthly plane.

The bottom line

The IT industry is notorious for intelligent and dedicated workaholics -- the very type of person who would find a life of ease boring and unrewarding. If you are such a person, your challenge will be to find ways to be challenged.

Plan well in advance of the big day how you will meet your needs and the needs of your family. If you view retirement as an opportunity and not as the sunset of your life, you are more likely to have a full and meaningful life after work.

Just because you will no longer be working for the man doesn't mean that you retire from life. Find a way to keep living. In the final analysis, we all need a reason to get out of bed in the morning, especially in retirement.

So what do you want to be when you grow up?

Author's note

Don't put me in a box -- I won't stay there. We are all complex individuals, so I cringe more than a little when suggesting that there are types of people who crave structure and those who don't and those who live to work and those who work to live. Let me resolve this paradox by suggesting that we each may tend toward one personality type but are not governed by it.

I must ask myself: Well...how did I get here?

About

Alan Norton began using PCs in 1981, when they were called microcomputers. He has worked at companies like Hughes Aircraft and CSC, where he developed client/server-based applications. Alan is currently semi-retired and starting a new career as a wri...

34 comments
dalexnagy
dalexnagy

Retirement can be the catalyst to trying something (or many somethings) new, from starting a business to testing out new jobs you had seen from the side. In 2006, I retired after 33 years in IT and have done the common things (traveled) but also have expanded my reading, biking (I did 56 mi today), helping friends, and continued with my PC/Linux interests using 'retired' hardware. I've also taught at a Tech college in my area and tried 9 mos with Lowes in the Lumber Dept (boy were my arms in shape).

yattwood
yattwood

Excellent suggestions! Sometime in 2000 (I am a 1958 Baby), I began to realize that I didn't want to be 72 and recovering someone's Oracle database at 2 AM .... so I pursued a totally unrelated subject; I received a Master's degree in Theology in 2008 (one class a semester), and so when I retire, I hope to take CPE (Clinical Pastoral Education) training and be a prison or hospital chaplain (I have been volunteering at the California Institution for Women, Corona since 2001) And, I have found applications for my IT skills in my volunteering....

Who Am I Really
Who Am I Really

Any relation to Peter Norton? I opted for "semi-retirement" which I turned into a business I get a full time wage only have to be in the actual office 2x per week and the occasional special projects days the rest of the time I do the work in my home office on my schedule and I get a really good tax benefit from it ie. haven't paid a dime in tax in over 10 years

ps.techrep
ps.techrep

1. Do you think you can stand the other BS that goes along with being in IT (the stupid directives from business owners and bosses, the dumb user questions, the certification merry-go-round, etc) for the rest of your life? Unless you are willing to start your own business, the sooner you decide, the better.

lastchip
lastchip

there's not enough hours in the week when you retire. I'm (sort of) semi-retired. I work when I want to and try and limit it to about three days a week. The problem is, I'm still so short of time and it doesn't help, I get called on regularly to work more. There are so many things I want to do, learn and experiment with, I'm seriously thinking of giving up work altogether. Retirement is all about an attitude of mind (as the article hints at), and providing you have the right mindset, it's just great! Contrary to popular belief, you don't have to be a workaholic to succeed in life. In fact, many people I have known who were, are either now dead (I'm sure from stress) or have serious health problems. Furthermore, you don't need to be a billionaire either. Providing you have enough, life can be very rewarding. Don't work yourself into an early grave!

peter.mukerjee
peter.mukerjee

Good article, but all of the above resolves into two things, viz., make sure of the money situation and have a definite plan. That is Retirement 101.

stevethehawk
stevethehawk

I'm perhaps 3 or 4 years from retirement and have been planning the financial side of life for some time. I don't like to admit it, but I have been quite neglectful of the other issues put forth in your article. I now have other things to think about and plan for over the next few years. I've come to realize, for example, that outside of work my social life is practically non-existent. That's not a good thing and it needs to change.

Madsmaddad
Madsmaddad

Regarding point 5 Yes, I took 'early retirement' and am now thinking about all those projects that I put aside over the years. Actually my wife has me 'decluttering' the place, and in doing so I came across a lot of old CMOS chips that I was going to do something with someday, and other possible projects. I have taken one look at them, and can't be bothered to try and resurrect those ideas. I have moved on. The garage also contains a number of old switches and routers that I doubt I'll ever use. I have gone from hardware design, programming, networking and I guess my main interest now is what I can do with my linux computer, so I belong to a LUG (linux user group) that keeps my mind active. I could write a lot more. but other activities call- like minding the pension pot.

thomasab
thomasab

Life is partly the hand you are dealt, and partly what you make of it. I retired from my "real job" almost three years ago, and immediately went to work as a consultant. My life today is incredibly fulfilling, to me. I have a structured and reasonably challenging job that at the same time is not overly restictive. I have all the "free" time I want, I travel all I want, and I have extensive social interactions. I'm not sure we, as humans, should actually "retire." Certainly we can and should shift gears at various points in life. But staying active, involved, and having a sense of mission and accomplishment are most important. Look at Ted Kennedy and Robert Byrd for examples of how to live life to the fullest.

Tocsin
Tocsin

Good, though-provoking article. I retired (index-linked pension at 50) from a hectic IT role last year (Sun/Oracle/WebSphere stuff) and am now kept busy with my reserve forces job - same buzz, but part time (unless called up for Afg - which would be nine months minimum). I'm enjoying it so much that my wife has just followed suit (but with a less risky business plan!).

Alan Norton
Alan Norton

I wish I had thought about it at a younger age before I found myself in an unplanned life of semi-retirement. As always, I will be checking in occasionally to answer questions and participate when I can add to the discussion.

Alan Norton
Alan Norton

Congratulations on receiving your Master's degree. That is quite an accomplishment. "I began to realize that I didn't want to be 72 and recovering someone's Oracle database at 2 AM ...." I wonder how many others have come to the same realization but didn't do the planning you have. I wish you fun, excitement and happiness in your new career. Helping others can be very rewarding.

Alan Norton
Alan Norton

I wish. ;-) But then again my life would have been very different. In the late 80's the menus on the PCs where I worked had an option for Norton Utilities. Someone asked me if I had written that software. That was quite a compliment but I had to disappoint with a 'No'. Peter Norton's skills and mine at the time were worlds apart. Good to hear that you have found a way to make semi-retirement successful.

Alan Norton
Alan Norton

There is plenty of the same or similar in other professions. I would not discourage a student who was interested in computer science because of the issues you listed but I understand the frustration. If an IT worker becomes disgruntled they can always change horses, but that is another topic altogether.

Alan Norton
Alan Norton

Those are all great points. I particularly agree that you don't have to be rich to be happy. You have the right attitude. Learning and experimenting help to keep you young. I believe that time spent learning is never wasted even if it cannot be applied on the job. I wish you continued success and hope you can find the extra hours for all of those items on your list you want to do.

Alan Norton
Alan Norton

Hello Peter. You are right but that is only two things and I needed ten! ;-)

Alan Norton
Alan Norton

Steve, It is easy to be in denial about one's 'inadequacies'. It is much rarer for someone to take stock in their personal shortcomings and admit it online. You are way ahead of the game for doing so. I hope you will find the article helpful as you do your planning. I wish you the best in retirement.

Alan Norton
Alan Norton

Belonging to a Linux Users Group is a great idea. Don't give up completely on your old interests. You never know when your professional skills will be needed.

Alan Norton
Alan Norton

Thomas, Stated another way, we get the life we want. You are obviously making the best of your new life. Thank you for sharing your experiences.

Alan Norton
Alan Norton

Good for you! You have done well for yourself and your wife by finding something that you enjoy. Part-time work is ideal for those retirees who don't want to be full-time employees but still want to be challenged. I am hoping that as boomers begin retiring more employers will embrace the idea of part-time workers to meet their needs.

myrtle1893
myrtle1893

really enjoyed your article. I'm in the same boat, had worked full time as a contractor for 6 years after a layoff with 2 yrs. pay bonus after a corporate merger so didn't feel "retired". This year I'll have only about 3 mos. work if i don't land a new project and was not using the open time productively. I started a morning exercise program, got a couple of books to further my knowledge of how to manage my portfolio more actively, and started up a side business in a completely new field to support a life long interest and turn it into a tax deductible business entity until I can collect my SS. Husband has been retired for several years now and keeps busy with home improvement and garden projects as you mention. I find that I was wasting time and could not beleive how much more I was getting done while working. I think it was scheduling and not living on the whim of what I want to do when so have fired up my outlook calendar and started planning my schedule again. Wish me luck, hope you find your groove too! Thanks for writing to us.

lk_bellsouth.net
lk_bellsouth.net

In this order take care of health, family and friends, and professional obligations. Health comes first. Without it, the rest doesn't matter. If you ignore this then you will begin the slide on a slippery slope at a rate of speed that you can't possibly imagine. If you wonder why I phrase the above in this manner then understand that hindsight is always 20/20. Alan, if only one person perks up and puts into practice your recommendations, then you have achieved success beyond your wildest expectations. May good health, fortune, and success follow you always.

agrajag
agrajag

I have bookmarked it for review in 20 years time - please don't delete it.

Madsmaddad
Madsmaddad

Did you mention start early. Know what your pension is likely to be. In this day, you never know when that redundancy thing is likely to hit you. I was lucky that when I got made redundant ( I don't have a PhD) they still needed me to teach my subject for another three years so I edged into it gently.

Madsmaddad
Madsmaddad

Well, It's about 30 years since I built anything in CMOS, or programmed in FORTH. But I have taken the first intro Cisco course due to friends at the university who got me on to it, with the idea of teaching Cisco Networking later. And I still have my Lecturing position for another year teaching Business students about computer networking. I'll keep busy. I have a lot of friends who seem to get occasional consultancy jobs in retirement, but keeping current seems to me to erode any monetary value in them.

jimdandy45
jimdandy45

I wondered what it would be like, when HP offered an early retirement package back in 2002 at 58. After 35 years in the repair side of IT mainframe/mini computers, it was a concern. I never looked back. Took the pension, and now have Social Security too. I had been able to save over the years with all the overtime (some 24 hour days, etc) and being frugal. We moved to Florida and are now in a retirement community with lots of activities. I'm an officer in the 500+ member computer club. I teach PC classes and go to member's homes to fix hardware and virus issues (all for free) and keep up with technologies to pass on and keep my mind active. Plus Bocce, horseshoes, shuffleboard, Photography Club, etc. etc. I DON'T FIND IT A PROBLEM AT ALL!!

Alan Norton
Alan Norton

Give me a project and I am like a bulldog until it is finished. Without a project I get little done. It has to be a worthwhile project - not something that will just take up my time. I don't find hobbies to be a worthwhile use of my time but that doesn't mean others won't. Recognizing why I was inefficient with my time was key. Just getting started was the answer for me. You seem to have found a way to be more productive so I commend you for finding what works best for you. Others can learn from what you have experienced. I do wish you luck and thank you for sharing!

mlaw66202
mlaw66202

At 67 I went from 60 plus hours a week to zip hours per week. Some 185 days have now gone by and I am starting to get cabin fever. I have maintained a small social group, mostly work friends, have been working on PC's for family, making friends with grandchildren, but not, in my way of thinking, accomplishing much of anything. Get your financial expectations in order, then plan for your life activities, be they travel, reenvolvement with family, volunteer work, but have a plan for what the shape of your life will be before you make the leap into retirement. Good luck all!

Alan Norton
Alan Norton

Wisdom is usually gained from experience. Your words are words of wisdom. It sounds like we have been down some of the same roads. I am truly humbled by your kindness. I, too, wish you health and happiness in each and every day.

ron-beauchemin
ron-beauchemin

Why not just download the PDF version of the article. There is a link to the PDF vewrsion within the article.

Alan Norton
Alan Norton

Can I take it then that you are about 20 years from retirement? Thank you for reading the article if that is the case. I don't expect someone in their 20's or 30's to be interested in the items in this list - though financial planning as stated in the article should begin on day one. I should have thought about retirement in my 30's but I thought it was irrelevant at the time. If the article is deleted, hunt me down on the Web and send me an email. If it legal to do so and I am still breathing I will personally send you a copy. :-)

Alan Norton
Alan Norton

I did mention in the article that financial planning should begin immediately upon hire and alluded to starting early in the forum. Unfortunately, you are so right. That 'redundancy thing' can get you and before you know it you are in semi-retirement at a much younger age than planned. Time seems to go by so much faster as you age. It is easy to find yourself in a position where time has slipped by and little or nothing has been accomplished.

Alan Norton
Alan Norton

So, you are one of those types? :-) Remember that Monty Python skit - Nudge Nudge? http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nudge_Nudge What's it like? It took me five years to figure out what you figured out from day one. Retirement should be exactly like you describe. Unfortunately it doesn't always work out that way for some. I am glad to hear that you are enjoying and making the best of your post-work years.

Alan Norton
Alan Norton

"making friends with grandchildren" That is accomplishing a lot in my book but I completely understand what you are saying. I hope you can find other projects that will meet the needs that you still have.

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