Retirement Heaven or Hell

Retirement Heaven or Hell focuses on sense rather than dollars

October 21, 2021

One of the nagging questions we had during the countdown to retirement seven years ago was this – what is retirement going to be like?  And while retired friends and neighbours smiled and said cryptic things like “you’ll never know how you found the time for work,” we wondered – still – how the transition from full time work to freelancing would go.

This is the sort of territory covered in Mike Drak’s terrific new book, Retirement Heaven or Hell.

He starts by recalling that, as a child, he really couldn’t answer the question “what do you want to do with the rest of your life.” Retirement provides a second chance to give that response, he writes.

“It’s hard to enjoy retirement when you are not doing what you like to do,” he continues. Living someone else’s retirement dream is your ticket to what Drak calls “Retirement Hell.”

So what does Retirement Heaven look like?  There are “comfort-oriented retirees” who “like to have a safe, ordinary retirement,” he explains. They are content with a “full-stop” retirement, they don’t want to work, and some have accumulated “a great deal of money.”  Then there are “growth-oriented retirees” who Drak sees as “retirement rebels – the people who have a strong inner voice constantly telling them to never be satisfied; to keep stretching, exploring, learning and experiencing.”  Either stream works “as long as you are happy and doing things that are meaningful and fulfilling to you,” Drak explains.

Drak writes about the danger of “the Big Retirement Dip” that can happen after you have enjoyed “the Honeymoon Stage” of retirement, and have travelled, golfed more, visited the grandkids, and ticked off all the boxes of your to-do list.  Retirees “often find that they need to find something else to do, and this is where the trouble starts. Without a bigger plan or a purpose, they start to slide down to Retirement Hell, the lowest point in the Big Retirement Dip,” Drak writes.

This is particularly true of growth-oriented retirees; some comfort-oriented retirees “will be able to remain happily in the Honeymoon Stage for their entire retirement,” despite possibly having less meaning to their lives than the growth-oriented folks, Drak notes.

Drak adds that “significant change is an inevitable fact of retirement. How you choose to prepare for it and respond to it will determine if you will be happy or not.”  He encourages retirees to take up “new routines” such as regular meditation, and journaling, which he sees as the creation of a book “by you, about you” that will help you chart your progress towards your goals.  A daily log helps you determine if your day “was productive… or not,” helps you stay “on track with your goals,” and gives tips on how to improve things “going forward.”

The meat of the book is Drak’s list of “Nine Principles for an Exceptional Retirement.” These include:

  1. Nurture Strong Relationships
  2. Foster Good Health
  3. Achieve Financial Independence
  4. Reignite Your Sense of Adventure
  5. Tap into Your Spirituality
  6. Find Your Tribes
  7. Make the Most of Your Time
  8. Adopt the Right Attitude
  9. Discover Your Purpose

Drak covers each of these ideas in great detail, with “self reflection” questions on each topic as well as “simple truths,” a sort of Coles notes summary of the section.  He warns us, when talking about nurturing strong relationships, that loneliness “is an emotional problem with a physical consequence that could lead to an early death.”  Regarding health, he notes that “exercising and eating right are key anti-aging strategies,” the “magic pill” we look for.

On Financial Independence, he observes that “working longer reduces the risk of market declines and of not having enough money.” Thinking about our sense of adventure, Drak writes that “life is either a daring adventure or boring… playing it safe is a gamble too.”  Spirituality “helps you deal with the ups and downs of everyday life,” and having a “tribe” of like-minded people permits you to be on a “shared mission with people you respect and care about.” He covers all nine principles with similar aplomb.

Near the end of the book, Drak challenges us to “watch the movie of your own life…(to) take you back on your journey since childhood. This will remind you about what made you happy, which in turn will help you to discover your purpose(s) and passions, and ultimately, the person you were meant to be.”

And this is a core message of the book – no one can tell you what your retirement should be except for you, and this decision depends on your values. “Values are who you are even when no one is watching,” Drak explains. “Putting your values first influences your decisions; and how you choose to act and behave will ultimately determine your sense of happiness and fulfilment in life.”

This is a great book, almost a retirement philosophy text, and is well worth a read, whether you are planning your retirement or – even more importantly – if you have reached the end of the honeymoon stage and can’t think of what to do next. The book gives you the tools you need to get there.

The non-philosophical side of the retirement equation – income – plays the important role of helping to fund the retirement you want. If, lacking a workplace retirement program, you are saving on your own for those future challenges and adventures, why not put the Saskatchewan Pension Plan to work for you? They’ve been delivering retirement security since their inception 35 years ago.

Written by Martin Biefer

Martin Biefer is Senior Pension Writer at Avery & Kerr Communications in Nepean, Ontario. A veteran reporter, editor and pension communicator, he’s now a freelancer. Interests include golf, line dancing and classic rock, and playing guitar. Got a story idea? Let Martin know via LinkedIn.