5 Reasons Why Retirement Is Hard

“Retirement Is Hard”

“Retirement Is Hard” is the working title to a Doctorate thesis I’m currently working on.  It’s a non-traditional doctorate program.

First, it’s an online program.

Next, it’s entirely self led, difficult at times, but very rewarding.

It requires hours of reading, interaction with the public, live interviews, the learning of web development tools, and a writing assignment at least once a week. Rather than having a professor grade each assignment, this doctorate program requires the written word be distributed to hundreds, sometimes thousands, of critical readers, many of them experts in the field.  Each has the opportunity to publically comment on my assignment, for all the world to see.  Pressure!


I’ve been working on the Doctorate for 13 months.

I started my “Doctorate” program shortly after I finished my Masters Degree at my local car college (I wrote about my time at Podcast University here ).  The Master’s program took me about 4 years, and 600 hours, to complete.  I’m still taking some of the classes, but my hours have been reduced since I’m no longer commuting to work every day following the completion of our downsizing move.  I finished sufficient material to earn the formal “Masters”, but I never received the degree.  Maybe I should ask for my money back.  Ah, but it was free!  The biggest benefit of my Master’s work;  it certified me for admission into the doctorate program I’m now attending.  I suspect the Doctorate will take me more than 4 years to complete.  It’s possible it will take me a lifetime.

This PhD is being pursued via the online university known as The Retirement Manifesto.

I know the founder of the University.  I know him better than most.  He seems like a decent guy, pretty knowledgeable, and appears sincere in his goal of using the University as a means of sharing his knowlege with the purpose of Helping Others Achieve A Great Retirement.  He’s given me complete freedom to write on topics of my choosing.  He’s allowing me to develop my Doctorate Thesis, and share the concept with you today.  It’s a work in process.

Here’s the overview of my Thesis, which I hope to address in a comprehensive manner through the weekly writing assignments of my PhD program:

Why The Title of “Retirement Is Hard”?

If retirement were easy, there wouldn’t be 23 Million hits on Google to the term “Retirement Planning” (I know, I just did the search).  It’s a complex subject, and a perfect topic for a comprehensive Doctoral Thesis.  The interesting thing to me; although planning for a successful retirement requires a lot of hard work, there are many who have enjoyed retirement as the best years in their lives.  Others face the opposite reality, and “fail” at retirement.  What’s the difference between the two groups, and what can we do now to insure we’re in the percentage of the population that loves retirement?

This, then, is the deeper meaning behind the (admitedly, ficticious) PhD title.  An easier summary may be this:

While retirement is hard, it's a once in a lifetime opportunity. Plan now to make it great. Click To Tweet

5 Reasons Retirement Is Hard

The chapters in my Doctorate Thesis are outlined below (subject to modications and editorial liberty of the author).  You’ll note that almost every article I’ve written to date on The Retirement Manifesto fits into one of the following categories.  Each topic is deep, complex, and provides rich material for a comprehensive discussion.

It is for these reasons that Retirement Is Hard:

1. Retirement Is Often Depressing



There is clear evidence that retirement, for many, leads to depression.  For many, but not for all.  There is a large percentage of the population that experiences the opposite reaction to retirement, and find it to be one of the most enjoyable periods in their lives.  I wrote about the issue in “Will Retirement Be Depressing”.  This week, I read another article entitled “Retire Early, Die Early” which highlights the reality that folks who retire early often die young.  Indeed, early retirement appears to be potentially a dangerous dream, yet one which can be met with success if the appropriate planning is conducted prior to the retirement date.


2. Retirement Is Expensive


Living for 20 or 30 years without a paycheck doesn’t happen without a plan, which must include a long term strategy for both building the required assets while working, and drawing down those assets once retired.  The expenses of living, while potentially reduced from the costs during your “working years”, don’t go away when you retire.  Add in the risk of inflation throughout your retirement time horizon, the challenge of health care costs, long term care, and longevity risk, and few would argue that one of the top reasons that “Retirement Is Hard” is that it requires a LOT of money.  While it may be hard to answer the question “When Can I Retire?”, it’s a question you must answer if you want to have a truly great retirement.


3. Retirement Requires Change


Change is never easy, and retirement is no exception.  Retirement rates as one of the Top 10 stressful life events according to the Holmes and Rahe stress scale. Head into retirement with insufficient planning, and the stressful change can catch you unaware.  Since we were 5 years old, our lives have been driven by the schedules that others develop for us.  Be it school or work, there was a time we were to be there, and a time we could leave.  In between, our days were filled with tasks most often assigned by others.  After retirement, that all changes.  For the first time in 5 decades, our schedules are entirely our own.  It’s our resonsibility to fill the hours, often for the first times in our lives.  Our relationships with those we love also change.  We’re now together much more often, and adjustments are required.  It’s concerning to me that “Gray Divorce” (Age 50+) has doubled since 1990, while divorce in other age groups has stabilized (See this New York Times article).   Plan for the change, and enjoy the time to spark a new phase in your relationship.  My wife and I are enjoying our weekends together now in our retirement cabin, and joke that “I’m now retired, but only on weekends”.  In all seriousness, we’re viewing our weekends as mini-retirement experiments, and enjoy exploring things we can do together in our new retirement town in the North Georgia mountains.  We took a great hike together this past weekend, and are planning on hiking together at least once per week after I retire.  In addition, we’re both seeking organizations and charities where we can get involved individually.  Plan for the change, both as a couple and as individuals.


4.  Retirement Isn’t Work

Retirement isnt work

After 30+ years of alarm clocks, bosses, and deadlines, retirement represents a real change in lifestyle.  For many, it’s hard. For those who have placed disproportionate importance into their careers, the change can be particularly difficult.  Read this article if you’re worried about whether or not you’re a workaholic.  If you have workaholic tendencies, make an intentional shift now to de-emphasize work and find new interests in preparation for retirement.  While some would prefer to work until they die, realize that’s highly unlikely.  The fact is, you will retire, and it’s very possible you’ll retire sooner than you’d like.  In fact, there’s a good chance you’ll be forced to retire.  Plan for it now to increase your chances of a successful retirement. Realize work WILL end, and ramp down your work focus while you ramp up your search for post-retirement interests.

5. Retirement Needs A Purpose


“The Purpose of Life, is a Life of Purpose”.  I heard that quote last year on a Tim Ferriss podcast, and wrote about it in this article about my purpose for The Retirement Manifesto.  There has been extensive research which shows those most happy in retirement have developed a purpose for their post-working years. Focusing on broader issues in life is one of the 7 Signs You’re On The Road To A Great Retirement.  As I wrote in Will Retirement Be Depressing, there’s clear evidence that developing a purpose should be one of your highest priorities as you prepart for retirement.  As you went through life, there have been many times when others have defined your purpose for you.  Now, it’s time for you to develop your own purpose.  It’s hard, but important.



I’m excited about my Doctorate Thesis, and the many facets of planning for retirement that it allows me to address.  There is little doubt that Retirement Is Hard. However, the good news is that many have gone before us on this journey, and discovered the secrets to a great retirement.  Take the time now to think about your life after retirement, and address the 5 challenges outlined in this article.  Have a plan, and you, too,  can Achieve A Great Retirement.



  1. when I transitioned into a manufacturing career years ago, I did a stint as a consultant, the irony of someone with no manufacturing background doing manufacturing consulting was never lost on me, any how, my first assignment was in a steel mill in West Virginia. I got to know many of the hourlies well and quite possibly my only real talent as a consultant was that I could get people to talk to me openly, I guess i am a good listener. The client was an old company with alot of long service employees who were approaching or were past retirement age. There were so many sad stories about the guy who worked his whole life looking forward to retirement but had not firm idea about what he was retiring too. Alot of them were going to “fix up the house” or “spend more time with their grandkids”. But the house was done in a year and and the grandkids did not live close by, so they ended up following their wives around in the grocery store questioning why she bought a particular can of peas. The really tragic ones were the ones who were dead within 3 years of a retirement they had looked forward to for 35 years, alot of that came from smoking 3 packs a day and eating gravy on your frenchfries but I think alot of premature death in humans comes as a result of not having a reason to get up every day.

    1. Brian, your wit is appreciated. Last week it was the “pool ball”, this week the retired guy asking his wife why she bought that particular can of peas!! I love your wisdom, and analogies. Thanks for your input, it’s making The Retirement Manifesto a more valuable site for all of our readers!

  2. #1 is one I would like to avoid. As I plan to retire before retirement age, I prefer to call it early Financial Independence. I plan to find meaningful things to do that satisfy my need to be involved and see projects come to completion. I guess that comes down to #5

  3. Amber, I like the concept of “Financial Independence” over “Retirement”. FI connotates independence, but continued purpose. Nice add to the discussion.

  4. My husband, Kirk, retired just short of 4 months ago. We knew that “Financial Independence” (Love that Amber) was going to be one of our favorite seasons of life. It is! We also knew that not all of our interests and things that give us a sense of purpose are the same. Up until this point in our lives we spent most of our non-working hours doing things together in the areas where those interests and purposeful things overlapped. We chose to spend every available moment together that we could as they were very limited. Now we have plenty of time for that and also some individual adventures. We’ve hardly left each other’s side the past four months. He left a week ago to hike the Pacific Crest Trail for 5 or so months and I am spending the summer on adventures with our grandkids and trips to see loved ones. Excellent article Fritz!! Yes, Retirement is Hard, but it is so so worth the effort!

  5. Love this idea. I think people find the transition hard as it requires one to be self-directed with our time and our money whereas before a boss tells you how to spend your time and your pay arrives in your account. This can be challenging as it makes you think what is important in your life which we may not have considered. Glad you are enjoying your new place and getting in some hiking.

  6. Ha! I’m closing in on retirement (in my early 50’s) within the next couple of years.

    I agree that there are many decisions to make and much uncertainty, which makes things difficult at times, but it’s also very EXCITING! And if you plan correctly and do so over two or three decades, you can minimize much of the pain.

    I will look forward to your on-going analysis of retirement and am sure I’ll learn something along the way.

    1. Congrats on your pending early retirement, ESI! Thanks for your comment, and I look forward to learning together with you. It sounds like we’re on parallel tracks, and my focus is on insuring as many of us as possible Achieve A Great Retirement (such a better option than failing!). Plan, and Succeed!

        1. ESI, sorry for the problem. I am not a “techie” on RSS feeds, but will contact WordPress with your comment and see if they can help. Thanks for pointing out the “break”.

          1. Thanks for trying.

            I tried again at home thinking it might be my work set up and I got the same error message (that it wasn’t able to accept the feed).

            I just added about 25 other PF blog feeds to the reader (The Old Reader) so I don’t think that’s the problem, but you never know.

            I’ll simply check in from time to time if I remember to.

            Thanks and best of luck to you!

  7. We became “Work Optional” last year and are currently taking a year off from paid work. Now 7 months in, I feel a much greater responsibility for our scheduled. If we do significant things, get in better shape, make time for fun and adventure, what ever it is: it’s on us. No one else to blame or use as an excuse. If we get the perfect ski day, we can’t go to work and pout. We need to get our butts up on the mountain. It takes a lot of thoughtfulness and discipline to live the life we truly want to live.

    1. Congrats on “Work Optional” (Jealous here!). “Get Off Our Butts” is a key. I went for a swim last night, and had the exact same thought. I could have taken it easy, but I felt great after intentionally going out and swimming some laps. Ski when it’s snowing. Swim when it’s hot. So much is within our control.

  8. I get your point, and largely agree, but for me, ‘retirement,’ at least as I define it, is not only easy but feels like the most agreeable way for me to live. I still do a few things for which I earn money, so maybe I’m not really ‘retired.’ Further, I intend to keep doing these or other things for as long as I’m physically and mentally able. I don’t care about the money (though a little coming in always helps one’s peace of mind)–it’s more about staying connected, active, and vital. I also do a fair amount of volunteering in part because I get these same benefist. I think a key to a successful retirement is not to retire at all, in the conventional sense of the word. My thought is to define your own ‘retirement’ so that it works for you!

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