What Happens to Smart People in Retirement?
It's not pretty! All those degrees and awards that you've worked your entire life for, get packed away. All that research, academic papers, lecture or presentation notes get tossed...or put in the attic if you're lucky.
Once you walk out that door, your brain will begin to slowly suffocate as the value of your opinion fades and you're left with crossword puzzles and word searches as your only intelligent companions.
It’s a slow and painful loss of knowledge, credibility, and acknowledgement because your role as the go-to person with all the answers completely vanishes. And frankly, nobody cares anymore that you gave lectures at prestigious clubs and universities, met with members of Congress, shook hands with world leaders, consulted with fortune 500 CEOs, or wrote an industry-changing book or course.
None of that matters and neither does all that information you've worked so hard to acquire. The gigs up and now you're just a normal, everyday retiree. How's that make you feel?
It's interesting because over the years, I have worked with a number of smart people and most of what I wrote so far never really happens. However, it's what many intellectual people fear will happen.
People entering retirement tend to fear losing the things that are most valuable, or that they worked the hardest for. So, when it comes to people who have used their brain power to get to where they are today, they worry about losing their ability to understand, explain, problem-solve, and have an impact on others.
Over time, I have learned how to respond and interact with this group that I categorize as “D" people. The D is a reference to the fact that many of the folks have a D for doctor in their credentials. For example, MD, PhD, PsyD, JD EdD, etc.
As a group, they tend to be voracious readers, equipped with references and resources for whatever they are interested in…and they won’t quit until they have all the answers. They thrive on learning, knowing, and understanding. And it’s no different when it comes to retirement. They are committed to figuring it out, or “learning” it.
Which is exactly where the problem is because unfortunately, you can't do retirement by the book. It’s like trying to learn how to be a parent. You can read stuff all day long and gather all the advice you can find, but it won’t matter once someone hands that baby to you. Similarly, it’s why so many highly educated people fail miserably during their transition and can't figure it out.
I don’t mean to appear harsh when I use a term like fail miserably or that they can’t figure it out, but this group of people didn't get through school or their careers getting a 50-60% grade on everything. However, that is exactly where many people are functioning at, maybe for the first time, and it's driving them absolutely nuts.
Which is why I want to point out that you're not alone. It’s very common for people of all types and categories to struggle with the transition. So, you're not going through it by yourself or the first person to have these challenges. In fact, there are a couple simple steps both smart and super smart people can do to design a better transition.
Create A Knowledge Budget
Just as some retirees have a travel budget or set money aside to spoil the grandkids, highly educated folks need a knowledge budget. Smart people are consummate life-long learners, but with a twist. They are not surface learners. They aren't satisfied reading free articles or catching a 15-minute podcast. They crave deep and relevant knowledge, and like being around other smart, life long-learners which all comes at a price. Therefore, instead of setting aside $10,000 or $20,000 on annual travel experiences, spend it on books, certifications, learning experiences, and more.
Workshop / Conference / Retreat Schedule
One of the things I truly appreciate about smart people is their desire to share their knowledge and information. Which is why I suggest members of this elite group consider attending several conferences a year and even try to present at them whenever possible. There are a growing number of retirement-based conferences along with positive aging symposiums that can serve as a great place to meet people, stay on top of trends, and gather new resources.
Fun Fact: MEA is offering a Reframing Retirement Workshop this spring: Mar 19, 2023-Mar 26, 2023 Join MEA co-founders Chip Conley, Jeff Hamaoui, Colleen Drummond, and me (Bob Laura) as we push the boundaries of traditional retirement, critically questioning everything about it, and help you develop a new, more personalized framework for thriving in your next phase of life. It’s an engaging, intellectual and spiritual life stage with so many possibilities. It’s a great way to start your knowledge budget and get engaged in an event with like-minded people.
Overall, for many smart people, retirement can end up being framed as this slow and painful loss of knowledge, credibility, and acknowledgement. But it doesn't have to be that way. By acknowledging your love for learning, stimulating conversation, and desire to have all the answers, highly educated people can position themselves to stay relevant and connected while continuing to have an impact on others.
Robert Laura is a pioneer in the psychology and social science of retirement planning. He is an Amazon best-selling author, nationally syndicated columnist, and founder of both the Retirement Coaches Association and Retirement Intelligence Assessment.