I wasn’t prepared for how a loss of connections would affect me when I retired and stepped into a new chapter.

You see, retirement planning is often painted with the broad brushstrokes of investments, pensions, and monetary savings. While financial security is undeniably a cornerstone of a stable retirement, it is just that. An essential or foundational support upon which other things like lifestyle changes and pursuing new interests and purpose depend.

Having a solid financial plan in place is important.

But, so is figuring out what your lifestyle needs and wants will be. And that includes your connections with other human beings. The workplace, whether it’s an office, a classroom, or the family home, serves as a hub of social interactions and a source of meaningful connections. The bonds formed over coffee breaks, team projects, or daily school runs become part of our identity. But when these routines and social interactions change during a major life transition like retirement, having an empty nest, or relocating, you can be left with a void that’s not easily filled.

I know that was the case for me. Retirement gave the illusion of freedom, leisure, and being liberated from the yoke of someone else’s schedule with all the meetings, deadlines, and the demands of leadership that came with it.

It may have been freedom, but it wasn’t fulfilling at all. I missed the daily camaraderie, routine interactions, and the sense of being a part of something.

The pandemic made it worse.

Loneliness and social isolation is now a public health crisis according to a U.S. Surgeon General study released a couple of years ago. The report highlighted that social isolation and loneliness are associated with a significantly increased risk of premature death, and can increase the risk of conditions such as heart disease, depression, anxiety, and dementia.

This crisis is not confined to any single age group or demographic, but the issue is particularly pronounced among older adults. As people retire, their social interactions change and they are  more susceptible to isolation.

While technology has the potential to connect, the study also pointed out that reliance on digital forms of communication can sometimes exacerbate feelings of loneliness by replacing deeper, more meaningful human interactions. (Plus, my husband says my computer friends aren’t real anyway.)

That’s why the Surgeon General called for loneliness and social isolation to be treated as significant public health issues and urged developing strategies to promote social connections as a way to improve overall health and wellbeing.

This inherent need for connection is not just a social preference (and, no, I didn’t make it up). It’s a fundamental aspect of who we are as humans and deeply rooted in our evolutionary history and psychological makeup. (I’lll dive into that another day.)

With regard to retirement planning, the study suggests that financial advisors and retirement planners incorporate discussions about social engagement and mental health into their planning processes. For individuals approaching retirement, it highlights the need to invest in social relationships and community ties as much as financial portfolios.

Now, that’s what I’m talking about, and exactly what was missing from my retirement planning. I had the financial piece of the puzzle, but I missed the mark when it came to finding my authentic self and new purpose, a structure based on my new lifestyle, and the importance of maintaining and finding new social connections.

Here are some ways to view the retirement puzzle through a new lens:

  • Develop New Interests and Hobbies: Retirement opens the door to explore interests that were previously sidelined due to time constraints. Whether it’s art, music, gardening, or learning a new language, these activities can provide a sense of achievement and fulfillment.
  • Build a New Network: Making an effort to establish connections outside of the professional realm can help mitigate the loss of a work-based social circle. Volunteering, joining clubs, or participating in community activities are excellent ways to meet people with similar interests.
  • Set Goals: Without the structure of a workday, setting personal goals can provide direction and a sense of purpose. These goals can be as varied as traveling to new places, mastering a skill, or achieving a fitness milestone.
  • Embrace Flexibility: While it’s important to have plans and activities to look forward to, the beauty of retirement lies in the flexibility it offers. Embracing spontaneity and being open to new experiences can lead to unexpected joys and discoveries.
  • Actively Seek Connection: Actively maintaining old friendships and being open to forming new ones are crucial. In an age where digital communication can supplement physical interaction, reaching out to others can be easier than ever.

While financial stability is a crucial aspect of retirement planning, it is equally important to prepare for the lifestyle changes that come with it. By anticipating these shifts, embracing new opportunities for growth and connection, and redefining your sense of purpose, the uncertainty that comes with retirement and transition to a new chapter can be replaced with peace, excitement, and fulfillment.

Because don’t we give meaning to our days through the relationships we have and the things we do to keep our mind and body active? I know that’s true for me. Not preparing myself for this loss of connection is just one mistake I made in planning for a next chapter after retiring from my career. You can grab my free guide and learn about some of the others here.