Around two million baby boomers per year for the past decade decided that they had worked long enough and were ready to retire. In 2020, that figure surged above three million, according to the Pew Research Center.

A recent survey by Fidelity Investments found that 20% of people within 10 years of retirement decided to do it earlier than planned. The Covid-19 pandemic, and the profound disruption it had on people’s lives, led many to revisit their goals, values and concerns. Surging portfolio values make various lifestyle options more realistic for many people in their late 50s and early 60s.

Not all of these baby boomers (those born between 1946 and 1964) are stepping off the treadmill voluntarily, of course. Some mid- to late-career employees were downsized before or during the pandemic. Some may be hard pressed to find themselves with the same earning power they had before.

And job loss has an impact beyond finances. There’s an emotional aspect, a hole in one’s life, as well.

“When you don’t see something coming [like the pandemic], it can really knock you off your pins,” says Moira Somers, a Canadian psychologist, professor and author. An abrupt change in career can create deep emotional distress for clients who were cruising toward the end of their work days, she says. “It’s been an especially hard time for people that have seen their jobs as a fundamental part of their identify.”

This is exactly the kind of situation in which advisors really earn their keep. George Kinder, founder of the Kinder Institute of Life Planning, insists that challenging periods can help open the door to new perspectives and possibilities. Advisors who develop life planning skills “learn to develop empathetic and inspirational connections with clients,” he says.

If you want to help clients with major transitions, you have to start with good listening skills. Financial advisors have to let their clients articulate the fears and concerns that may initially lead them to despair. By working through these conversations, advisors can move clients from “sorrow and depression to excitement and enlightenment,” Kinder says.

For some clients, change could re-energize their lives. “This is an incredible time for people who have saved enough money for an extended retirement,” he says. “They can put their mind to what is most important for them.”

Some of them may spend more time with their kids. Others might take up some new activity like learning to sail or skydive, and still others may become active with philanthropic causes.

In August 2018, the Journal of Financial Planning ran a research paper called “Describing Life After Career: Demographic Differences in the Language and Imagery of Retirement.” In the paper, authors Chaiwoo Lee and Joseph F. Coughlin from the MIT AgeLab noted 10 popular words people use in describing an ideal retirement: “relax,” “happy,” “travel,” “retirement,” “family,” “fun,” “success,” “freedom,” “money” and “fulfilled.”

What’s getting in the way of these things? That sense of loss that happens after people endure abrupt life transitions. More specifically, people might feel their status and sense of self-worth are gone when they are no longer central figures in their workplaces.

If clients haven’t processed those more painful feelings, they might sabotage their own retirement. But clients who have concrete ideas about pursuing alternative activities can thrive. Lisa Brown, partner in charge of Brightworth’s corporate executive client group in Atlanta, says many recent retirees land consulting work and other activities and appear very refreshed six months after leaving the mother ship.

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