Choosing Your Retirement Path

By Julia Valentine Have you ever been curious about how your life in retirement will unfold? If you had met people in their seventies, eighties and nineties who are attractive, both physically and emotionally, you may have wondered how they came to be this way. Even though they have their share of problems – just like the rest of us – they manage to be thriving, vital and fulfilled at any age. Smiling and joyful, they always seem to be surrounded by others who were drawn to their presence.

What the Studies Show

Psychologists have been carefully studying how the second half of one’s life may develop. For example, a renowned psychologist Abraham Maslow studied people whom he particularly admired. Maslow coined the term “self-actualized,” which simply means that the person has addressed his or her basic needs and reached full potential. Maslow’s ideas were proven by the Gallup World Poll, which conducted a study in 123 countries in 2011. Thanks to this breakthrough study, and many others, we are able to point the way to emotional and financial well-being.

What Should You Expect From Life After Fifty?

Susan Krauss Whitbourne, a professor of Psychology at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, tracked a few hundred study participants over a period of forty years. Whitbourne’s research shows that each of us is going to end up on one of the following life paths: the meandering way, the downward slope, the straight and narrow way, the triumphant trail, or the authentic road. The path you take will directly impact your happiness and satisfaction with life. Although there are many events that fall completely outside your control, you still have a choice in how you react to them. Being proactive, building up skills and resilience to handle challenges, taking risks to figure out what you want and going after it are just a few things that are completely within your purview.

Choose the Right Path for Retirement

  • The Meandering Way– A person traveling down the “meandering way” feels lost and lacks a sense of identity. He or she lacks priorities and clarity that having a direction can provide. People who used to be completely invested in their professional life or raising children may feel lost when this comes to an end, often through no choice of their own. Suddenly, they realize that there was nothing else in their life that was as important. Abraham Maslow quipped that “needs are like vitamins,” pointing out that there is no substitute for a balanced life.
  • The Downward Slope– Someone on this path might have enjoyed his or her life at some point, but one or two poor decisions send everything in a downward spiral. For example, a bad financial decision may create extreme stress that triggers health problems. Similarly, health issues frequently result in financial distress. Sadly, the cumulative effect of financial, health or other troubles can send a person spiraling down with nothing to stop the fall.
  •  The Straight and Narrow Way– The individuals on this path prefer the life of routine. They take the risk out of the picture, and enjoy the predictability and stability this entails. No one will call them thriving, but they are not really aiming for that. Living joyfully takes some risks – if only in taking the inner journey to figure out what really makes one truly fulfilled and happy.
  •  The Triumphant Trail– For someone who had faced extreme challenges and found the inner resilience necessary to overcome them, this path provides the contentment and satisfaction that comes with developing inner strength. Despite extreme challenges of losing a loved one, physical handicap or other misfortunes, someone in this category develops the resilience to go on and even enjoy life.
  •  The Authentic Road– Let’s admit that creating a satisfying life takes work. Being “in the flow of life” sounds like it should be easy and natural, and yet it takes an effort to get there. If you are willing to take an honest look at your life, figure out the parts that work (and also the ones that don’t), and take the risk and the action to get on your path to joy and fulfillment, you have a chance to accomplish what Maslow called the flowering of your humanity: reaching your full potential. You will be a gift to yourself, your loved ones, and the world.

So what path are you on? And more importantly, what path would you like to choose for yourself? Speaker and founder Julia Valentine is the author of ‘Joy Compass: How to Make Your Retirement the Treasure of Your Life.’ Through cutting edge research in finance, motivation and creativity, offers a revolutionary new approach to preparing for, designing and enjoying life in retirement. Julia is a keynote speaker at the Ideal Living Retirement Expo at Julia may be reached online at and on Facebook.

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