Tool Examiner: Retirement Vision

There is a lot of truth to the old saying “if you don’t know where you are going, any road will take you there.”  Therefore, it is important for you to encourage your clients to envision and articulate the various elements they want to include in their unique version of “retirement.”

Research has shown that “degree of thinking about retirement” is the most powerful predictor of taking retirement planning action steps.  As your clients begin to think more and more about their retirement years, they will begin to visualize the lifestyle that will be satisfying and fulfilling for them.  The clearer and sharper that picture becomes, the easier it will be to take the action steps necessary to realize that mental image.

Visualization is a very powerful tool.  It is a key factor in helping your clients to achieve what they want in life.  In addition, they can mentally rehearse many retirement lifestyle options and decide which version they like the best.  Visualizing makes great use of one’s imagination.  When your clients imagine how they want to live and what they want to achieve in retirement, these images will become the basis of their goals.

Many individuals are unhappy in their work lives, and so focus more on what they are retiring from rather than what they are retiring to.  They see retirement as the goal or a finish line, and give little thought to what life will really be like once they quite working.  In their book Comfort Zones, Elwood Chapman and Marion Haynes wrote,  “Many people are so occupied with getting out of a career trap that they seem to care little about what happens after they leave their jobs…too many people retire to nothing and then wonder why they feel empty and disenchanted.”

In addition, many individuals give little thought to the benefits that work provides beyond the paycheck such as:  1) structure to the day, 2) regular interaction, 3) friendships, 4) identity, 5) challenge, and 6) recognition.  Because full retirement is a major life transition, it is very helpful for individuals to think ahead about how they will continue to receive these more subjective benefits once they have left their current workplace environments.

In contrast, other individuals view retirement as a time to grow, develop, and contribute.  Instead of “not working,” they define retirement as the time in life when they will be free to pursue whatever kind of “work” (paid or unpaid) they find most fulfilling.  The purpose of the Retirement Vision tool is to stimulate more thinking about what their day to day lives will be like in retirement and how they want to invest their time, energy, knowledge, and skills.

Retirement Vision is designed in an open-ended response format.  This style of assessment requires the client to be more reflective before replying and to communicate his or her thoughts and feelings in writing.  Retirement Vision is a supplemental tool and an excellent exercise following completion of Retirement: Thinking it Through.

It is important to use this tool with younger clients as well as those nearing retirement.  It is never too early to encourage individuals to start thinking about their feelings and attitudes about retirement and to start visualizing what they want that stage of life to mean and to be for them.  Emotional and financial preparation is critical to a successful retirement experience, and the earlier one starts, the better!

After your client has completed this exercise, ask him or her questions such as:  “What did you learn from completing this exercise?”  “Did any of your responses surprise you?”  “What question was the hardest for you to answer?  What question was the easiest for you answer?”

As your clients begin to share their responses, simple comments such as, “That’s interesting” or “Tell me more about that” will encourage them to reveal additional thoughts and feelings concerning retirement.  As they articulate their thoughts and feelings, they themselves will develop a clearer picture of what they do and do not want to experience during that stage of their lives.

Make notes of key points that surface in conversation with your clients about their responses to the Retirement Vision worksheet.  Use these notes to guide meeting agendas, goal setting strategies, and actions steps.  If you are meeting with a couple, give each individual a copy of Retirement Vision and ask them to complete their worksheets independently.  Discuss similarities and differences in their responses to increase awareness, understanding, and communication between the spouses/partners.

Editor’s Note: The Retirement Vision tool is available at Licensing Levels 3 & 4.  The Retirement: Thinking it Through worksheet is available at Licensing Level 2 and above. For additional information please contact

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