Retirement – it’s about much more than money

I recently met a client who had been offered a redundancy. She was planning to retire in 18 months’ time anyway, and this would offer her nearly a years’ worth of salary. From a financial perspective it was a very attractive proposition, she was clearly tempted when we spoke on the phone.

By the time we met up she felt differently, she didn’t think she wanted it. At first she spoke about being worried about not being able to afford to retire, but on further exploration it became clear to me that something else was going on.

We took the time to talk more about her work, what she enjoyed and what she was frustrated by. We left behind the money and concentrated instead upon what work meant to her. What suddenly revealed itself was a loss of identity, it wasn’t about leaving a job, it giving up her profession. She didn’t feel ready to give up that piece of her identity. She had been a nurse for 40 years. Throughout her career she had been a bit of a risk taker, comfortable moving from one employer to another working in a different role for a different employer in a different place or with different responsibilities. But this was different this was RETIREMENT. She expressed a very real question ‘Who am I if I’m not a nurse?’

In my view there is something different about nurses, I don’t know when it happens but there is something enduring about the profession that is impossible to leave behind. I asked her to think about what she would do on the weekend if I was sitting with her and developed a severe pain in my stomach. It suggested that it wouldn’t matter where she was or what she was doing she would react in the caring, calm and somewhat clinical way that all nurses do when someone’s health in at risk. I also suggested that at 90 years old, in the nursing home, she would be her getting up to the lady in the next bed to offer her a glass of water and ringing the bell to make sure her roommate got her pills on time. I gently suggested that after 40 years of nursing, the act of taking a redundancy and even giving up paid employment doesn’t suddenly make you ‘not a nurse’, she will be a nurse to the day she goes to her grave.

We decided then that the concept of retirement really wasn’t doing anything for us. We would agree to get rid of the word from our vocabulary. She was looking forward to more time at home, to going back to the study for her PhD that had been a little neglected while she worked full-time. We talked about paths for mentoring new nurses and helping others find their niche in this demanding and varied profession. We are going to set her up financially so that she could continue to contribute to this amazing profession without having to be too concerned what, if anything, she was being paid for. The sense of relief was palpable, you could see her feel excited about the new possibilities that might present themselves, without having to grieve for a part of her identity that had been an integral part of her understanding of herself her entire adult life.

It’s times like these when I feel the privilege, the joy and the responsibility of being a financial planner. We walk beside our clients, sometimes they know where they are going, sometimes they are lost. It’s not our job to tell them what to do or how to live their lives. Instead it’s about helping them see the possibilities and pathways in front of them, reassuring them of their competence and of course helping them find a few shortcuts and navigate the more treacherous roads.

Retirement means different things to different people. While money is important (it provides us with comfort, independence and security), it is very rarely the whole story.


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