Sheila Mitchell wasn’t quite ready for her retirement in early 2020, at age 63.
After working for about 40 years, Ms. Mitchell knew the transition to retirement would be a huge adjustment.
The architectural firm she worked for in Edmonton offered her some retirement coaching, starting several weeks before her last day, to help her make the shift. The program included sessions with retirement coach Brian Lambier of Calgary-based Career Vitality Services.
“When we started talking about physical health and mental health, it really did make things clearer for me. And whether I wanted to pursue more paid work or how much volunteer work I wanted to do,” Ms. Mitchell says.
“The first year was rough,” Ms. Mitchell admits. “I had issues I was working on. I was drinking too much and putting on weight.”
A year ago, she quit drinking and has lost nearly 40 pounds.
“I feel much more content,” she says and credits the retirement coaching for making retirement more “knowable.”
“That was one of the goals when I started coaching with Brian. I’m very happy with myself that I was able to do that and go forward from there.”
Today, Ms. Mitchell volunteers at the Edmonton Food Bank and, with pandemic lockdowns mostly over, she’s socializing more.
As Ms. Mitchell discovered, deciding what to do during retirement can take more work than expected. Many people struggle with the prospect of losing their identity, daily structure and purpose. It can be frightening and overwhelming, which is why many Canadians turn to retirement coaches for help with the lifestyle shift.
Retirement coaches don’t deal with the financial side of retirement. Instead, they help guide clients, most of whom are getting close to retirement or have just retired, to consider their current situation and what values and activities they want to carry into this new stage of life.
“If you look at work – you get money, a sense of purpose and meaning, a place to go every day, something to do with your time,” Mr. Lambier says. “There is a social and status component to work.”
“When you quit, you may be looking to replace some of those things.”
Mr. Lambier offers one-on-one counselling, workshops and seminars. For personal coaching, he uses the Retirement Success Profile, a retirement tool that measures 15 factors, including self-identity, health and wellness, life meaning and adaptability. He then sets up a meeting or two to discuss the interpretation of the profile, with follow-up sessions to work on key areas.
Coaches report that self-identity is one of the challenges many retirees face since many people’s identities are tied to their profession.
“I do an exercise with people where I get them to think about a time where they’ve been in a social situation and someone asks them: ‘Tell me a little bit about yourself,’” Mr. Lambier says.
“Usually, they say what they do or have done. Then I get them to do the same exercise but not talk about what they’ve done.
“I try to get them thinking about, what sort of things are you interested in? What sort of people do you like to hang out with and what places do you like to go to? It gets them thinking about what they’re interested in… what they value.”
Coaches may help clients determine what talents and skills can translate from the work world to future hobbies or volunteer work through a skills assessment.
Once a retirement plan has been hammered out, retirees need to realize circumstances may change over time. Coaching should give them some tools to adjust as they age.
Jennifer Rovet, a retirement coach at Retire Ready Canada in Toronto, says her clients are usually between six months and three years away from retirement when they seek help.
“Once they’re in retirement, they realize the plan has to change because of health and circumstances with a spouse. The plan they’ve created with a coach is not their forever plan. Nothing is set in stone because things happen in life.”
Ms. Rovet got into retirement coaching after watching her neuropsychologist mother struggle with retiring following a demanding career at Sick Kids Hospital.
“Her identity was as a neuropsychologist – that was her life,” says Ms. Rovet, whose mother went to a therapist and has since transitioned into a successful retirement.
Ms. Rovet says when a client has a plan and is excited about retirement, the coaching has been a success.
She finds about six coaching sessions work best. She charges $125 per hour but offers discounts according to how many sessions are booked.
“My job is not to tell them what they want to do. My job is to guide them to explore what they want to do, uncover what they want to do, with who, and when,” she says.
Kathy Fahey, of Your Ideal Retirement Coaching in Kelowna, B.C., says too often people approaching retirement pay attention to the money they will need but don’t plan for quality of life.
“They’re thinking, ‘I’m not going to have to work or commute. I’m going to have all this freedom.
“When they finally get there they think ‘Oh my god, I have all this freedom,’” she says.
Ms. Fahey says a common saying in her business is that people spend more time planning a two-week vacation than they do retirement.
A major decision many retirees need to make is where they’ll live when they stop working. If a decision is being made to move to a new location Ms. Fahey suggests people take the time to ensure it has the amenities and year-round climate they want. The ability to build a new social network is also important.
Couples also need to ensure they’re aligned with what retirement will look like. For instance, Ms. Fahey worked with a couple from Alberta who built a lake home in Kelowna. One partner thought it was a summer home and the other thought it was a permanent home.
For couples, she says the considerations include “where are you in sync and where are the differences? Where do you have to bridge the gaps and work through that together?”
And while many retirees are able to come up with an agreeable retirement plan on their own, Ms. Fahey believes most will get there faster with a retirement coach.
“You’ll probably discover some things you wouldn’t find on your own,” she says.