243: Rewiring to Retire with Dr. Gillian Leithman
Dr. Gillian Leithman, PhD is an adjunct professor at the John Molson School of Business, as well as a researcher and expert uniquely focused on helping employees as they transition from the working world into retirement.
She’s facilitated programs for a wide variety of businesses and organizations, including Bell Canada, TD Canada Trust, Telus, Business Development Canada, SAP, Moody’s, and the RCMP–just to name a few. And her work has been featured in Forbes, the Montreal Gazette, Reader’s Digest, the National Post and many more.
She’s extensively studied how workforces age and transition into retirement, and has an incredible amount of first hand knowledge from her many interviews with pre-retirees and retirees. On top of all of this, she’s also the co-creator of the Certified Professional Retirement Coach designation, which allows students to become certified retirement coaches.
In our conversation, Gillian and I talk about why she became so interested in retirement at such an early age in her own life, how our quest for work/life balance can create real problems once we retire, and the big takeaways from her workbook, Rewire to Retire: Five Crucial Questions You Must Ask Yourself Before You Retire That Have Nothing To Do With Money.
Just one more thing. If you would like a copy of Gillian’s workbook, here's all you have to do...
● Step 1.) Subscribe to the podcast and leave an honest rating & review over on iTunes.
● Step 2.) Send an email to email@example.com with your iTunes username and mailing address, and we will provide a copy for free. It’s that simple!
In this podcast interview, you’ll learn:
- How the skills we acquire over our lifetimes can translate into retirement.
- Why almost every retiree has a 12-18 month honeymoon phase–and what has to happen for retirees to find their next purpose and have real success in retirement.
- Why Gillian thinks retiring at 65 is insane–and why she’d like to see the word retirement done away with altogether.
- The key things that retirees who set effective goals have.
- The difference between having freedom and having structure–and why a lack of structure often leads to depression in retirees.
- The major factors that lead to “gray divorce.”
- "The beauty of retirement today is that there's never been a better time in the history of the world to be retired. There's so much to do." - Gillian Leithman
- "We don't realize the benefits of goals. It's that thing that's going to get you out of bed in the morning. It's that thing that provides direction. It provides structure. It provides self-esteem. Goals actually have these characteristics that imbue our life with meaning." - Gillian Leithman
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Casey Weade: Dr. Gill, welcome to the podcast.
Gillian Leithman: Thank you, Casey.
Casey Weade: Well, I am excited to have you here with us. We have so much that we could cover. But I think one of the things I want to kick off with I found really interesting and I often get told that I'm awfully young to be this interested in retirement and I've had a focus in retirement since I was very young myself, and I noticed that you've been focused in the retirement realm since the early 2000s so you've been really focused on this from a very young age. And I'm just curious, what is it that drove this interest in retirement and aging for you?
Gillian Leithman: So, it's not a really sexy story. It's really not. I was doing my master's and I had to write a paper and I came across not a documentary, but a show, a Canadian show. It's called W5. It's similar to 60 Minutes in the States. And there was a segment on aging workers and this is going back quite a long time ago where there was very little talk about retirement and aging. I mean, nobody was really talking about it 15 years ago. But the segment had to do with the idea that aging workers and older workers were actually much more loyal and dedicated than younger workers. And I thought it was a really interesting arena to study and I wrote a paper on it and that was it. It was a love affair from there, did a master's degree on the subject, and then went on to do a Ph.D. investigating it a little bit more.
Casey Weade: You're so weird.
Gillian Leithman: So weird. So weird.
Casey Weade: To focus on retirement really from the onset of your career and through your academics, that's just amazing. There must have been something, some aspect about it that really stood out to you and captured your attention.
Gillian Leithman: Well, I should explain that my master's and Ph.D. I did it in a business school. I was affiliated with a business school so management. So, how do you manage older workers? So, it wasn't entirely far fetched but it's a very interesting topic. It's not unlike leaving college and looking for a job, right? So, certainly really nerdy and I'm really attached to let's say my databases in the library, but when I graduated with my master's and I took off time between my master's and my Ph.D., I felt really lost without my student card without the ability to go to the library and take out books and use the databases. That card was my identity. It really was. So, similar to somebody who was working. When you retire, your business card which for so many of us is our identity, you give that up as well. So, it's not really - people think it's this completely new, different transition. It has a lot of similarities with other transitions in our life. It just one of the main differences is the issue of our mortality comes into place.
Casey Weade: You're validating your weirdness. I think most are more attached to their fake ID than they were to their library card.
Gillian Leithman: Okay. But I have to preface it with something. I'm Canadian and we get to drink in Montreal, Quebec, Canada at this age of like 16. So, there was really no need for fake IDs, you know?
Casey Weade: Well, it's amazing the work that you've put into the work of life transitions, life skills, retirement, and you have to trademarked toolboxes, books. You have the Life Skills Toolbox. You have Rewire to Retire. I'm just curious, do your life skills carry over to the skills that are required in retirement? How do these two tie in together?
Gillian Leithman: Such a great question, Casey. Well, hopefully, along the way you've learned some life skills prior to retirement. So, are you resilient? How do you manage stress? Do you know how to create a happy life in which you have meaning and purpose? So, there's a lot of things from the social science research that I teach from the life skills component of the business that absolutely translate to the retirement component. If you've mastered it prior to retirement, good on you. You're going to have an easier transition. But if you haven't and not everybody has, if you're not so resilient, if you have no identity external to your work role, these transitions are going to be a lot harder.
Casey Weade: You could be a really happy human, right? We could be really happy humans while we're working and go, "Oh, I'm going to be a really happy human in retirement." But that doesn't necessarily translate either.
Gillian Leithman: That is really true. I think certainly in North America so many of us identify so closely with what we do that we don't necessarily build a life outside of work. So, when you leave the workforce, if you have not spent any time developing yourself in other arenas of your life, that can be a really traumatic experience.
Casey Weade: I had a recent conversation with another individual that really has spent their career studying life transitions above all else. And one of the things that I thought was really interesting was the concept of the transitional periods you go through throughout a transition itself. So, we go through this life transition but there's actually different stages within the life transition. And I'm wondering how you view those stages within the transition and which one of those you see as the biggest obstacle for those making a transition into, say, retirement specifically?
Gillian Leithman: Oh, wow. That's a great question. So, the honeymoon phase, which is probably I wonder if you had spoken with this other person about that is when you leave, right? It's when you exit and you're going to spend about 12 to 18 months in that phase. That's the phase where you get to do all the things that you never had time to do. So, you sleep in, you get to read the paper, you get to go work out every day. That's one thing I often hear from retirees is that the pre-retirees, they're really excited to be able to work out and spend some time working on their physical health. And once you get used to that routine within 12 to 18 months later after exit, reality starts to set in. That's, "I might be bored. I have nothing to do. Nobody needs me. I don't have an office to go to. I can't play golf seven days a week. It's not as exciting as it used to be when I play it only on the weekends." So, that can be very, very jarring, really, really jarring if you haven't planned for it, if you haven't thought about what you're going to do with your time.
Casey Weade: And how long do you see that honeymoon phase typically lasts? And do we need to have that honeymoon phase in order to find that next purpose and really enter that next stage successfully?
Gillian Leithman: No, actually. I mean, if you're really thinking about planning for this next stage, then you might skip the whole honeymoon phase altogether. And so, the good news there is that you don't crash. After the 12 to 18 months, you've done your thing. You're sleeping in. You put all the photos and picture frames like you've spent time in the garden. That's when people, you know, when things get really quiet after 12 to 18 months later, that's when people start to really struggle. So, I don't think you have to go through the honeymoon stage. In other words, I think you could enter retirement with a plan, a solid plan, like take the time to think, take the time to enjoy. I don't think you need to enter into the next life phase knowing everything that you want to do and scheduling your life. That's not the idea. That's how some people deal with that. They deal with the anxiety and the existential angst by being really, really busy. The beauty of retirement today is that there's never been a better time in the history of the world to be retired. There's so much to do. But to be busy just for busy sake, people are not usually happy when they're doing that. So, if you think about it and you think about this exit and you think about what is it that I want to do in this next stage of life and you start planning for it, and again, it doesn't have to be these extensive plans but how do you want to spend your time? Many people will spend more time in retirement than they did while working. Think about what that means. You're going to spend more years in retirement than you did working. But you didn't plan for it, but you plan to go into your career, right? You went to university or you went to vocational school or you spent some time thinking about what you're going to do when you are grown up, but you didn't spend any time thinking about what you're going to do when you exit.
Casey Weade: Yeah. Are we somewhat addicted to busy as humans? We like being busy and there's this addiction that we have. We work our whole lives for freedom. We finally get financial freedom. We don't have to have obligations. We don't have a day that's filled with responsibilities and a schedule and we don't like the freedom and then we tend to go back to busy. Right? And I wonder how do we organize our schedule, have and maintain our obligations and responsibilities, and still feel like we have freedom simultaneously?
Gillian Leithman: That's not a retirement question. That's a life question, right? And so, I think we get it wrong. I think the majority of us get this really, really wrong. In other words, it's lopsided. Like we don't have any balance. We work, work, work, work, work, hoping that we will be rewarded with rest and relaxation once we exit. That makes no sense. Like, it makes no sense that you kill yourself in your career for 30, 35 years and then you exit and think you're going to spend the time relaxing. We need much more of a balance. And that's a really big statement because what does balance look like? And it's really different for all of us, but you don't want to feel one part of your life for 30 years with work and then think about leisure for the next 30, because there are these great things that we get from both and they work well together in tandem, right? So, when we're relaxing and engaging in hobbies, well, you're going to be a lot more rejuvenated when you go back to work. You're going to be a lot more creative if you're not so stressed. So, we need to design our lives in a way where we have both that relaxation, that time to reflect that relaxation, that rejuvenation, time with friends, time with family, as well as time in the pursuit, I would say, of meaningful endeavors. So, it doesn't necessarily have to be paid work but pursuing things that are meaningful to us, spending our lives doing things that are purposeful.
Casey Weade: Well, is this really what you mean by rewire to retire? That we feel like we're going to get to this point where we can just be human beings. We're no longer human doings. We don't have obligations. We have responsibilities. We have this freedom. And you feel that we have misunderstood what it really means to retire. So, if I may further ask that question as what do you hope, Dr. Gill, in 25 years? Let's look forward 25 years. That means a majority of today's retirees will be gone by then. We've got the next generation of retirees coming in. What do you hope becomes ridiculous about today's retirement mentality and our attitude towards retirement 25 years from now?
Gillian Leithman: Great question. I think it's ridiculous to retire at 65. I think that's insane. Even from a financial perspective, who can fund the 30-year retirement? It's expensive to retire. So, I think it's insane. It's not my job to tell somebody when to retire. That is a really personal decision that you need to take into account a variety of different variables when you're thinking about when you should exit. But to me, it's crazy. To me, I've spoken to people who are at the height of their careers at the age of 65, and my research was really asking people and speaking to people, discussing, "Well, tell me why is it that you want to retire?" And a lot of people have this 65 seems to be, in North America, that seems to be like wedged in our brains. "Well, I'm 65. I need to retire." And then you probe them and you ask them, "Okay. So, do you feel as though your productivity has changed?" "No." "Has anybody told you that your performance has fallen?" "No." "Do you feel that you don't have as much energy as you used to?" "No." "So, why do you want to retire?" And there seems to be this ingrained idea that we need to leave at the age of 65. Unfortunately, I think that number, which that's a whole different discussion as to how it was chosen and why it was chosen, but it's not reflective of life in the 21st century. So, my hope is that people look back and say, "What? We've retired at 65? That's insane."
Casey Weade: Yeah. Well, and maybe we need to take a step back for a minute because it seems like today everyone's trying to redefine retirement, come up with a different definition and maybe have a whole different word for what retirement really is. Let's not call it retirement. Let's call it rewirement. You know, we want to come up with these different terms. How do you define retirement and do you think that definition should or will evolve?
Gillian Leithman: I hate the word. I hate the word but linguists tell us that it's not going anywhere because, again, it's so culturally ingrained. So, I think the way scholars define it is we will speak in terms of is that your first retirement? And what we mean by that is we know that people who have retired often ends up looking for many people, not for everybody, but for many people they're like, "Oh, wow. This is not at all what I thought it would be," so they return, so they'll go back into the workforce. Well, we'll ask, "Okay. Is this your second retirement?" when they exit again. So, I think if you look up the traditional definition, it's a terrible, terrible definition. You know, it's to be reclusive. It's to leave. It's a terrible definition, and I think we need to really not only rethink but rework this whole concept like, again, maybe bringing it more in tune with today's reality. It doesn't make any sense to work to the age of 65 and then exit.
Casey Weade: How has the last 20 years of education, research, working with individuals and your own publications, et cetera, how has this changed your own concept of retirement and the way that you think about aging? How has this research impacted your own life?
Gillian Leithman: So, I'm going to warn you again. This is like it's going to get nerdier, right? I love the research. I mean, I think one thing we do terribly as academics is we have this amazing 40-year literature on this stuff, and we don't do a really good job at taking it from the ivory tower, so to speak, and bringing it to the average individual. So, we have extensive research on what works and what doesn't. And one of the most robust findings is this idea that gradual retirement seems to be the best way to do it for the majority of people. So, instead of working five days, work three. Maybe you don't want to work in the winter. Maybe you live in an area where winters are harsh so you want to go down south for the winter. So, you work on special projects, if that's possible. Of course, it depends on what line of work you're in, right? Not everybody gets to determine what projects they're working on. So, that's been a really fascinating area of research that we see it time and time again. And that is just the best way to retire is to engage in this phased retirement. Unfortunately, we've been really slow on the uptake like employers have not recognized the benefits of actually keeping somebody with experience on. Just let's say on a, no, I won't say part-time basis but phased retirement, whereby okay you're staying on for three days and bring in somebody new and you are going to groom this next person to assume your role.
And so, when you eventually do exit, this person is ready to take on your responsibilities. So, I think we're not forward thinkers. I mean, you know that, right? You're in the finance industry. So, we don't think in terms of what is in our best future well-being. You know, what am I going to do today that is going to serve me well in the future? And we're really just not good at that. We like to satisfy our whims, our desires immediately. And so, I've seen people in my practice who sat in traffic like literally like just sat in a lot of traffic on the way to work, had a fight with a colleague, and just decided, "That's it. Like I'm done. I'm finished with this. Like, I don't want to work anymore. I want to exit." You sign your papers. You leave only to realize several months later, what did I do? What did I do? And I think the craziest thing is we know that this is how people make decisions. So, it would be in our best interest to educate people on the need to think about this next phase longer than you think about a two-week vacation. We have that data. We know that people think about where they're going to spend their birthday dinners, like which restaurant you choose to go have a birthday dinner or where am I going to go on my next vacation. People spend actually much more time thinking about that than they do about these milestone events. And yet we know if you spend some time reflecting on it, you will be much better prepared. And I don't mean financially. I mean emotionally, you will be much better prepared to understand this transition and it's not as easy as people make it out to be.
Casey Weade: Well, that's where I see phased retirement leading to successful retirement transitions. With the families that I've worked with that have had that opportunity to go through a phased retirement, work a little bit less and less and less, I think it's presented them the opportunity to reflect and to ask some of the questions that maybe they wouldn't have thought of otherwise. And a lot of the questions that you put into your retirement workbook, Rewire to Retire, five crucial questions you must ask yourself before you retire that have nothing to do with money, I think that phased retirement really allows for that opportunity. We're going to be giving away that workbook here towards the end of the conversation. And I want to take a moment to just kind of go through each one of those questions briefly with you and that first one, and I wonder how this one became number one, but number one was what's going to get you out of bed in the morning?
Gillian Leithman: Yeah. What's going to get you out of bed? I mean, work right now probably gets you out of bed, right? So, you got to get to work so that's what's going to get you out of bed but I think people mistakenly assume that they don't need a purpose when they retire, and that is the furthest thing from the truth. It dovetails with you need goals. You don't wake up the day you turn 65 and all of a sudden you don't have goals and you don't have direction and accomplishment is no longer important to you. So, that idea of what's going to get you out of bed in the morning is going to prevent depression. That's going to prevent anxiety. Now, you don't need to have a purpose every day, like you don't need to know what you're going to do every day, but I want you to know what you're going to do several times a week. What is going to get you jazzed up and excited that you can't wait to do? Well, you need something that excites you. And as I said before, for most people, although I've been challenged on this, it's not golf like you think golf is going to be like the thing that you're going to do every day of your retirement or five days out of seven. Well, golf was enjoyable, people don't realize this, golf was enjoyable because it was something you did once a week. When it becomes routine, it loses that luster. It's just not as fun anymore. So, I want you to still have fun. I want you to still enjoy the things that you enjoy, but you need a purpose. You need a reason to get you out of bed. And that's not so easy to figure out.
Casey Weade: And goals or golf, golf goals, they're really rewarding because you have earned them, right? You've earned the ability to be out in the course and go, "Oh, I've earned this. This is a reward." And that's the same thing with vacations. If it's a permanent vacation, if it's golf every day, it's no longer rewarding.
Gillian Leithman: Said really well. Exactly.
Casey Weade: If we talk about setting goals in retirement, individuals on the way to retirement, maybe they've been setting goals their whole life. Maybe they haven't. But if they have been setting goals for a long period of time, then those are usually financially oriented in some way. It's, "I need to make X amount. I want to make the manager position, the director position." Usually, it comes a little bit easier during your work life to establish goals. What do great goals look like in retirement? When you've worked with a client that you feel has done a wonderful job setting goals, what do they look like?
Gillian Leithman: It's that thing that's going to get you out of bed in the morning. It's that thing that provides direction. It provides structure. It provides self-esteem. We don't realize the benefits of goals. Many of us don't realize the golden like the really great things that happen when you have goals. Goals actually have these characteristics that imbue our life with meaning. I have to believe you're working towards something that is meaningful to you. So, that's exciting. That's motivating, right? When you're working on something and you're given the opportunity to master a skill, whether that's mastering playing guitar or whether that's mastering algebra or a new language, let's say, the ability to as you get better, as you start mastering that craft, that increases your self-esteem. That's a wonderful thing, right? And then it increases. And then that also helps you feel as though, "I could take on new things. I could try different hobbies. I could try different crafts." So, it feeds into a whole host of like just wonderful benefits that we don't want to end just because you're no longer working.
Casey Weade: You know, I found it strange that others don't set goals like I do. I've been a goal setter since I was a weird elementary school kid with goals on my mirror that I looked at every morning and I quickly discovered that that's pretty weird, that there's not a lot of individuals that are actually consistently setting goals. And then they get to retirement and they go, "Oh, I'm supposed to set goals? I don't even know. How do I set goals? I've just been taking 10% out of my paycheck every month my entire life and now I'm here." What do you say to those individuals that don't really know what they find meaningful? They don't know what their purpose is and they never set goals before.
Gillian Leithman: That's a hard one. It's really hard. That's why people get depressed. That's why they get anxious, right? Because, you know, this idea that we're all looking forward to freedom. It's an irony. It's an oxymoron. There's freedom and structure. There's freedom in having a routine or some semblance of a routine. I'm not a really routinized person, but there's freedom in knowing I'm teaching a class on Saturday. I am connecting with my family on Wednesday. There's freedom in having that routine. And so, one of the two things, the two tips that I like to share with pre-retirees or even if somebody's struggling and they're newly retired is open up, we used to say. Not anymore. I would say go to a university. Okay. Go to a university catalog. Now, again, going back to this idea that there's never been a better time in the history of the world to be retired. Go to something like a Lynda.com. Harvard has their own courses that if they're not free, then there's a nominal fee that you have to pay. Coursera. These are websites that house hundreds of different courses. And what you want to do is you want to, in the olden days, I would say pick up, go to your local university, and pick up a catalog and then flip through the catalog and see what interests you. So, today you don't even need to leave your house, which I don't know if that's a good thing. But go to the Courseras of the world and look at the courses that you could take. What speaks to you? What interests you? You know, I bet you there's more out there than you ever even knew.
So, this is a really great way to kind of spark interest. And it also dovetails really nicely with this idea of lifelong learning that your learning should not stop when you leave college or vocational school like that makes no sense. You should continue developing yourselves and your interests in any way that is interesting to you. So, that is the one tip that we often advise people to do. The other thing is look at old pictures like from when you were a kid. So, before you had to pay a mortgage and before you got married and we're putting the kids through school and then college and all these other things. What did you love doing? What did you have to put aside because now you have to go to work and now you have to pay the bills? And what did you love that you no longer are engaging? And now fast forward 45 years later, it might look a little different. You might not be, if you loved baseball, you might not be running around the field but there's probably other things you can do, other team sports that you can engage in. So, sometimes you have to tweak these different elements but it doesn't mean you can't use these memories as inspiration for, "Oh, yeah, you know what, I used to love doing that."
Casey Weade: I love that. Now, you have me thinking back to my childhood pictures. And what I was doing was probably playing golf in almost every one of my childhood pictures and go, "Well, that's not going to carry forward," but it could be an element of structure. And you said that there's freedom in structure. I think we kind of think of structure as the antonym to freedom. How is their freedom and structure? How does structure create freedom? Because it seems like it would create the opposite.
Gillian Leithman: Sure. Yeah. And of course, that's what it seems. But think about this. So, this is a great activity for your folks. Get out a piece of paper or get out a weekly calendar. In other words, you want to look at what you're doing for the entire week. And you can do this now, Casey. There's no reason you can't do it now. How do you spend your time? Where do you spend it? Now, when we start looking at, when you start to segment your time, if you want like a time chart, if you will, pie chart, if you will, you start seeing you spend 35, 40, 45, 50 hours at work. It depends. Again, it depends on what your profession is, what your career is. How much time do you spend commuting? How much time do you spend on household chores, things of that nature? And you start seeing that a lot of your week is taken up by work, let's say. And people long for that time, right? They're like, "I just can't wait to have that." That's what I often hear. "I can't wait for the freedom. I can't wait for the freedom." But the freedom can be oppressing. That time, when you look at that calendar and you now have nothing. Those 40 hours, now they're yours to do whatever you want with them. That can actually be felt by many people as much more of a liability than a liberty.
Casey Weade: It's a bit of a prison.
Gillian Leithman: It's a prison.
Casey Weade: We have a prison in freedom.
Gillian Leithman: Yep, because we are not good at developing our roles outside, our identities outside of work. And so, it becomes oppressive for many people like it has been - people have equated it to like an amputation. You know, they're like, "I feel like when you lose your work role identity," people have said to me, "I feel like I lost a limb and I don't know what to do without it." So, this idea that we want, again, this is something we know from the research. We're just not good at predicting what makes us happy. We're not good at it. So, we think all this time on our hands is going to make us happy until we have it and we have no idea how to fill it.
Casey Weade: I like that exercise. And I also feel sometimes that someone might get discouraged listening to this conversation and go, "Oh, I'm never going to retire. I don't want to retire." And I don't think you're saying that retirement is a bad thing. We just need to have a different view of what retirement looks like. Getting back 40, 50 hours of your week, that's fantastic, but there are some elements that we still want to pull back in from that career. We just don't want to eliminate all of them.
Gillian Leithman: It's going back to one of the first questions you asked me, this idea of work and then play. We've segmented these two for so long, right? Your career and then you get to retire and you'll play in retirement. Well, you know there are no guarantees, right? What makes you think you're going to live into the age of 65? There are no guarantees. So, we need more of that balance because I think what people really fail to realize is that I think this is one of the greatest issues that people fail to realize all the benefits that work provides them. And what you need to do as a pre-retiree is spend some time thinking about, well, what are those benefits? And when I say benefits, I'm saying aside from your paycheck. I'm not talking about the finances but what else does work provide you? It provides a place to go. It provides status. It provides a title. It provides an office. It provides an identity.
Casey Weade: And one of those big things that it's providing is social connection. Number two on your list of five is do you have friends outside of work? And you shared a shocking statistic in that workbook. You shared an article on loneliness that it actually shortens their lifespan twice as much as obesity. This could be one of the biggest threats for many individuals in retirement. What do we do to recreate those social connections or develop a social network as we transition into retirement?
Gillian Leithman: Great question. And this is a question that my researches engender, so I'm going to preface that. It is something that men struggle with a lot more than women. So, women are just more social. You know, we make friends more easily. We talk more to one another. This becomes a lot more difficult for men. And then when they look back on their lives and you ask them who are you close to, a lot of the time they will tell you the people at work. And people think that they will remain friends with their work colleagues when, unfortunately, I hate to be the bearer of bad news but it doesn't often bear out. You know, you think you're going to stay in touch and you're going to do lunch and it just, unfortunately, doesn't bear out. So, I think we need to start thinking about again really going back to your first question, this idea of balance like creating a more holistic life, creating a more balanced life. So, if right now all you're doing - and I want to state this. I mean, I do recognize it's really hard, right? Look, if you look at your life, I don't know what your life looks like. Is it balanced like do you get to play and get to spend time with your family and get time to work on your hobbies? A lot of people say to me, "Gill, I just don't have time to do that like I don't have time for outside interests." And I think that's also the misconception. If you did have time for outside interests, that was something that intrigued you and something that got you cognitively curious and got your brain working and got you out of the house and socializing with other people, you start to build a life outside of work which is so imperative to well-being and mental health.
And so, once you leave work, if you've already spent some time creating these external, these additional, I should say, these additional things in your life that you have, this is going to benefit you in retirement. So, these people don't need to be your best friends but this idea that on Tuesdays I'm going to play or I'm going to my whiskey tasting club with the boys and we're going to hang out and we're going to connect, you don't realize it but you're not only enjoying an interest, but you're also developing relationships external to the workforce. So, it takes effort. It takes energy. It's hard when we're working 40, 50 hours a week. That's where people don't realize just how crucial rejuvenation is and how much better your work would be, your relationships would be if you had things outside of work, which certainly Gen X doesn't get it right. Like my generation doesn't get it right. The boomers didn't get it right. I think the younger generation gets it. They're much more, they're like, "I'm not going to work to live," where I think my generation, we have some of that. The boomer generation definitely has that. The younger generation is more like, "Yeah. I'm kind of working so that I could live. I'm not living to work." So, I think there's more of a desire to pursue different aspects of life beyond work. And those of us that identify so strongly with what we do, we're not as good at it.
Casey Weade: Yeah. So, we've covered what gets you out of bed in the morning. Do you have friends outside of work? The next one, number three on your list is should you continue working past 65 or should you retire? And it seems so obvious to ask the question, why do you want to retire? But I've found that's one of the first questions we'll ask someone when they come and visit with us, they say, "I want to retire." Why do you want to retire? Why is that such an abnormal question? They'll say, "I've never been asked that before. I've never really thought about it." Why is that so unusual?
Gillian Leithman: Because we've been conditioned to think we need to exit at 65 and so we don't think about it at all. It's almost like it's a prompt, right? It's like, "Oh, 65, I need to leave." You know, I live in Montreal, Canada, where hockey is a religion here and people will say to me it was very bizarre but I had a lot of people equating retirement to hockey and they would say to me, "Gill, why are you retiring? Tell me." And they'd say, "Well, I want to go out at the height of my game. I don't want somebody to tell me I have to retire when I'm drooling at my desk. I want to go out when I'm at the height of my career when I'm doing really, really well." And I get that. I can relate to that. I get that. I can appreciate that. I just want people to understand that the height of your career might be 75, not 65. Our lifespan today we're living so much longer so you need to adjust that metric. You need to adjust that. And not to mention that age, that chronological age is not a reflection of your abilities, so that is why we see people in their 90s climbing Mount Everest. We see people 95 that are doing marathons. Now, to be fair, we also see people 55 years old that are in wheelchairs.
So, in other words, this idea of 65, it's not homogenous. There are many, many different kinds of people in this age group. You cannot paint them with one paintbrush, with one paint stroke. We arrive at 65. Some of us are in amazing shape. Others not so much. But 65 because it's synonymous with Social Security, pension plans, that is what's really ingrained in our culture. So, we just assume we need to go at 65. And unfortunately, I think we need to do a lot more work showing people what is possible beyond the age of 65 and role models, people that are doing the most amazing things past the age of 65. They do exist. They exist. You know, there have been amazing people that have gone on to do amazing things. Frank Lloyd Wright, at the age I believe of 92, he was designing the Guggenheim. McDonald's, right? Ray Kroc. He started McDonald's at the age of 65. So, we need to help people reconceptualize and rethink what this number is all about, and the reality is it's just a number.
Casey Weade: And that need to retire or step away at the peak of our career or at the height of our game, that kind of speaks to our need for accomplishment, our need to achieve things. And your number four question was how will you meet your need for accomplishment? You introduce some research pointing to something referred to as the helper's high. Can you talk to us a little bit about what the helper's high is and how we carry that with us in retirement? What's the long-term impact of that?
Gillian Leithman: So, the accomplishment component is an interesting one, and I would say that not everybody feels this need to...
Casey Weade: That's what I also - I'm glad you did that because I want to know like I have this need. I really need to accomplish things. But does everybody have that? I don't know.
Gillian Leithman: No, not everybody has it. I have this need too. So, if you do have it, I would say like if this is something that drives you and look at your goals, look at what motivates you, then that doesn't just disappear when you retire. So, for those of us that if you're being driven by a sense of accomplishment, then that becomes very, very difficult for those of us who have this need and transition to retirement, not having thought about how we're going to meet that need in retirement. So, that need was taken care of for you in many respects by your employer. Your employer gave your goals. They gave you directives. There are things that you needed to achieve for the organization. Sometimes you're consulted, sometimes you're not. But it's imposed on you as opposed to needing to generate that goal for yourself, that sense of what is that goal going to be for you? What is that sense of achievement that you so desperately want to accomplish? And that merits thinking that really requires a lot of thinking. If you haven't been the person responsible for thinking through that sense of achievement, like what brings you that sense of achievement.
So, for those of us that are driven by this, this is so incredibly important because most of us feel it's not just that work rule identity, but that's how we show up in the world, show up as a professor, show up as a corporate trainer, show up as an author, show up as a financial advisor. That's how we show up. And when we take away that role, a lot of us feel irrelevant if you haven't what we've been speaking about up until now, right, if you haven't thought about those other roles in your life. So, that sense of accomplishment is really important. And this is probably one of the greatest challenges I see that people struggle with because they didn't realize that they had goals at work and they no longer have goals in retirement, and this is one of the greatest struggles. Where are you going to find that sense of meaning and purpose? Now, meaning and purpose, most of us find it by being part of something that is larger than ourselves so being part of a cause that is larger than you. Most of us find it by helping other people. Now, you might not like people. That's okay. Maybe you're not a people person. That's fine. But maybe you care about the climate, right? Maybe you care about animals. So, you need to find something that is larger than you that you can be part of. And the helper's high for the longest time, we believe that altruism, that assisting somebody else. That if I assisted you, Casey, then you benefited from my assistance.
So, we believed it was a unidirectional relationship. It was Casey that benefited from Gill's help. Well, today, we know that that's not the case actually at all. In fact, it's Gill that benefits more than Casey. Now, my hope is that Casey benefits, too, but the fact that I'm helping somebody else and I'm assisting somebody else and that I'm getting out of the house or whatever it may be, but I'm assisting you, the brain, actually, we get a high from it. We get a high from helping others. I get a high from seeing that my assistance actually helps you in some way, that your advice to clients, your financial advice helped clients to build their financial portfolios and live out their financial dreams or it's not just financial dreams, but the ability to open up your own business, the ability to go back to school, having the money to do that. So, that's a privilege to be able to assist somebody and really help somebody live their best life, right? That is a high for us. We actually get a high that is tantamount to winning the lottery. We get this high from assisting other people. So, meaning and purpose when you get down to it, meaning and purpose is really about living a life that's in service of other people. Now, not just in service of other people. I don't want people to just be like, "Oh, I have to be selfless and devote my life to a cause that is dear to me." That's not what this is about. But part of living a meaningful and happy life is about being of service to a cause that is larger than us. So, get involved in something that is dear to your heart. Get involved in a cause, whatever that looks like for you. And believe it or not, that's a lot more difficult than people think.
Casey Weade: Well, it seems like this ties in really well to the first question, what gets you up in the morning? And setting goals in retirement. It would go along those lines to say, "Hey, I'm really driven for achievement. I need to achieve something in retirement." So, the best, most meaningful goals should have to do with helping others, accomplishing something that's going to help others, and that in return is going to help you.
Gillian Leithman: Absolutely. It's what we would call like researchers would call intrinsic motivations. I'm going to get like really nerdy with you again. So, the intrinsic, the things that are valuable to me, meaningful to me is I'm not driven at certain points in our life. We know that we're driven by money, by status, by title. But what tends to happen over the lifespan is when you actually recognize there's a moment that, "I will not be on this planet forever," when you recognize that you're mortal that there will be a day where you will no longer be here, things start to shift for us and we start to ask the question like, "So, what did it all mean? And was I significant?" It moves to significance. Most of us want to be significant in somebody's life. We want to leave a legacy. We want to be remembered. So, those are intrinsic goals versus the extrinsic like, "I want the title and I want the money." I'm not saying one is bad. I'm not saying that. That's not what I'm suggesting but I'm suggesting that our motivation changes across the lifespan and these other motives really drive us. So, this drive to be significant, this drive to leave a legacy really starts to replace those extrinsic motivators.
Casey Weade: Do you find that that evolves in that direction over time? I know for myself, I felt like it used to be more about, "Well, I'm trying to grow this. I want to accomplish this. I want to do this for me," and then you go, "Oh, I've done everything I need to do for me." Say, you get the financial freedom. You are ready to step into retirement. Now, you see a bit of a struggle, maybe some disillusionment, and then there's this transition that goes, "Oh, I have so much to offer other people. Let me start to provide that."
Gillian Leithman: Well, you just said something really interesting. "I have so much to offer other people." This is where people get stuck. This is where people get really stuck and they start thinking, "What can I possibly have to offer? I'm 65. I'm too old." This is their language, "I'm a dinosaur. People look at me like I'm old and I'm outdated." And again, sadly, I think this is a cultural narrative, so to speak, that we also have in North America that there's this, I mean, look at marketing ads. Where is the older person like where is the gray-haired woman? Where is the older individual? Why are they not being featured? We glorify youth in this culture and people need permission. They need recognition, they need permission, and they need a lot of encouragement that they have what to offer. They have experience. You've been on the planet for like a few decades, man. You've learned something. You've learned something. I'm sure you can share that with others that come next. So, people, I find they get stuck there. Because if you buy into the cultural narrative, then you are buying into this idea of I'm washed up and I'm done at the age of 65. So, that's where I think we need to do a much better job at focusing on people who have done these most. You don't even have to be running a marathon. It's just the recognition like expand your vision of the possibilities of this age. There's so much you can still do at the age of 65, 75, 85. I've met people, I've had people in my practice that were opening businesses at 98. So, we need and your podcast is a wonderful place to teach people, to feature other people, to show others that this cultural narrative that so many of us buy into, it's a myth. It's inaccurate. It's old. It needs to be replaced with newer, more accurate depictions of what it means to age.
Casey Weade: Seems like a lot of these questions are questions that pertain to things in our life that we've taken for granted or things that we've never considered before as we step into retirement. And that fifth and final question, is your marriage retirement ready? Well, we've been married for 40 years, 35 years, 50 years. So, why would I ever think that my marriage is not retirement-ready? How do we know that our marriage is retirement-ready? And why is it important for us to ask this question if we've already been married successfully, happily for so long?
Gillian Leithman: Well, amen, right? Like, if you've been married successfully for 50 years, then probably you'll be fine. Actually, the greatest litmus test of what your marriage will look like in retirement is what did your marriage look like prior to retirement? But what people don't realize is they get busy with their own careers, they get busy with kids, they get busy doing other things, and they're not working on their relationship. And so, it's very easy when you have legitimate distractions. Needs to take care of the kids, needs to take care of your aging parents like it's legitimate. It's just not good for our relationships. And so, you end up not knowing who the person is on the other side of the table. We often see this. I'm sure you've seen it. You go out for dinner and you see an older couple at a table together and they're not talking. You know, there's no dialogue. There's no discussion. I think people they underestimate the effort that is required to build successful relationships. And so, we see that the age group that once had the highest divorce rate, like Gen X, like my generation, it's been replaced now by the boomers. We call it gray divorce. People, just they're like, "What? I don't want to live for the next 30 years with you. I don't like you." So, do you know who your spouse is? Do you know how they want to live in this next chapter of their life? Have you spoken about it? I mean, that's the craziest thing that most people don't speak about.
There's a lot of assumptions about how you're going to live in retirement, where you're going to live, if you're going to downsize, are you going to move closer to the children? What you're going to do? People for some reason don't actually have this discussion. They just assume their partner knows. And so, I think what's happening is not necessarily a bad thing getting to a place where you're like, "Well, this is not how I want to live it for the next 30 years," and people have the courage to say, "It's time to part." Fortunately, I think that it doesn't have to be that way but you need to spend, I mean, do you know your spouse? Because all of a sudden, it dawns on people. I've had people phone me and say, "Oh my God, Gill, I just retired and I did not realize I would be spending so much more time at home with my spouse." You know, these things that seem obvious to you, that seem obvious to me, they're not obvious to a great many people and they probably if I wasn't in this field, I'm no genius, if I wasn't in this field, it probably wouldn't be obvious to me either. So, this idea that, are marriages retirement-ready? Like, is this the person you want to grow old with? Is this the person that you still have anything in common with? That is something you will want to verify before you retire.
And people have different ideas about when they want to retire. So, oftentimes, women of a certain generation left the workforce to care for their children. And so, when they were out of the workforce for a while, those years actually are not counted towards your pension. So, when they go back into the workforce, oftentimes, like in their 50s, mid-50s, they're at the height of their career earning potential, things of that nature, they want to stay in the workforce longer to make up for those years where they were out in order to financially secure the money that they need and to fund a retirement. And men often will want to exit at a certain age and they can, well, I shouldn't say this. Both genders could pressure one another to retire so oftentimes you see people not necessarily wanting to exit at the same time, and that could be problematic if you start putting pressure on your spouse to leave. So, that is a conversation that is well worth having. Are you both going to retire at the same time? And if so, you really do need to discuss the changing roles. You're changing roles in retirement, right? Like what is life going to look like if one of you stay at home and the other went to work? Does it mean that the spouse that stayed home is going to do all the cooking and cleaning in retirement? Not for me to tell you. Sorry?
Casey Weade: I've seen that very argument take place. I think I've been part of that argument.
Gillian Leithman: Yeah. So, it's well worth having these discussions and getting this out in the open, and just trying to figure out what this will look like in the next chapter.
Casey Weade: So, you've provided five really great questions and you probably didn't start with five questions. There are literally hundreds of questions that individuals need to be asking themselves before they step into retirement. What's the one question that you really wanted to get in the top five? It would have been the top six. You know, what was that question that didn't make it into the list?
Gillian Leithman: What are you retiring to? People will ask you, what are you retiring from? My question is really, what are you retiring to? What is your life going to look like?
Casey Weade: All right. And I want to wrap up with this. As we come to a close, there are two things I really want to hit on. One is your work with financial advisors. In your bio, it says that you work with financial advisors to complement their expertise. So, kind of a two-part question here. What are the gaps that you most often see that the average financial advisor is leaving out there on the table as they help someone transition into retirement? And what kind of programs or innovative programs have you provided or introduced to advisors to increase the value they're bringing to their clients?
Gillian Leithman: You're a smart advisor then you recognize - I shouldn't say it's not only if you're smart. It's if you care. If you understand that you hold probably one of the most intimate, meaningful things that is going to influence my life in retirement. You have access to my finances. I'm entrusting you. I shouldn't say access. I should say I'm entrusting you with my money. Wow. I don't know how more intimate we get. I mean, there are a few other things but that's pretty intimate, right? That's pretty intimate. I'm entrusting you with my future, so to speak. I find most advisors don't understand the need to develop a relationship with their clients to really understand. It's not just about their money like it shouldn't be just about how much money do you want when you retire? What's that magic number? The question really should be that you should be asking your clients why. What are you going to do with that money? Do you want to buy a boat? Do you want to buy another house? Do you want to travel around the world? Do you want to open up a business? Do you want to go back to school? Do you want to fund your children's or your grandchildren's education? What do you want to do with that money? And that question really helps to develop a relationship, because if you're smart and if you maintain a connection throughout the year, not just when you send your client their portfolio, but when you actually call them and say, "Hey, my advisor did this brilliantly, knew that one of my goals was to buy a home and so we had these metrics that I needed to hit," and it was like, "Hey, Gill, we're halfway there." And he literally would write this on the statements that he would send me quarterly. Wow. So motivating. So motivating. We're halfway there.
And so, it wasn't just about like that I wanted to achieve something for the sake of achieving a certain number. It was what do you want to do with that money? And I think when you start asking those questions, you have a better understanding of your clients. And unfortunately, I think that this idea of relationship management, the idea of building these relationships with our clients, I think a lot of people miss the mark. You know, they missed the mark. It's such a wonderful opportunity to learn about people and their goals. Talking about goals, are you helping them clarify what those goals are? I mean, you have such a wonderful role to play, an easier role than I do. People don't know retirement coaches exist. They don't. So, people will say, "Oh, you're a financial advisor." No, no, I stay in my lane. I have an advisor. That is not something I would ever, you know, I'd never actually give people financial advice. I'm not equipped to. You have such a privileged position to get to know somebody. They're putting their future in your hands. Take the opportunity. Get to know this person. What are their dreams, their aspirations, their goals, so to speak? So, my work with advisors is at the end of the day, you're selling pretty much the same thing. You're selling these financial vehicles that there's only so much variation between them. So, to really differentiate yourself caring about your client's well-being above and beyond their finances is a way that you can differentiate yourself. So, where I come in is I complement. I'm not your competition. I just told you like I would not ever tell anybody where - I stay in my lane like that is just not my lane. I don't have the credentials to advise somebody on where to put their money but I can talk about the research and that's where my work lies. My work lies in helping somebody better understand what this transition looks like and so I can better help you prepare for exit, if you choose to exit.
You know, I don't think retirement is a bad thing. I don't think I answered your question, Casey. Retirement is not a bad thing. I just want you to be prepared for it and it's not these glossy brochures with you're on a yacht and you're sailing across the globe. For most of us, that's not what it looks like. And that's not even fun for the majority of people. So, they find out fairly quickly that this aspiration, this dream that they aspire to is not making them happy. So, I could work with them prior to exit and we can talk about establishing a plan. And much of my work involves groups and that's where I think the magic takes place is that I will facilitate the conversation. I'll bring the research to the conversation. I rarely, if ever, will give you my opinion about whether or not I think you should retire. That's very personal. But my work really lies in the science. Like what does the science have to say? And, of course, the science is not perfect, but the way I see it is it's a roadmap for us and it's much better to have a roadmap than to go blindly into this next transition. So, what I mean by roadmap is that we know certain things, right? Phased retirement is beneficial for the majority of people. Thinking that through is really helpful. So, my work really complements advisors. Certainly, I'm not an advisor's competitor. I'm there to just provide a different language and it's a different arena. It's really the non-financial component. But I think advisors if they're smart, they would get educated in this area. Just become smart about the questions that you ask, become interested in your clients beyond their financial portfolios.
Maybe that seems insane to you, Casey, because you seem like that comes naturally to you. Why would you not get to know your clients? But I think I've seen so many people blow this opportunity. And then what happens is you will lose the business once that person dies. What advisors don't realize is that usually portfolios transfer hands. People leave money to their kids. And if their kids don't have an advisor or if you have not taken the time to bring the kids into the office, bring them into this discussion, then if they don't have a relationship with their parent's advisor, then they will take their money and they will invest it with their own. So, if you're very smart and you're strategic, you're going to think beyond just this person that's your clients but think about the generations. You need to invite them into that conversation because most men, husbands often die before their wives and when their wives inherit that portfolio, if that's the arrangement, it's not always the arrangement but if they inherit that portfolio, if the wife does not have a relationship with her husband's advisor and that's really old thinking, right? Shouldn't it be the couple's advisor, but yet it's oftentimes I'm speaking in gross stereotypes here. But on the average, a lot of times a man will take care of the finances. If the wife has never been privy to the process or just the information and doesn't know you, she's likely to take her money elsewhere and she's going to be advised by her best friend. Her best friend has this great advisor. "Come with me. I'm going to introduce you to my advisor." So, if you're smart, you think beyond just this individual and you think about the family and the well-being of the family.
Casey Weade: There's something you said there that I don't want to get glossed over. I really want to make sure we highlight this. It's so important when we need to remind ourselves and our clients, you always need to be reminded what you're saving for. There are so many individuals that I will find as they step into retirement, they can't spend their money. They can't spend and live freely in retirement because they weren't constantly reminded. The money was being saved so that it could be spent someday. I know we're a little over here, Dr. Gill, and so I want to wrap up with one final question. It's just a curiosity. It's something I found in your LinkedIn profile. And this is the only place that I've been able to find this. But I wanted to ask, what are you currently working on? But I can see in your profile, it sounds like you're currently working on a new book and I'm curious how the title relates back to retirement or aging. Maybe it's a complete new offshoot that you have, but your new book is titled The Corporate G Spot.
Gillian Leithman: The Corporate G Spot. Yes. The corporate G Spot is a lot of my research involves this idea of generativity. So, G stands for generativity, and it is taken from Erik Erikson. Erik Erikson developed this idea of generativity and it goes back to what we were speaking about before. It goes back to the idea that when we get to a certain age, we're motivated by different things and oftentimes people are motivated to create and develop that legacy. I want to leave something behind. I recognize that my time on the planet is limited. So, oftentimes it involves other people, the development of other people. And that's what generativity is about. It's about developing the next generation. So, I think employers have a great opportunity to capitalize on this intrinsic motivator where people want to share their knowledge. They want to share what they learned over their careers. And if you're smart, if you're a smart employer, there's a way to tap into that and give your people, your aging workers an opportunity to groom the next generation. Unfortunately, I think that a lot of employers they're nearsighted. They're not thinking clearly. They're not thinking about the benefits that this person with a great deal of experience has to offer. So, oftentimes they just see the dollars and cents and this person has a higher salary and this person is costing me a lot of money and benefits because of their age. And so, it would be just much easier to push them out.
So, my research and a lot of other scholars really indicates that there's a sweet spot. You know, there's a sweet spot like we can develop these organizations where if we go back to the idea of phased retirement, people could take a pay like they could cut back on pay. There you're saving finances and groom the next generation, get them to transfer their knowledge to the up and comers. Now, just as a caveat, not everybody has knowledge to share. Sometimes knowledge is outdated. That's definitely possible but you need to figure out who are your key players and who do you want to retain and who also has the capability to teach because not everybody does. And how do we leverage that in that intrinsic motivation? How do we leverage it and design workplaces where people want to share? So, right now, people are very scared to share because if I share, you're going to replace me so I'm going to hoard my knowledge. I'm not going to share it. So, it's about ways to design the workforce so that people want to share what it is that they've learned over their lifetime.
Casey Weade: Well, you introduced a new word to me here today, generativity. So, I appreciate that. I always learn something new here. I think you're going to have a lot of fun with that book. I'm going to leave that there before we get ourselves in any trouble but there's a lot of different ways we could take this conversation. Thank you so much for providing us all of these awesome questions. And for those of you that would like to dig in deeper to these five questions, we're going to provide you an opportunity here to get a free copy of the retirement workbook by Dr. Gillian, Rewire to Retire, five crucial questions you must ask yourself before you retire that have nothing to do with money. If you'd like to get a free copy of that workbook, all you have to do is this. You subscribe to the podcast, rate it, and also write a quick review over on iTunes and then just email us at firstname.lastname@example.org, your iTunes username, and your address, we will send that out to you for free. And, Dr. Gill, thank you so much for joining us and I look forward to the release of your new book and maybe we'll have a whole new conversation around that in the future.
Gillian Leithman: Sounds good. Thank you, Casey.