Rip Currents In Retirement

“Warning: High risk of rip currents” is the weather alert I woke up to on a recent vacation in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. As I stepped onto the balcony, I could feel the strong force of the wind and see that the waves were substantially larger than previous days. Standing on the 12th floor of the hotel also made it easy to see areas of the beach where these strong out flows of water were forming.

Whether you’re a regular ocean goer or you have stood on the banks of the Great Lakes, rip currents are not only hard for swimmers on the beach to identify, but they can quickly pull swimmers out to sea and be deadly. One report I found reported that Between 2004 and 2013, nearly 50 people drowned every year as a result of them.

Rip currents turn deadly because of how swimmers respond to them. Their natural reaction is to try and swim against the strong current. However, since it is estimated that a rip current can pull a swimmer out to sea at a rate of ten-feet per second, there is little chance for this approach to work. As a result, they quickly tire and are overwhelmed by the situation. They simply can’t stay afloat.

Rip currents can also form in retirement and quickly drag people away from their desired life. Like the swift ocean currents, the factors that can cause these dangerous outflows can be hard to spot and to get out of. In fact, as people make their transition from work-life to home-life, they can feel pulled in a variety of directions and fight against the changes they need to make.

There are a number of things than can turn into retirement rip currents including social isolation, addiction, depression, regretting your decision to retire, feeling out of place, or unmotivated to do the things you thought you would enjoy during retirement. Waves of negative thoughts and feelings can make it feel like you are being or going the wrong way and even in some cases, pulled underwater.

The hard part is that because retirement is portrayed as this perfect time of life made up of sun, fun, and long walks on the beach, people don’t recognize they are already in trouble but don’t know who to turn to. In other words, some people may be frantically waving their hands in the air for help, but there’s no lifeguard on duty. No one sees that some people are struggling and so they suffer in silence, fighting against parts of the retirement transition.

Just as swimmers are encouraged to swim parallel to the beach to escape a rip current, new and existing retirees have to do the same thing. This process is similar to addressing issues in any area of your life. The first step is acknowledging the situation. Retirement is a major life transition. Yes, it’s portrayed as something positive and that you have waited a long time to achieve, but it doesn’t mean it automatically unfolds in a beautiful way. That means it’s okay if retirement doesn’t feel right or if you’re second guessing your decision to retire. You’re not alone.

It can take some time to adjust and just as you developed a written plan for the financial aspects, you need to do the same things for the non-financial aspects. Taking time to write down concrete and tangible things that will help you replace your work identity, fill your time, stay connected to family and friends as well as keep mentally and physically active.

When people fight against the need to develop a written plan for the non-financial things is when they get into trouble, often times wasting the first and some of the most important years of retirement. Additionally, aligning yourself with a trained retirement coach, aka lifeguard, can also make the transition much easier to adjust to as they can not only help you develop this non-financial plan but also help you avoid common pitfalls and problems. No sense in learning it all the hard way.

There is no doubt that retirement can be this big, beautiful, sea of opportunity. However, there are some natural dangers that can come with it. Therefore, it’s important for new and existing retirees to both acknowledge that they exist and then, when they do find themselves stuck in one, to seek out resources and support to help them avoid fighting against it and drowning in this encore phase of life.

Robert Laura

Robert Laura is the Retirement Activist who is committed to changing the way people think about and prepare for every aspect of retirement. His nationally syndicated columns at and Financial Advisor magazine reflect his ground breaking efforts to challenge the status quo of traditional retirement planning. As a former social worker and certified personal trainer turned money manager and author, he has found that...(Read More)

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