Generation Me, retirement coaching and the daunting prospect of too much free time

By Paul Wilson


We keep hearing about the many boomers who are going to have to work well past traditional retirement age just to make ends meet. One of the most recent studies to discuss this trend, conducted by My New Financial Advisor (MNFA), found that the average baby boomer could be forced to wait until age 75 to retire.

After analyzing data filed by 1,600 boomers, MNFA found that a combination of loss of income, insufficient savings, low returns, higher-than-expected expenses, past-due taxes and low wage growth will force the average boomer to keep their nose to the grindstone well into their Golden Years.

Of course, in addition to those that must work are those who will continue working voluntarily. The reasons for this decision are many, but it seems a growing number of retirees simply don't know what to do with all their free time. In fact, this sense of ennui among retirees has grown so common that some enterprising individuals have figured out a way to take advantage (and I can think of no other better way to phrase it.)

The October 8, 2012 edition of The New Yorker, also known as The Money Issue, included an irreverent piece by Patricia Marx on a growing industry known as retirement coaching. While the uninitiated might assume that this phrase is just a synonym for financial advisor, the reality is much … stranger.

It turns out that a growing number of boomers are hiring professional coaches for the sole purpose of telling them what to do with their retired selves. Those who seek out coaching "may have fantasized about growing gardenias or becoming a guacho, but their exhilaration turned to panic when they were faced with an unscripted day," says Mike Jeans, president of coaching company New Directions.

Or, as Marx puts it, "This is the generation that was reared by Dr. Spock, learned to do sit-ups from Jack LaLanne, lost weight thanks to Jenny Craig, hired tutors to do the kids' homework, and solicited closet masters to organize stuff. Do you really think they are going to figure out, all by themselves, how to put purpose into their later years?"

Something tells me this won't do anything to disperse those stereotypes about the self-indulgent Me Generation.

So what, exactly, is a retirement coach?

"A cheerleader whose entire team is you. A motivational speaker who mostly listens. A therapist who doesn't blame your mother. A friend who has no needs, except for your money."

For the assignment, the author spent some time with several retirement coaches. Here is her description of one experience:
    My time at New Directions can best be described as Camp Me … I met separately with three consultants and the psychologist to contemplate what makes me feel happy and accomplished, what piques my curiosity, what fires me up, lessons I'd learned from my parents and grandparents, my strengths, weaknesses, hobbies, hopes and dreams, and much more … We, who now knew so much about me, were gathered in a sunny corner conference room for a spirited powwow about my future. What did we talk about? What do you think? Even I was getting bored with the topic."
And how much do these services cost?
    Prices for coaching vary. A one-hour teleclass with Forward Momentum, in which Debra DeVilbiss will teach you the 'seven things you should know before you retire,' costs ten dollars (that's less than a dollar-fifty per thing). The Coach Connection, which charges three hundred and eighty-nine dollars for six sessions, promises to answer your call "within four rings." Steve Hardison, the 1980 winner of the United States Extemporaneous Speaking Competition, charges a hundred and fifty thousand dollars (payable up front) for a package that consists of a hundred hours' worth of face-to-face sessions, in Phoenix, Arizona (for those arriving by private jet, his Web site lists nearby airstrips).
Clearly, the clientele of your average retirement coach aren't facing the prospect of eating cat food during their golden years, but I can't help but think that they could find better ways to spend their money (and time). I mean how bad can the beach be? And is it really that hard to find purpose? How about traveling, donating to a charity, volunteering at a soup kitchen, hanging out with the grandkids or exploring some new hobbies? But what do I know, I'm still decades away from facing those apparently troublesome unscripted days.

Still, if there are really people out there who are that eager to part with their hard-earned money, I'd be more than willing to take it off their hands. I'm pretty sure I wouldn't need any help figuring out what to do with myself.