Marathon runners do not train and plan for the sole experience of standing on the finish line. The process, the training and the overall journey from beginning to end are all part of it. Knowing that hard work and effort paid off and a goal was accomplished, that is a remarkable feeling. Treating your retirement goals like a marathon, you work hard, you keep going and when you reach the finish line, all that time and labor pays off—you have the money you need to live the life you want. That’s a wonderful feeling.

Let’s do an exercise.

Close your eyes and try to picture your own funeral. Who is there? Who gets up to speak? Are you proud of your achievements and the life you led?

The reason for the exercise is not to threaten you with impending mortality but to ask the question, are you living your life to the fullest? Are you happy with the track you are on overall?

Often, we start saving for retirement but don’t put enough thought into what we need that money for. How we will spend our days and what will fulfill us in that time is left a bit ambiguous. The funeral exercise above helps to illustrate how much each of us still has to give to our family, community, and selves while we are still here. That value is more than a bank statement. People who identify strongly with their work, for example, often have a hard time making the transition to retirement.[i] Before you retire taking the time to explore how you will fulfill your sense of identity, what your daily schedule will look like, and who you’ll socialize with can put the idea of retirement into a more realistic place.

Finding Your Financial Goal

It is hard to make day-to-day retirement goals even when we seek out professional financial advice, because how can they help us reach our goals if we aren’t exactly sure what they are? If the goal is simply to retire comfortably, then the next question is: what is comfortable? A standard rule is to save eight times your final income in retirement[ii] but is that right for you? Considering the widely different incomes people have, that is still a pretty broad piece of advice. So, beyond that, ask yourself questions like: “Where will I live? What are my daily expenses? What is my budget and is there something I need to do know in order to align it with my wants and needs? If your goal is to leave a legacy to your children or to a favored charity, then we need to make sure you have enough to live the life you want with money set aside for those causes. Retirement comes with unforeseen costs, often tied to health and long-term care, and a financial advisor can help you allocate funds for those scenarios as well. On the flipside, you often spend less money in retirement than you did while working.[iii] No matter what the goals, the more you actually think about your retirement, how you spend and how you save, and what you want to put your money toward in your lifetime and beyond, the closer you are to having actual realizable financial goals.

The clearer your actual financial goals are, the better a financial advisor can help you reach them. Retiring comfortably, for example, needs an actual numeric amount attached as a goal and so the more you know about your budget and lifestyle, the more likely you can reach your goal. Strategies can be put in place and check-points to make sure you are on track or if changes need to made along the way. For some, downsizing a home and relocating may be the right choice.[iv] For others, like those dreaming of buying a sailboat, for example, you may want to start breaking down the expenses like staff, storage, fuel, maintenance and other associated costs now and see if the dream of the sailboat and the reality are one in the same. The more real-time work put toward identifying specific goals and expenses, the better prepared you’ll be to reach them.

Finding Fulfillment

Happiness in retirement comes not only from financial security, though that has a strong hand in it, true satisfaction also comes from how you live your life–the relationships, the friendships and the experiences you have. We spend so much of our lives working and planning for this period but often not enough on what we will actually do in it. Imagine what you would do with your time if there were no limitations of health or finances. What would you do with yourself? How would you spend your time? Now, how can you merge that unfettered future you with your current financial goals?

The closer you can get to merging your fantasy life and your real life the better off you’ll be. Having plans for that time, be it trips, volunteering, joining social clubs or even becoming a mentor help to give shape to your future. The more shape the future has for you, the better you can refine your specific financial goals. Approaching your retirement with both the “how you will fund it” and “what will you do once there” can be an enormous weight off your shoulders. Being prepared is a good feeling.

Reaching the Finish Line

When approaching your financial goals for retirement, it’s important to recognize the sheer amount of creative power you have over your own life. This is an opportunity to do the things you’ve always wanted to, go to the places you have only dreamed of or finally sit back and reflect and relax. A financial advisor can help facilitate that, but they aren’t mind-readers. You must do the work, like the runner training for the race, think about your life and what you want your legacy to be and bring them your goals. Exploring our wants and needs, our hopes and dreams, helps us understand ourselves and live a more truthful life. You’ve worked hard to retire comfortably and now that you know what comfortable means to you, the odds are in your favor that you’ll reach those goals and beyond.