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What Color Is Your Retirement Parachute? Thoughtful Reflection Will Make The Journey Easier

By Marcia Smalley January 31, 2023 Mindset

By 2014, I was ready to move on from my demanding school counseling career. Since they called that “retirement,” retiring was the end game.

Although I was anxious to cut that career cord, my husband and I weren’t ready for me to retire at that point. My soul had started to move on, but it would have to wait for my circumstances to catch up.

For the next two years, I continued at my job and carved out time for researching, journaling and dreaming about my life after work. I leaned into the fun of “future thinking.” I recognize now that I was emotionally planning for retirement. Preparing my heart and mind for new routines, a different rhythm.

It was time well spent. I was doing the inner work necessary for a smoother transition into this new life stage.

One of the books I discovered during that time was What Color Is Your Parachute? For Retirement: Planning a Prosperous, Healthy, and Happy Futureby John Nelson and Richard Bolles. I spotted it recently, sitting on my rarely visited bookcase and nestled among other books I haven’t wanted to part with. I leafed through it, reading the sections I’d highlighted and skimming the pages I’d tagged almost 10 years earlier. 

The vernacular describing retirement has changed a bit since then. So have some of our perceptions about it. Retirement has become a personalized journey, and it looks different on everyone.

But this book has aged pretty well. Of the eight fundamental principles of retirement the authors delineate, three rang especially true.

“Retirement Is a Stage of Life”

We may get a party, thoughtful cards and lovely well wishes, but retirement is not an event. Retirement occurs over a period of time. It unfolds alongside the other changes we go through, year by year. 

Seeing it through that lens makes it easier to recognize and move through the different stages of retired life. It also allows us to frame retirement as something dynamic, potentially filled with new possibilities, new awareness.

“Retirement Includes Biological Aging”

This seems obvious. But it can be a hard reality to embrace, especially if we buy into the glossy brochures that tell us retirement will be a golden time filled with fun and activity.

We could spend 20 or more years in retired life. If so, we will age. That means more opportunities to connect with what matters most. More time to commit to inner growth.

Acknowledging the changes our aging bodies go through also brings lessons of grace, surrender, and acceptance.

“Retirement Well-Being Includes Prosperity, Health, and Happiness”

These are the three legs of the stool that support a rich retired life. If we focus on one leg over another, we’ll probably be okay, but we’ll feel off balance.

The generation that preceded ours prioritized financial security in retirement. In recent years we’ve turned a page to emphasize physical health and life satisfaction as well. This “trilogy,” addressed in combination, is key to designing a retirement that feels promising and satisfying.

We have resources to support us with the non-financial aspects of retirement. That’s an advantage our parents didn’t have. I know I’ll be re-reading portions of Parachute to see how it resonates now that I’ve spent over six years in retired life.

Regardless of which tools we rely on, self-awareness, reflection, and commitment to our retirement well-being are necessary for discovering the color of our parachute.

And it could very well become a chute of many colors along the way.

Let’s Have a Conversation:

What have you reflected on most as you prepare to retire? What aspects of retired life do you feel need your attention? Have you included them in your retirement planning?

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The Author

Marcia Smalley is a certified retirement coach and life coach, a writer and a teacher. She delights in helping mid-life women step confidently into their next act and design a joyous, expanded life. Marcia provides coaching support to women who are navigating retirement or other life transitions and writes a monthly e-newsletter to her entire online community. Please visit her website at

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