When it comes to chiropractic retirement you need to consider full retirement, semi-retirement or other options …
AT SOME POINT, THIS CALLING OF YOURS WILL COME TO AN END — either by what you do, or are unable or unwilling to do. Whether it is just around the corner or years in the distance, it’s never too early to plan for chiropractic retirement and this eventuality.
A successful chiropractic retirement, which I define as a well-considered succession plan to remove yourself from the responsibility of running a practice, doesn’t happen simply because you reach a certain chronological age, or because you’ve had your fill of recalcitrant patients or stingy insurance companies. Or even aching wrists. It will require some sobering financial planning, along with ample amounts of soul searching.
I’ll leave it to others to explore the formulas for computing how much money you’ll need to live on, choosing sustainable investments, optimum withdrawal rates, and the like, because there are other issues that affect your emotional, social and spiritual well-being that are equally or even more important.
The world of daily golf
First, let’s acknowledge that retirement is a relatively new phenomenon. It may surprise you to learn that 10,000 Americans retire each day.
Retirement was instituted during the Industrial Age when decades of physical labor were rewarded with a period of relative inactivity — usually a vacation before dying. Often Hawaii. In fact, the actuarial table on which Social Security benefits were originally based assumed that most recipients were unlikely to live more than a handful of years beyond the retirement age of 65.
Today, however, given a much longer life expectancy, if you’ve made it to your 60s with the healthy lifestyle you’ve likely had, you can probably look forward to another 20-30 years.
How do you intend to fill what may be an additional ten thousand days or more?
While it may seem almost like heaven to be able to play golf every day, many of the chiropractors who have done so report that after about six months, they’ve had their fill.
You’ll want to think this through before driving your spouse crazy by being underfoot, puttering around the house day after day, or consuming hours of CNN or Fox News.
Withholding your hard-won experience
I’m not a fan of retirement. I can’t find a single reference to it in scripture. And if sitting is the new smoking, it seems clear that relative inactivity isn’t good for you or your patients.
Chiropractic retirement and withdrawing your valuable skillset from your community needs to be thoughtfully contemplated. After acquiring such hard-won wisdom and experience, it seems almost reprehensible to deprive your corner of the world of the insights and deep understanding you’ve acquired.
Retirement, even if it’s some form of semi-retirement, is likely to be quite disorienting unless you address a couple of fundamental issues. Ignore them and you can expect to encounter an uncomfortable void. It’s an emptiness that one chiropractor described as, “feeling like I was grieving the loss of a loved one.”
Consider these non-economic aspects of a healthy retirement:
- Your identity
After being a chiropractor for several decades or longer, your self-image is deeply entwined with professional caregiving. It has prompted others to look up to you. It has created the circumstances in which others respect you, admire your expertise, and have a high regard for your experience and recommendations.
When you retire, that identity will largely disappear. Instead of giving orders, you’ll be on the receiving end. Since so much of who we are is linked to what we do, when you stop doing it, a gap is created. What will be your new identity? Professional pickleball player? Salsa dancer? Quilting queen? Classic car restorer? What?
And don’t forget the social aspects. If you’re an extrovert, how do you plan to satisfy your need for the human connection you experienced in practice?
- Your purpose
Bouncing out of bed, looking forward to the first patient of the day — that may have been a driving force for many years, but that will disappear. What will inspire you to take on the day with similar or even greater passion?
Psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, who coined the term “flow” to describe the state of “being in the zone,” observes that most flow experiences are work-related and not leisure pursuits. In other words, mowing the lawn or even international travel is unlikely to produce the soul-satisfying feelings of deep focus and timelessness you experienced during the controlled chaos of a busy practice between 5-6 p.m.
You’ll want to identify a purpose bigger than yourself and lean into it. This could be some form of volunteering, mentoring, writing, speaking, missionary work, consulting or otherwise directing your energy in a way that can deliver the emotional and spiritual rewards to which you’re accustomed.
Remember, your purpose is not to adjust patients. Adjusting patients is merely one way to advance, pursue, or manifest your real, deeper purpose.
- Your growth
Naturally, you can appreciate the health consequences of an active body and an active mind. If you’re to thrive during your “Act 3,” you’ll want to find something to fully engage your cerebral cortex.
What will you set out to learn? What will you commit your mind to mastering? What new skill will you acquire, or mental faculty will you develop?
Being a lifelong learner not only stimulates the mind but promotes mental alertness as we age. That may include formal learning by attending lectures, programs or discussion groups. Or something more casual such as joining a club, leading a Bible study, taking a cooking class or learning how to weld. The key is to exploit the neuroplasticity of our brains and continue growing intellectually as we grow older physically.
If you really want to grow, then teach. It’s a great way to stay sharp while contributing to the growth of others.
The devil is in the details
I hope you don’t retire — unless you have something even more significant waiting in the wings. Because removing yourself from a career that has been more of a calling than a job will be anticlimactic.
Perhaps a healthier strategy would be to continue practicing but in a modified, less pivotal role. That will require some thought, creativity and preparation.
Create a Succession Plan. Transition the responsibilities of running the business to someone else so you can continue seeing patients on a reduced schedule. You’ll be left doing the “fun” stuff while someone else assumes the headaches.
Go for a Cash Practice. Tired of playing footsies with insurance carriers? It’s the perfect time to enjoy the simplicity of a cash practice. It might prompt you to wonder why you didn’t do this years ago.
Consider Instrument Adjusting. Wrists giving out? Hurts when you adjust the lumbars? There’s no shame in instrument adjusting. Countless chiropractors continue to serve delighted patients with the assistance of an adjusting tool.
Become a Locum. Stay in the game by becoming the on-call chiropractor who can fill in for vacations, illness or disability. Enjoy the variety and stimulation without being concerned about training, taxes and other business worries.
Chiropractic retirement on your own terms
Chiropractic retirement might become less about retreating and withdrawal and more about simply practicing on your terms, the way you’ve always dreamed. It could lead to the most amazing and rewarding years of your career.
BILL ESTEB, besides being the creative force behind the patient education resources of Patient Media and co-founder of the Perfect Patients website service, provides private consulting by the hour and helps chiropractors see the patient’s point of view. Learn more at PerfectPatients.com.