Originally posted at USA Today , by Robert Powell.

Retired and non-retired Americans say the freedom of being able to do “what they want, when they want,” is the most valued aspect of retirement, according to a recent Limra Secure Retirement Institute blog post.

Trouble is, many retirees and pre-retirees don’t necessarily know how they’ll spend all that free time. Sure, many want to and do travel. But there’s just as many who haven’t taken the time to figure out exactly what to do with all their new-found freedom. What to do?

Hire a retirement coach
Increasingly, experts suggest hiring a professional – specifically a life or retirement coach – who can help you figure out how to avoid boredom and depression in retirement and, equally important, make retirement happier and more fulfilling.

“One of the goals of a retirement coach is to help people see retirement from a fresh perspective, to open up new thoughts and ideas,” says Robert Laura, the president of RetirementProject.org, which just launched a retirement coaching certification program. “People often enter retirement with vague ideas and assumptions and suddenly don’t find retirement as fulfilling as they hoped.”

Often, says Laura, pre-retirees and retirees think volunteering will bring fulfillment. “They enter retirement with this broard notion that they will fill time and have an impact on others by volunteering, but suddenly find that not all volunteer gigs feel good and are rewarding,” he says. “And they don’t know why or who to talk to about it – that’s what coaches are for.”

How to find a retirement coach
To be sure, it won’t be easy finding a retirement coach in the U.S. For one, given that it’s a relatively new profession, there aren’t that many of them. But that’s changing.

Laura, for instance, is spearheading efforts to create a Retirement Coaches Association in hopes of establishing “more credibility and consistency in certifications and applications.” And organizations such Retirement Options offer consumers a web-based directory of retirement coaches.

Meanwhile, experts such as Mitch Anthony, author of The New Retirementality: Planning Your Life and Living Your Dreams…at Any Age You Want, is also training financial advisers to serve as retirement coaches.

When vetting a retirement coach, Anthony recommends evaluating whether the adviser can help you retire “to” something and not just “from” something;. You should uncover aspects of your work that you may miss and need to replace in retirement. A coach should help you find balance between vacation and vocation and navigate the differences in retirement expectations for couples. “If an adviser cannot provide these dialogues, I recommend that (retirees and pre-retirees) partner with someone who can,” says Anthony.

Laura also says retirees should look for someone with some level of certification or training. “Additionally, most coaches have a free e-book or blog that (retirees and pre-retirees) can read to get a better understanding of their style and approach.”

How much might you pay
Retirees and pre-retirees who plan to hire a retirement coach will discover that compensation is all over the place. “You can pay $75 to $100 an hour in the Midwest and up to $300 per hour in New York City,” says Laura, who also notes that most coaches offer packages for multiple sessions that generally brings down the cost.

Do it yourself?
To be fair, some retirees and pre-retirees don’t need to hire a professional to help them figure out how to make retirement happier and more fulfilling. But they do need to spend time figuring out what will make their retirement fulfilling and put their plan in writing.

According to Limra Secure Retirement Institute research, twice as many retirees and pre-retirees with formal written retirement plans feel confident that they will be able to live their desired lifestyle in retirement as those without such plans (51% vs. 25%). Use Limra’s web-based tool, Ready-2-Retire, which can help you think about your lifestyle goals in retirement.

One such person who had a written plan was Dirk Cotton, a financial planner and author of the Retirement Café blog. “I entered retirement with an extensive lifestyle plan,” says Cotton, who retired in his early 50s some 11 years ago. “I have an extensive plan for everything and I enjoy retirement immensely.”

But, Cotton says pre-retirees and retirees should be flexible about their plan. “I’m doing very little of what I planned to do,” he says. “My biggest plans were to fly fish the world and to attend minor league baseball games and I still participate in these a bit.”

But his greatest joy now comes from researching retirement finance; publishing academic papers and writing a blog on the subject; volunteering with teens at risk; traveling; taking online classes in a broad range of subjects; traveling; and applying to a doctoral program. Cotton is also spending quite of bit of time with his adult children. “I thought my kids wouldn’t need me after they were grown, but I spend a lot of time helping them,” he says. “These are not activities that even occurred to me before retirement.”

Could a retirement coach have helped Cotton find that bliss? “I doubt it. But I suspect that retirement coaches are like chiropractors and antidepressants,” Cotton says. “They help some people.”