The end of a career and the beginning of retirement prompts major changes in your personal identity, use of time and relationships. If your retirement is not by choice, the stress can be even more disturbing, since losing a job can create an enormous hole in your sense of purpose and self worth.
For most of us, what we’ve done to earn a living defines us.
Struggling to Answer a Key Question
“What do you do?” is usually the first question you’re asked when you meet someone new. But if your answer is, “I’m retired,” that’s a description of your work status, not how you fit into society.
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Retirees, myself included, struggle to figure out how to validate ourselves without the link to a job. It’s easy to begin wondering: Who am I now?
For those lucky enough to have a compelling hobby or interest, retirement allows for a more complete enjoyment of that pursuit. You are now free to spend as much time as you like on what makes you happy.
But the sad truth is, most retirees do not know what to do without the structure that employment brings to a day. It’s not unusual for someone who has recently retired to go back to work — either part-time or by starting a business — simply to regain that missing sense of purpose.
The Stages of Retirement
Most people begin retirement in a honeymoon period that can last from several months to a year. Time seems to stretch ahead forever. There are no more commuting hassles, meetings or deadlines to worry about. Unfortunately, honeymoons don’t last.
The next stage of retirement can be marked by depression or anxiety because the loss of a job-related identity also comes with a loss of status.
Well after I retired from being a management consultant to several hundred radio stations in 2001, I felt the need to remind people that I had an airline’s Million Miler Card and got upgraded to first class all the time. Not surprisingly, most were politely uninterested. Once a high-profile or powerful career is left behind, the benefits disappear as well.
Some new retirees find themselves thinking that retiring was a terrible mistake.
With the responsibility to fill 24 hours every day, the joy of unstructured time suddenly becomes a burden. There may be a strong sense of betrayal and residual anger if leaving work wasn’t by choice. Confusion and a sense of drifting are common emotions.
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I speak from personal experience.
After thoroughly enjoying six months of not boarding an airplane or spending my day on the phone, I became unsatisfied with my retirement lifestyle in Arizona.
Granted, it was tremendous to spend days with my wife and kids, enjoying our lovely home together. But without the structure of work, I was floundering.
My first solution was to take a part-time job in the tourism industry. The extra money was nice, but being around other people was the real draw.
Discovering Talents And Connecting With People
After a few years, however, I realized the job wasn’t enjoyable, so I retired again. At that point, I discovered the two passions that drive my retirement today: volunteer work with prison inmates (as I wrote about earlier on Next Avenue) and a blog I started about creating a fulfilling life after full-time work, Satisfying Retirement.
Both activities allow me to connect with people and my talents in a positive way while giving me a sense of fulfillment as well as control over my daily schedule.
This is now the happiest and most satisfying time of my life.
After a career that provided national name recognition in my field and all the perks that come with that success, I never expected to find my next stage of life so much more gratifying.
Some new retirees achieve fresh identities by starting their own businesses, with flexible hours.
It could be a corner bakery, a flower shop, a handyman service or turning an idea for a new product into a successful company. While some of these retirees clearly benefit from the additional income, the feedback I receive through my blog indicates that the feeling of being needed is just as important.
A Time for Relationships to Flower
Part of figuring out who you are in retirement comes through deepening your relationships and letting personal parts of your life take on added importance. The extra time you can now spend with your spouse or life partner allows for the development of shared interests and discovering new things you enjoy doing together.
Granted, it may be challenging initially to learn how to be with each other 24 hours a day. My wife and I went through some trying times before we learned how to balance the needs of self and couple. But the benefits have been well worth the adjustment.
Relationships with your grown children and grandchildren may take on new prominence when you’re retired, too. Since our entire family lives nearby, we are blessed to have a close relationship with our grown daughters who have become fascinating adults. And the joy of being part of our grandkids’ growth is something we never take for granted.
(MORE: Can Boomers Afford to Retire?)
The strengthening of your spiritual side can also accompany retirement, adding meaning and purpose to your life.
Whether it’s through growing religious beliefs, becoming more attuned to the natural world or simply feeling a stronger connection to others, you may realize that you’re part of a bigger picture.
My New, Fulfilling Life
Personally, I can report that this stage of my life is now tremendously fulfilling.
My marriage is much stronger, my spiritual life has become richer and my creativity has blossomed.
I’ve had the time and motivation to finish two books, learn to play the guitar and develop my blog. I’m spending more time with the people I love and cherish. I’m available to help my dad as he adjusts to being a widower.
Retirement has become a time of new priorities and interests. It is a stage of life that allows me to focus on things that are important to me. I’ve learned that retirement doesn’t change who you are, it changes what you can do with the unique being that is you.
Who am I? Retirement has let me answer that question with nothing but joyous responses.
I encourage you to approach this stage of life as a period with the potential of unlimited happiness and personal satisfaction. Take it from me: Retirement can be the best time of your life.
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