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Avoid Losing at Musical Chairs When You Retire

How to march confidently in this stage of life

By Robert Laura

What happens when the music stops at work and retirement starts? How will you feel when the chairs you’ve been marching around for years begin to disappear?

illustration of adults playing musical chairs
Credit: Adobe

Many people don’t realize it, but the childhood game of musical chairs can provide some fresh perspective on what you need to do to make a better transition from worklife to homelife in retirement.

As you think back to the game of musical chairs, you may remember the thrill of landing in one of the remaining seats or the agony of being cast out.  There’s a significant difference between the two feelings, of course. That’s why it’s important for people making the retirement transition to ensure they have replacement chairs waiting for them.

It may be time to try some new chairs. This could mean launching a business, joining a ukulele performance group or turning your home into a sanctuary for turtles.

Before I explain how to do that, think about the variables of the workplace which slowly disappear in retirement. Work provides purpose and identity. It offers social interaction and physical activity, not to mention timelines, goals and a sense of routine. Then, when you leave full-time work, retirement upends everything.

Some of the familiar chairs may seem to have either been moved or eliminated. Your life is no longer defined by your role at work…your social interactions might decrease in frequency and value… physical activity may not come as easy or often… and you have to develop both a new routine and new goals.

But if have a new set of chairs in place, life can be fantastic. Here’s how to do it, using three musical motifs:

Measure & Scale

Take an inventory of the top five or 10 things that work provides for you. Do you enjoy certain tasks, co-workers or types of projects? Think about the various roles you have had as well as strengths described in your annual reviews. Each can provide an important clue to what you may need to replace in retirement.

Consider writing these things down. That way, you can better see what work gives you, and then, strategize ways to replace them. Too often, people assume some of these things will automatically fall into place. They won’t, though, which can cause you to waste some of your early retirement years trying to figure it all out.



Many conference centers have chairs that interlock to make rows, so you can’t just walk up and remove one without some extra work.  Apply the same concept to your retirement chairs. Look for ways to combine things that you’ll need to replace in retirement.

For example, try to do things in a group format. Whether that means taking an exercise class, group travel or volunteering with friends, by making the event social you can enhance the feeling derived from the activity.

Another option: consider applying your personal strengths to new areas of interest you can do with others. For instance, if you are handy, consider volunteering to help a community theater company with its set design and props.

Skip To A New Beat

At work, you may have marched with a consistent group of people and tasks, which may have been great. But work may have also held you back in some areas of life. So, it may be time to try some new chairs. This could mean launching a business, joining a ukulele performance group or turning your home into a sanctuary for turtles.

It’s not uncommon for people entering retirement to want to be part of something bigger than themselves and to have a lasting impact on others. To do so, take some time to consider your legacy and the ways you feel drawn, or compelled, to help others.

In short, rather than feeling cast out in retirement, keep the music playing. Maybe even up the tempo, by replacing the things you valued at work with wholly new ones in this new transition. You just might enjoy means marching to a different tune.

Robert Laura is a bestselling author, nationally syndicated columnist and founder of the Retirement Coaches Association and He is a seasoned conference speaker and trainer as well as a pioneer in “The New Era Of Retirement” which focuses on the non-financial aspects of life after work. He can be contacted at [email protected]. Read More
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