When Type A Personalities Retire: It Isn't Pretty
Retirement can be rough for hard chargers, but there are ways to make the transition smoother
So you’re a Type A personality: hard-charging, status-driven and impatient. How do you think that’ll work out for you in retirement?
Quite possibly not so great, according to Donald Asher, a Gerlach, Nev., career consultant who has been studying Type A retirees. “Type A’s don’t stop being Type A’s in retirement,” Asher says.
Asher, who speaks on this subject around the country, told me that a Type A personality isn’t very well suited to the retirement life.
‘You Can Only Play So Much Golf’
“One Type A guy I met on a golf course said to me: ‘When I was about to retire, I was looking forward to playing a lot of golf. But now that I’m retired, I found you can only play so much golf,’” Asher says.
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Before they retire, Type A’s are often leaders at work, barking orders and getting things done when they want, the way they want. (Cardiologist Meyer Friedman, who coined the term “Type A personality,” said the behavior is expressed partly through “free-floating hostility,” but let’s not even go there.)
To paraphrase the famous New Yorker cartoon about the dog using the Internet, in retirement nobody knows you were a chief executive or a heart surgeon. Out of uniform, a Type A retiree looks just like all the other retirees and is typically viewed no differently by the people he or she encounters. You don’t get special treatment (senior discounts aside). You're not surrounded by toadies who genuflect based on your title, because you no longer have a title. And that can come as a shock.
What’s more, life is unstructured when you’re a retiree. You don’t have meetings lined up for you at specified times; it’s up to you to plot your day, your week, your month — your life. It can be exasperating for a Type A.
Rob Pascale found all this out when he retired at 51 from his job running a market research firm in Charlotte, N.C. The lead author of The Retirement Maze, a terrific book I wrote about on Next Avenue, Pascale told me that he turned glum just a few months after retiring. “I had lower self-esteem than when I was working," he says. "I also had a lack of structure and purpose in my life.”
Retired for Five Months
The New York Times recently wrote about the similar experience of Alan Siegel, 74, who had been chairman of the brand-and-corporate-identity consultant Siegel & Gale in New York City. A Type A if ever there was one, Siegel retired last May, and about five months later decided he couldn’t hack it. He just launched Siegelvision, a firm that’s competing with the one he had founded and left.
When asked why retirement didn’t take, Siegel said: “I can’t do it. I love the interaction with different kinds of people. I like to shake things up, make a difference.”
The adjustment isn't tough only for Type A's. Life can become brutal for their spouses, who wind up getting ordered around, if only due to proximity.
“One woman told me that her husband started demanding she fold the towels differently,” Asher says. “She said to him, ‘You never cared about the way I folded towels for 50 years. This isn’t going to work.’”
Retirement Advice for Type A’s
So what should a Type A do when retirement beckons?
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Start by building up a new social network of other retirees, Asher suggests. “Social interaction is often the biggest thing that’s missing in the lives of Type A’s. The four walls of a home aren’t enough,” he says. “A social network lets you scratch that itch.”
Next, find a new form of prestige to replace the status your job provided. “Maybe it’s following the Rolling Stones around the world or driving a $365,000 RV,” Asher says.
If you’re considering an encore career to help others, look for the type of position that plays to your personality. That generally means a paid or volunteer job as a supervisor with authority.
Finally, Asher says — and this may sound a little strange — come up with something that will add pressure and stress to your life. “That’s not compatible with the traditional idea of retirement,” he notes. “I had a buddy who is doing the Ironman Triathlon at 60. He’s creating his own pressure.”
For a Type A, pressure and stress just seem to make life worth living.