For anyone moving on to the next phase of life after an active, demanding professional career, life can be a very mixed blessing. Sure, sleeping in on a Monday seems quite compelling, as does going grocery shopping during the week, picking grandkids up from school and having time to read a good book. However, professionals who are closely aligned with their role and the respect that role offers, soon realize that all the pleasurable tasks of retirement are no match for the loss of identity.
So many retired professionals tell me that they feel guilty when reading a novel in the afternoon; they enjoy picking up their grandkids, but not every day; and while sleeping in is a real pleasure, it gets old after a while. These activities are just not fulfilling enough.
Add this lack of fulfillment to the loss of meaningful work and the evaporation of social networks, and you find an unhappy retired person. Research has shown that the less a person plans for their retirement, the more unhappy they are likely to be. Planning does not just include creating a financial portfolio, and dreaming about the pleasurable tasks noted above. The planning requires a social-emotional portfolio to go along with the financial portfolio.
Many people leave their jobs thinking that they will still see their old friends, that they will continue their lunches and happy hours. However, the conversation doesn’t flow like it used to; lives have taken different paths, people change, as do priorities. One important part of planning for retirement is starting to think through where you will make connections, and even start reaching out before the big day. Most people don’t realize how much of their social needs are met by colleagues, even if they don’t socialize after work. After I retired, I found myself wondering why I was watching the SuperBowl. I realized that the only reason I watched was to have the context for the conversations on Monday morning. What was I going to do with all my comments about the commercials now?
Unfortunately, as you meet new people, you will be driven to answer the big question: who am I now? For years, you could say: I’m so and so and I work at… ; or I’m an X at Y business. So now what do you say? I’m “Eloise” just feels kind of empty. You are more than you career role, but you haven’t had to articulate and promote that idea, since you had the work role front and center.
This challenging transition, the loss of professional identity, can trigger a loss of self-esteem, fear of aging and depression. But this is not an inevitable outcome. The single most significant method of coping with the retirement transition is engaging in meaningful/purposeful activities, from volunteerism to personal development to new work opportunities. When retirees engage in a whole new set of meaningful enterprises, not only do they benefit, but we as a society benefit as well. Committing to efforts outside of oneself brings wisdom, personal growth and satisfaction, as well as new social networks.
While the answer to the question of “who am I now that I no longer have a business card?” may be conceptually clear, the practice can be challenging. On some level you KNOW you have strengths, interests, experiences and passions beyond work. However, when work has been so consuming, transferring one’s energy to a new endeavor is not as easy as one might imagine.
What is really important to me?
How can I use my energy, skills and experience in the most gratifying ways?
What is rewarding to me outside the familiar work structure?
These are important questions. They take time to explore and the earlier you start exploring, the better off you will be, and the easier your transition. In forthcoming blogs we will explore options, processes and creative solutions. The important learning right now, as you think about retiring, is to stay open to new ideas, be aware of what intrigues you, start conversations and be patient. Stay tuned as we explore your future.