After spending many hours in reflection, reading, talking, meditating and who knows what all else, I am finally able to perchance solve this puzzle. My needs are sometimes hard to identify-- at times shifting and at other times so continuous that they feel like background noise rather than an entity that deserves attention.
The place for me to start is my need base, which has been defined by my prior life. When I was working fulltime I needed to have an impact; I also needed to feel valued, through both monetary reward and real personal recognition. Of course, intellectual stimulation was important, as was learning and overcoming challenges. I would say that those needs topped my list and were generally met, although, depending on the environment, my tasks, and my boss, my satisfaction fluctuated over the years. During this time, I kept changing my responsibilities and positions, refining my work life as necessary in order to ensure the most important of those needs were met. And never did I let go of my need for hugs!
Now that I am retired, I have had the opportunity to re-design my life. I am taking into account ALL of my needs, not just the ones that filled my 40 to 60- hour work -week: affection, play, relaxation, exploration and more. Normally, while devoting ourselves to our jobs, we tend to suppress some of our needs. In order to bring in a good pay check, stay in a particular city, or maintain an important title, we often sacrifice other needs. To keep a leadership position, I, at times, forgot the need for relaxation, and to accomplish all of my high- minded goals, friendships sometimes suffered. Like many, I tried to “have it all”, but clearly, that was impossible.
Now we can start fresh.
As I look at all of my needs at this, my retirement stage, I have uncovered three meaningful categories:
those needs that remain the same in this new phase, and fortunately, I can find similar means to meet them;
a group of needs that are ever- present, but I must now find new ways to feed them;
and a third set of needs that disappear during life stage being replaced by new ones that emerge.
What does all this mean?
Speaking not just from my experience, but from that of my friends and colleagues, I frequently hear about the fear that some crucial needs might not be fulfilled once a career is out of the picture. That image of lack of gratification of those big, important needs- like accomplishment or recognition- can be devastating.
How can the same needs, for meaning or accomplishment, be satisfied once the gold watch is accepted? Those significant, elephant-sized needs do not, however, have to be abandoned. For example, so many people vacate their full -time position and become a part -time consultant. They love it. And why not? They still feel valued and appreciated, and often make more money than they did as a salaried worker. They end up working fewer hours, yet meet many of their social needs. They are fulfilling multiple key needs just the same way they did in pre-retirement, yet they have stepped out of their full -time employment. …They are “retired”.
How might we meet some of our career related needs in new ways?
For many of us, our work was a major source of meaning in our lives. Whether we solved technological problems, managed a business, or assisted in the design of the local magazine, our work contributed to a goal, which we valued. How do we find meaning now, and feel valued, without the work that we spent so many of our adult years crafting?
The opportunities abound. I have friends who discovered meaning in a variety of ways: volunteering at the animal shelter, working on church committees, cleaning the litter from the beaches, starting a new business, taking classes and traveling to new destinations. Each one of these, and the many other opportunities available, can provide meaning in significant ways, as options that may not ever had occurred to us during our career building years or as realizations of fantasies that sat on the back burner, waiting for this leisure time to express themselves.
It is amazing how creative we can be. Some of us make money as a greeter at Disney; others make connections by joining a bird watching community. Whenever I publish a blog and someone comments, I feel both accomplished and appreciated- both important needs of mine. Lots of avenues exist to meet those needs that we tracked singularly into our jobs for many, many years.
Then there are the needs that go away after retirement.
To some, the need for the structure that a job provided disappears and the need for flexibility appears; the need for accolades from accomplishments melts to be replaced by the need to learn new skills and knowledge. Somehow, after all those years, those needs were finally met, and now they can be released. The miracle is in the process; with the open space provided, new needs, never imagined or explored, emerge.
This retirement time is a one of re-shuffling.
The need configuration that we used to build our life- long career is no long viable. While retirement is contemplated or still fairly new, the focus may solely be on the loss. What will I do now that I no longer… (fill in the blank): have structure, a sense of accomplishment, appreciation or colleagues to share lunch?
The loss can be an opportunity for letting go of old needs, old ways of meeting those needs, and promoting a whole new way of getting current needs met. This new phase is one of liberation and exploration instead of loss and grief. As we get to know ourselves more deeply, without the constraints of roles and rules, the whole world opens up.
This re-shuffling process takes time, reflection, investigation, risk-taking and patience. More than likely, the old needs and their ways of being met won’t leave quickly or easily. They have, after all, been center stage for a lot of years. The new needs and means of meeting them might feel odd, uncomfortable, like someone else’s. They are waiting in the wings, however, in anticipation of your call. Much time remains to rehearse before the final curtain. No pressure; just opportunity to play, rewrite, assess and then practice again.
I’m curious about how that new script plays out. Aren’t you?