Emotionally Adjusting to Retirement
There are three emotional fear factors when people consider retirement:
- The loss of professional status.
- Concern over how to spend the extra time.
- Fear of a loss of identity.
The change from a work identity to a post-work identity can be a slow process, especially if you have significant emotional connections to your career. Focus your efforts on changing your self-identification to meaningful nonworker roles. You can’t discard the worker role without replacing it with something else.
Retiring is a series of transitions, but change can be very unsettling. You can’t forecast the future — which can be scary. You may feel you no longer have a purpose. One remedy is to increase involvement with nonwork-related activities, strengthening your relationships outside the office.
What matters to you? Like everyone else, you need to feel appreciated, noticed and depended on. But maybe not depended on too much. You don’t want people to assume that you’re going to be a babysitter. Here’s where expectations come in: It’s important to articulate expectations and avoid misunderstandings by discussing concrete thoughts on how you and your family see the future.
Retirement lets you simplify life and allows you to take on fewer obligations. Think about all the “boxes” of whom you used to be and unload them. It’s a time of new beginnings and making friends. Developing social connections creates a healthy brain and a more vibrant person.
You don’t have to worry about rendering yourself irrelevant once you stop interacting with others at work. For many, it used to take work to make them feel relevant. According to surveys, your initial discomfort about retirement will last about 18 months, after which a level of happiness takes over. There is life beyond work; you just have to get through the transition period.
Here are some tips for taking it all in and getting past the awkward stage:
- Expect to go through stages of emotions. First, there is freedom: You’re on a vacation that lasts forever. When that wears off, you may feel anxiety and even boredom. You may feel guilty that you’re not enjoying retirement as much as you should. Don’t suppress these emotions: Start walking and talking to others, and take up yoga.
- Structure your days. Before retirement, there’s structure galore: The alarm goes off and you take a shower, eat breakfast and head out the door. But now the old routine is gone. Plan a new routine: Experiment with various activities and time slots to see how it makes you feel. This will be a new normalcy — regular times for exercise, social activities, volunteer opportunities and family meals.
- Set small goals. Work on objectives that give you a sense of purpose. Accomplishing new things can give you that sense of achievement.
- Grow your friendships. It may not be so easy to keep up with those you hold dear, so ask one friend to meet you for lunch on Monday, walk through the park with another friend on Wednesday and grab coffee with a third pal on Friday.
- Volunteer. It can renew your sense of purpose, boosting your psychological well-being.
- Be flexible as you figure it out. After 30 years in the workplace, you finally have time to experiment with what you really want to do. There’s no need to figure it all out right away. Experiment to find the right balance of how you want to spend your time.
The joy of retirement is that it’s up to you to design the type of day — the kind of life — you want to live.