If the mere mention of the word retirement induces anxiety, and conjures images of boredom and emptiness, you wouldn’t be alone. Much has been written about the pitfalls and negative aspects of retirement, and clearly, without a plan in place, retirement can certainly have a dark side. Conversely, we are bombarded with images of the delightful older couple strolling on the beach, golfing, and travelling to exotic locales. So, wherein lies the truth about retirement?
As it turns out, the truth lies in the amount of time and energy that is spent in preparation for this major life transition. The shift into retirement is so much more than a financial event, and success during this period requires it to be treated as such. The years of financial preparation are important and necessary, yet this addresses only part of the retirement equation. The more complicated and often overlooked part is the ability to create a happy and fulfilling retirement lifestyle. Not surprisingly, those who have little else in their lives outside of work, tend to struggle the most with this transition. Executives and professionals, whose lives may have been primarily dedicated to their work, may experience more difficulty detaching from their corporate lives than most.
When one’s whole identity is tied to the status and power that accompanies their top positions, the decision to delay leaving as long as possible may seem like a good solution to the retirement question. Many organizations do not prepare their employees for retirement and few programs exist that serve to prepare for this major life transition. As a result, people are heading into retirement with little or no idea of how they will fill their time or find fulfillment.
The psychological implications of retirement can be huge. Work provides so much more than a pay cheque for most. Figuring out how to replace all the benefits that work provides, poses a real concern for those considering retirement. Among other things, work offers an affirmation of one’s worth, a sense of value, daily structure and perhaps most importantly, it provides a social network. When these are abruptly removed, as in the case of retirement, it follows that some may feel a bit untethered and without purpose.
So, is the answer just to avoid retirement? For many, the solution is to keep on working until they physically can’t any longer or for health reasons. Others will retire without a plan and struggle with boredom and emptiness. However, there will be those who start to plan well in advance of their retirement date. It is these folks who will find success in their post-work lives.
With advances in health care and increasing longevity, we might spend as much time outside of our working life as we ever spent in it. Facing the prospect of 30 or more years with nothing meaningful to do can be quite disheartening and overwhelming. While some may choose to return to work in some form, either part-time, as a consultant or even full-time in a new career, those who don’t must begin to plan for a whole new life outside of work. Enlisting the services of a professional retirement coach, consulting with friends and family, and some deep self-examination are all great places to start the transition process.
If the “dark side” of retirement is boredom, diminished self-worth and isolation, then we must seek out new activities, goals and people that will foster the self-esteem, fulfillment, and meaningful relationships that were previously provided by work. This very self-centered introspection might feel uncomfortable at first, but the time spent discovering core values, purpose, and your identity outside of work, will be richly rewarded. Ideally this work should begin several years before your actual retirement date.
Questions to Consider:
- Who am I when I’m not at work?
- What activities give me pleasure and/or a sense of accomplishment?
- Which of my relationships do I want to nurture/leave/work on?
- Do I need/want to grow my social network?
- What have I always wanted to do/learn but never had the chance to try?
- How can I make a difference for others?
- What purpose do I want my life to serve?
- What do I want to accomplish before I die?
The key then to avoiding the “dark side” of retirement is to become intimately familiar with who you are when you are not your corporate self. To avoid the profound sense of loss at leaving, it is worth taking a hard look at what you get from your work. The list might include status, social network, structure, and accomplishment, among other things. The years leading up to retirement can be spent deciding which of those things must continue to be a part of your life and which ones can be left behind.
Developing clarity in who you are, and identifying your core values will assist in finding new activities at which you can express your talents and passions. Maintaining an open mind, a willingness to learn, and a certain amount of good humour can help in dispelling the fear of change that is inevitable with such a major transition. The challenge is to learn to know yourself well enough to enable you to create a new life that will meet your retirement dreams as you leave behind your corporate life. A well thought out plan and a great attitude will light the way towards your next chapter as you leave the “dark side” of retirement well behind.