Making the Psychological Shift to Retirement

It’s a funny thing about work.  No matter how much we complain about it – the hours, the politics, the boss, your co-workers, the lack of recognition – you still gain meaning and fulfillment from it.

“What do you do?” is often the first question a new acquaintance will ask you.  Work has become your identity. That’s why retirement is such a big deal.

You have to figure out your identity outside of your job title.  Preparing yourself psychologically to transition into retirement can be a challenge.

At first retirement can be a relief, especially if you used to daydream about kicking back and doing what you want when you feel like doing it.  You delight in the freedom from having to be somewhere at a certain time.  When the stress of a highly structured, highly demanding work life is removed, many people feel that they can finally relax and enjoy life.

Initially, that’s exactly what they do. They start projects around the house – cleaning and organizing the basement, creating albums for all those photos. When they’re not cleaning, sorting and putting things together, people often take elaborate, extended vacations to remote parts of the world or spend more time at their vacation home.  They see all the possibilities of an exiting decades-long life.  It’s easy to imagine that every day will be filled with fun and recreation – playing golf every day, spending all your time at the beach.

It’s when you realize that these activities aren’t as all-consuming as you had thought that the enjoyment decreases.

When the honeymoon stage ends

Just retired adults are often leaving a structured life where they knew what to expect and entering a non-structured life where they may feel at loose ends to some degree.  Suddenly, all this empty time seems to stretch forever toward the horizon.  Left to their own devices they may feel moody and depressed and feel they should be doing much better.  After all, isn’t this what they were waiting for?

It is human nature to desire a sense of purpose, and without one, you may begin to feel adrift.

Finding your purpose

Your workplace expertise and accomplishments disappear after you retire.

The solution is to set some non-work goals and develop satisfying routines and leisure activities that will cultivate a sense of personal growth, accomplishment, or mastery as well as fun.  Spend more time with friends and family.  Tackle that bucket list.

They don’t have to become life-long interests.  You may have different ideas in a few years.  Be open to developing other pursuits.

You begin to realize that you have the ability to make it all work out.  You can look at your current position, your options and your dreamed-about future and decide what you can accomplish.

The bottom line

We can make choices every day that allow us to feel satisfied, but do we?  Too many retirees choose a lifestyle that’s safe and predictable, but with very little real substance to stimulate them.  If you’re spending your days doing things that just fill the time, what is the value?

At first it’s fine to allow yourself to chill.  But, sooner or later you need to settle into your new life.

Devote some thought to how you want your days to look.  Having goals to look forward to makes you feel positive about your future.  Self discovery is a journey.  The possibilities are endless.

Living with no plan leads to boredom and unhappiness.  You don’t want to be living the same day over and over again for twenty or thirty years.

Money and material assets are just resources to use while you’re here.

What have you got to lose if you seriously go after your dreams, or try out new things?

Then, the next time someone asks you “What do you do?” you’ll have loads of interesting activities and accomplishments to tell them about.




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