One of the most common sentiments I’ve heard expressed by imminent retirees is that they are scared, one man even told me he was “scared to death” about what lies ahead in retirement. This kind of fear, ranging from apathy to paralysis, is the classic one we’ve all faced at some point in our earlier lives– fear of the unknown. It might be just the impact of life’s variables that are out of our control–genetics, world economy, or even the amount of money versus time we have left model that people have been worrying about for the last decade or so. Or it may very well be fear of a repeat of someone else’s mistakes or unfortunate path that doesn’t seem avoidable, like moving to where the kids are (or aren’t) and being unhappy. But most of the apprehension I’ve seen candidly expressed is the inability to see or imagine what daily life in retirement will look like. On a positive note, boomers who have had high functioning roles in their careers will often know exactly what they don’t want in the next chapter, and that knowledge is extremely useful in designing a plan in general terms. But the vision stops right there and apprehension can inhibit a useful exercise in addressing this before you retire.
I like to say the first step is the best step– accepting that retirement is coming and there will be change ahead. Even with the sense of loss or grief of leaving a career and, frequently, a fully formed identity behind, the healthiest approach is to accept the change and if possible, fully embrace it. Nothing makes me sadder to hear when asking someone how they are finding retirement, and they answer, “I hate it!” Life is short, and way too short not to appreciate, and if possible to find some enjoyment in what the new life holds. For folks who have been directive or in charge in their career lives, acceptance also brings a measure of control– over choices, decisions, options, and even daily life structure. Finally, acceptance of life change can also bring anticipation of opportunities and realizations of dreams long-held or newly discovered. This proactive approach to managing the retirement transition can be extremely gratifying, and a motivation to spend some time understanding and articulating your goals for the future.
But in the process of overcoming apprehension about retirement and accepting the changes a transition will bring, maybe the most important piece of this journey will be the discovery or re-discovery of your authentic self. Authenticity was all the rage about ten years ago, and some gave it a new age connotation, for good or ill. But when you boil down to what purpose or meaning that brings you vitality, energy, and a life passion, it is essential that it reflects your true, authentic self. This identity piece, always relevant throughout your entire life, is the main ingredient for mental, emotional, physical and spiritual health. Unfortunately our social networks or even our careers may not have embraced (or might have inhibited) who we truly are. But as retirement nears, the best and most life-giving thing you can do is to embrace and be your real self, warts and all. There are self-directed ways to recapture that person you are, through books, reflection, or even revisiting significant life events where you felt truly yourself. A retirement coach can go even further in offering perspective and feedback to what your answers hold in specific questions about identity and authenticity. The time to pursue this self-study is before you retire, and surprisingly the impact will boost your acceptance of change and diminish your apprehension of what lies ahead.
I would love to hear your thoughts and feelings of how you view your retirement transition. Feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.