You’ve been working hard for the last 40 years and saving diligently for the big day — the day you walk out of your office for the final time never to return again. For many people this is an experience that’s met with jubilation. For others, fear.
After the initial honeymoon stage of unlimited free-time ends, many newly minted retirees begin to suffer an identity crisis. For so many of us, at least a portion of our identity is tied to our work. Think about it for a moment - almost every time we meet someone new, one of the first questions we ask is “What do you do for a living?”
In retirement, you might get asked “What did you do before you retired?”, but that is a prior identity. Not who you are today. Unfortunately, the loss of identity is something that is rarely discussed.
This can be a scary proposition. And I think it’s a big reason some people are hesitant to pull the trigger on retirement even when they’re financially prepared. I know quite a few folks that have been saying, “I’m going to work another year or two.” for a decade. I get it. It’s hard. Planning what you’re going to do with your time prior to retirement can go a long way to helping you retire with confidence.
But, before I get to some things you can consider to combat this identity crisis, I want to share a few things you should avoid doing when thinking about how you’re going to spend your time in retirement. I’ve witnessed the good, the bad and the ugly with regard to how retirees spend their time and want to help you avoid the bad and the ugly.
What should you avoid in retirement?
- Too much time watching TV. — When I first moved to Pittsburgh, I began working with an existing group of retirees. One thing amazed me about this experience — I developed a sixth sense where I had a very clear idea of how this retiree had spent their time in retirement to that point within just five minutes of meeting them for the first time. Those who spent an inordinate amount of time in front of the TV seemed to lack purpose, were generally more negative, didn’t appear as healthy and seemed to have lost their zest for life. Those who didn’t
seemedvibrant, energetic and positive.
- Having an empty calendar. — Maybe give yourself a few weeks of an empty calendar to decompress once you retire, but be sure to commit to some things before too long, lest you fall into watching too much TV.
- Becoming a hermit. — These might all be ways of saying the same thing, but as I wrote about in Notes from the Field 002, relationships are essential to happiness. For many people, their social circles at work are a big part of their life, so finding ways to foster companionship outside of work is key to a fulfilling retirement.
What should you do instead?
So, how can you prepare yourself to make the transition into retirement a little easier? More specifically, what can you do with your time to ensure your identity stays intact? For many people, this means finding ways to continue contributing, staying intellectually challenged and maintaining friendships.
Here are some ideas based on what I’ve seen work for other retirees:
- Volunteer. Get involved with a charity; perhaps even join the board.
- Be a mentor. You have a wealth of experience in business and in life and you should consider sharing what you’ve learned. You’d be amazed at the number of younger folks that want a mentor but don’t know who to ask. So, finding someone is easier than you think. Once you find that person, set a standing monthly breakfast or whatever works for you.
- Take a class. With sites like
Udemyyour options are virtually limitless. If you prefer in-person classes, try a local university.
- Get active at a health club or get involved with “Masters” athletics.
- Learn a new skill or take up a new hobby. Piano, gardening, woodworking, birding or cooking are just a few ideas.
- Join or start a book club.
- Join or start a chess club or card group.
- Write a book.
- Start a small business. While ironic when thinking of retirement, many retirees now have the time to start the side business they’ve always wanted to have.
The common themes among the above ideas are relationships, intellectual stimulation and healthy living - all of which lead to feelings of purpose and contentment. When people depend on you, even if it’s just to show up for a workout, you are giving yourself a reason to get out of the house each day which can have a significant impact on your overall happiness.
Though, based on the experience of those who have come before you I do want to warn you: Immediately upon retirement, you might consider slowly filling your calendar to avoid “buyer’s remorse.” Overbooking yourself right out of the box can lead to the same type of stress you just left behind when you retired.
Just be sure not to let the honeymoon stage linger too long. Find things you enjoy doing to make sure you have some sort of purpose when you wake each morning.
Thanks for reading!
If you’re looking for a retirement planner to help you make a comfortable transition into retirement and want to see if we’re a good fit, reach out to me and my team at Shorebridge Wealth Management.