When you quit a full time career there is precious little to guide you through the transition to this new stage. Change is the practical external stuff, transition is the inner journey. During transition, you are pulled in two different directions: drawn back to familiar patterns and at the same time trying to strike out in a new direction. We are creatures of habit, developing holding patterns that are hard to extinguish. Think how tricky it is to get accustomed to driving on the other side of the road when overseas. The rebound or elastic band principle can come into effect, like the guy who simply couldn’t handle being home 24/7 and hired himself an office so he could ‘go to the office’.
The thing about retirement is that it isn’t an ending, but rather whole new beginning.
But the tricky part about making the transition is recognising that in order to have a beginning you have to have an ending. And it is easy to bustle into making the practical changes, moving house, starting a new hobby or studying while failing to let go of your internal ties to your old identity.
Letting go can be hard to do and it takes time, but the more you can create a compelling future to look forward to, the more you can move on from the past and avoid becoming a ‘when I’, full of regret that the best days are over. ‘What do you do?’ is a conversation opener and usually the answer has to do with occupation: computer programmer, doctor, manager, that kind of thing. But how are you going to answer that question when you retire? A big part of identity during a career involves your role at work, but when you take away that convenient label how do you replace it? When you say for instance, ‘I am a retired pilot’, the conversation will very likely lead back to the past and what you did in the past rather than moving forward to the future.
And the future in retirement these days looks brilliant compared to its old static image several generations ago. It’s like a whole new career – it can be a new career if that’s what you want. The thing about this fresh stretch of life is that it is full of possibilities about who you can be – rather than what you used to do. Exciting but also challenging: where before things ran along the train tracks of school, college and career, now you have to find your own way as you develop other aspects of your identity. When you are negotiating the tricky waters of transition it’s helpful to have something exciting to draw you forward. Going for a walk is a good analogy, where you have a destination like an intriguing landmark to aim for in the distance, your route may not be very clear but at least you have a vision of where you want to be.
Visioning is an important part of the process of adjustment, imagining futures to see how they fit with what you want from this next chapter of life. And people do have different views about the kind of approach they want: among them those who want to ‘sit back and smell the roses’ and enjoy their leisure, ‘fresh challenge’ folk who are itching to start something new be it a business or a degree, the ‘a bit more of the same’ types who want to continue using their expertise maybe as consultants and ‘adventurers’ in search of excitement travel and fresh experiences. Which category describes you best?
Experimenting at this stage feels a bit like being a teenager all over again, but it’s worth spending time in the adjustment phase rather than making a hasty choice like the guy who dreamt of having an apple farm, not realising that orchards can take years before a return can be expected and that they involve far more work than merely harvesting a rosy crop.
This excerpt was taken from Rewire Don’t Retire, sponsored by Irish Life and Active Retirement Ireland. You can download the full guide HERE.