One of the prevailing themes is that of feeling lost.
For many people, retirement presents no difficulties at all. In fact, it can be a transition to a joyful chapter of their lives. Perhaps after years of working at something they didn’t particularly enjoy, they feel finally free to enjoy doing some of the things they had always planned to do, like spending more time with the grandchildren, or with other retired friends. I know of many people who tell me how they love being retired. They now dedicate themselves to their vegetable gardens, do-it-yourself or other hobbies, like helping their children with taking care of their cows or other animals (here in the countryside), or helping take care of grandchildren. However, a significant percentage of people find that when retirement finally nears and/or arrives, they feel lost, troubled, maybe even anxious.
One lady said to me: “looking to your grandchildren for joy is fine but, it doesn’t cut it for someone like me who’s always had a goal, motivation and a busy life. What gives me joy is talking to clients.”
Or a man: “I did not want to wake up in the mornings without something to do. My job is part of who I am. I could play golf every day, but I know if I did that, I’d stop enjoying golf at some point; I will feel bored. The fact is that after retiring I felt as if I had lost part of my identity.”
The are many factors which contribute to these feelings:
- Having worked on a life project, building a successful business has occupied most of your energy, focus and time, leaving the house early in the morning returning late at night, enjoying a status as the “main man” the “boss” and the deference shown, the respect, the feeling of being at the centre of everything.
- You are no longer the main man; you are now the “old guy”, “the granddad”, the one whose time is done, is no longer a player. It is a strange (and difficult) feeling to move from centre stage to invisibility.
- Failed to meet expectations. Maybe you thought that you would have more money, more time. Maybe the partner with whom you planned to spend your retirement is sick. Whatever the reason, retirement just isn’t working out as you planned.
- Lost your sense of purpose. Even if you didn’t really love your job, you are surprised at just how empty your life feels without it.
- Feeling that you don’t really matter. Irrespective of how important we were in the past we all want to feel that we matter here and now in the present.
- We live in a society in an increasingly cynical society dedicated to consumption and novelty. In traditional societies the wisdom of elders was valued; this is no longer the case. Elder wisdom is no longer held in such high esteem. As such, older members of society are often side-lined, put out to pasture where they can graze until they die. This clashes with a natural desire to want to make a difference, to matter.
The usual retirement advice is to take up a hobby, get a new interest, volunteer, take up gardening, get more involved with your grandchildren. These can appear to be good ideas, but we might also discover that they are not as fulfilling as we imagined. All of these ideas are good if they fit, but I feel that it is probably more to it.
One of the uncomfortable aspects of aging is seeing all of our heroes, actors and musicians dying. It forces us to face our own immortality, to review our lives, to look at the good and the bad in our past actions. What difference did I make? The people I hurt, the damage I did, versus the good I did – the positive difference I made.
It is vitally important that we embrace this process of ageing and dying. It is inevitable; what we cannot avoid, we must welcome.
I believe that it is important to develop our spiritual side, learning skills such as mindfulness, meditation, gratitude, compassion, self-compassion, impermanence and forgiveness. These will help find peace in our hearts, greater joy and connection with our lives; reduce the inevitable suffering of sickness and death. It gives a different and more useful way of framing our lives. Fully embraced, this chapter of our lives gives us wonderful opportunities to make a positive difference and increase joy.
I invite you to make a list of the needs that your work-life fulfilled. It might include such aspects as, achievement, purpose, social connection, status, structure, creativity. Don’t be shocked that the list is long.
Now brainstorm ways and structures that will help you to meet those needs. Remember, some of us are not meant to retire (work less perhaps but never stop).
You might set up a project where you can use your considerable skills. It might be a small business, consultancy, advocating (for others less fortunate). It may that you can now become an expert in a new field (sailing for example). You may wish to volunteer or mentor a younger person in a similar field.
Don’t forget that this chapter of your life can also be about discovery and perhaps a chance to meet needs that were left unfulfilled during your working life. Know, accept and really take care of yourself.
Make a plan, but hold it loosely so that you can respond appropriately to your changing needs responsibilities and opportunities. Remember, retirement is not the same for all. You do not have to meet the expectations of others, be it friends, family or society. Be kind to yourself and do it your way.