WHAT I’VE LEARNED ABOUT RETIREMENT….

Stories without conclusions are…just stories.  I guess that’s why everyone I speak to about this blog keeps asking me…what are you learning?  What are people saying?  So, I figure that everyone, including me, is craving some conclusions and insights.   So…here’s some things I’ve learned from talking to people over the past 5 months…  

First of all, let’s start with THAT word:  RETIRED.  It is hardly a word with… let us say…positive connotations.  It’s a word that doesn’t role smoothly off your tongue and honestly gets sort of stuck in your throat. I mean seriously, look at the definitions of retire or retirement: “Ceasing to work”…“Withdrawal from active working life”…”to Withdraw , Go Away or Recede”.  To me, that terminology smacks of being put out to pasture with nothing to look forward to but munching on old and tired grass.  In much the same way, when people “Congratulate” you on your retirement, some give you “that look”…like the one you give to someone who has just stepped on a skunk.   I can only describe it as a look of “pity” rather than joy.  

Clearly, not everyone is on the same page with this new second chapter.  If you’re me, you look at Retirement as an exciting beginning, a transition, a metamorphosis, a new challenge, a move forward to different kinds of work.  Those are the words I’d use.  Honestly, I believe wholeheartedly that we need to come up with new Retirement terminology that’s FORWARD LOOKING, ACTIVE and POSITIVE, while trashing Retirement concepts which are passive, backward looking and seriously DEPRESSING.

Now that I’ve gotten that off my chest, here are some takeaways from my conversations about Retirement with people who have retired…partially or fully:

  • There are a whole lot of people out there who did NOT CHOOSE to retire and arguably wouldn’t have if events hadn’t gotten in their way.  Corporate actions, takeovers, new bosses and health are key culprits in derailing careers.  Unfortunately, when that happens, it’s harder to stay in the game the older you get.  In fact, many senior level people who lost jobs when they were nearing 60 just couldn’t find their way back in, and not for lack of trying.

  • There are also many people out there who would love to retire, but financially can’t do so.  A couple of people told me that they couldn’t read my blog because it was too depressing for them.  They wanted to retire or slow down, but they weren’t in a position to do so.  Clearly, I haven’t touched on this issue at all.    But it’s very real.
  • Key words that I have heard in my conversations among people who have slowed down are:  Structure and Identity:  In almost every conversation, people talked about their desire to maintain their identity in the new life life chapter they are inhabiting.    Some people who have fully retired are struggling with living without that work identity and those who’ve quasi-retired cherish having maintained it.
  • Uniformly, people talked about their perceived need to put some structure into their lives.  The conversation about doing laundry on Mondays providing some structure comes to mind here.  Coming from a life of schedules and structure to 12 hour days of “To Be Determined” isn’t something that necessarily comes easily.  It takes work to figure out how much structure you want and then to “implement” that plan.

  • It’s an open question whether the Retirement story is different for men and women.   Some women talked about the fact that their identities were not fully tied up in their career, which they felt gave them some wiggle room in moving on.  And some men do feel that their identify is defined by their careers.  But I’m not really sure if this is just the stereotype. …or actually truth.

  • Everyone I’ve spoken to admits that  if you think you’re going to morph successfully from those 8-12 hour work days to an equally satisfying and productive next chapter, think again.  It’s a challenge to define  “what makes you happy” after you’ve given up full-time paid work.  Whether you’re fully or partially retired, one of the first tasks to be addressed is: “How to be the best boss to yourself”.   This may take 6 months, it may take a year or even more.  It’s a process and overnight success and answers aren’t the norm.

  • There are chapters in retirement.  It’s a continual process of figuring out how to “carpe diem” all along the way.  It’s sort of like a moving walkway.   In many ways, that’s a plus.   You have the freedom and the luxury to keep making adjustments as you walk along the path.

Clearly, everyone’s story and everyone’s experiences are uniquely their own.  At the same time, I do think that there are things we can all learn from each other about this evolving chapter in our lives.  And I do hope that the stories told here can be instructive.  

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