The most challenging question for any of us to answer is, “Who are you?” The majority of us would respond with our job roles, describing what we do, rather than who we are. We associate our identities with what we do for a living.
Our identities come about through our interactions with our social environment, culture, family and our interactions with others, particularly within the workplace. Hopefully our roles will provide us with the opportunity to express our values and unique abilities to benefit both our organisations as well as the wider society in which we live. Our identities are what give us a sense of self and subjectivity. Furthermore, our perception of self will be reflected in the stories we tell others about who we are.
Our identity is intimately bound up with the social units we belong to whether that is related to our working environment or the societies in which we live and interact. Each of our identities demands attention and opportunities for expression. Depending on the stages of our lives, our different identities and the importance they assume in our lives will ebb and flow with a different. Different aspects of our identity will take the centre stage depending on our circumstances.
However, there are times when our work identities may be in conflict with our personal and social identities. This is particularly so when our work identities assume disproportionate importance in our lives. The result is that we begin to believe that we are our jobs. The consequences of such a belief is likely to lead to stress and burnout.
Our work identities play a significant role in determining our social status and our sense of self-worth. It not only determines how we think about ourselves but also how others will view us. When we meet strangers the first question we ask each other is “what do you do?” meaning “who are you”?
This poses a particular problem when we lose our role identities through redundancy or retirement. Answering the question “Who are you?” then becomes that much more difficult. The secret of successfully managing life changing events such as redundancy or retirement is to know who we are, which includes a healthy relationship with our careers. In doing so we will allow other aspects of our identity to be recognised and given expression, providing us with support to deal with the loss of any aspect of our identity.
Significant changes often provide us with the opportunity for new beginnings. In the case of retirement it is not only about the ending of one phase of our lives and therefore the loss of an identity, but it also heralds a new beginning and the expression of other aspects of who we are. It is about building and rebuilding the concepts we have about ourselves.
Retirement offers the opportunity for reflection, celebrating past successes whilst embracing the development of other aspects of our identity. For some the loss of identity associated with their careers will be akin to that of the grieving process. Constructing a new life with new identities can be psychologically challenging. I reiterate what I said in my previous post that taking the time to prepare for the change is paramount to a happy and successful retirement.
It is important to note that retirement does not necessarily mean complete absence from the world of work. However, it is about choice and whether we want to include elements of paid work in our lives or making the most of the opportunities to develop and pursue other interests; paid or not. The key with preparation is that we consciously make those decisions without having them imposed on us externally. That places us in the driving seat.
So, take the time to reflect on who you are and who you want to become and be in charge of the inevitable transition.