Traditionally, career paths followed a certain trajectory. It meant working until retirement age, often within the same company or profession and with enough health and wealth to enjoy your perceived well-earned rest when it came along. However, ‘retirement’ has become very individual with a host of options available from half-in to all-out, a new career or business and everything else in between.
As with all the major life events we encounter throughout life, retirement brings changes and choices with each one of us having to decide the path we want to pursue. Two critical challenges accompany any form of retirement. The first is having extensive periods of free time and identifying the activities with which we want to fill that time. The second challenge is coming to terms with the possible loss of purpose and for many, a loss of identity.
In relation to the first challenge, retirement offers an opportunity for reinvention or fine-tuning your life to accommodate and engage with those activities that reflect your unique interests or building on a previous career. Irrespective of how you choose to occupy your time, it is a phase in your life accompanied by liberation from conformity and the freedom to do what you want with your time when you want.
The secret is to decide what will bring you fulfilment and a sense of purpose. This can be scary as we have spent so many years responding to and doing what others expected of us in our job roles, that having the freedom to decide what you want to devote your time to can be paralysing. So, where to start?
Not sure what to do with the next phase of your life, Dylis price (OBE) is one example of the philosophy of reinvention. At 85 she is the oldest woman solo skydiver in the world. After she retired as a teacher she established her own charity, The Touch Trust, working with disabled children and young people.
Her tireless devotion to raising funds for charities meant she was one of the winners of the ‘Pride of Britain Awards’ last year. This prestigious award is one of many she has collected since retirement. Dylis is an inspiration to anyone seeking to discover what the next phase of their lives might and could look like. Read more about her under the tab ‘Inspirational Women’.
I made reference to the loss of identity that often accompanies retirement. In my experience it can be a significant challenge to those whose life has been consumed by their careers. A first step in supporting you to deal with the absence of your career is to understand your relationship with your job before taking the plunge.
The years in a certain role or profession leads us to confuse our identities with our jobs. Career progress may also bring a sense of status, which could be an integral part of our self-image or sense of self-worth. Furthermore, our places of work offer us a social and cultural community with rituals and a sense of belonging that we miss once we retire, especially if there is nothing we value to replace it with.
When we meet someone for the first time the predictable question that accompanies the ritual of introductions is always, “What do you do”? Instead, the question we need to answer, preferably before retirement is, “Who are you?” We are not our professional labels. They may represent a key aspect of who we are, but they are not the total of our identities.
A comforting thought is that identity evolves over time and changes and develops as we go through life. Our identities are intrinsically associated with our values and this is a good place to start in understanding who we are beyond the world of work. Our identities find expression in those activities and goals that give us a sense of meaning and contentedness.
Every person living a fulfilling retirement has taken the time to plan and prepare for it before the big day and even to ‘practice’ what it might look like. Doing so will allow you to make the necessary adjustments, both practical and psychological, before you do it for real.
So, my advice is to start planning! If you find it daunting and don’t know where to begin, don’t be proud and seek help from a trusted friend, colleague, someone who has already taken the plunge or a professional coach such as myself. However, don’t delay as advance planning could save you wasted time, energy and avoidable pain.