Why do smart people struggle with retirement?
After decades of work, many take a hard look at their finances including pensions and government benefits. Next comes the decision to retire.
After the hoopla of retirement celebrations, many question this decision. There are a few weeks — or months — of feeling that life is an endless vacation filled with gardening, golfing, sleeping in and travelling. But, reality hits and retirement turns sour.
Struggles often arise when the psychological and emotional preparations are incomplete. The financials indicate that retirement should be easy but there is a nagging feeling that the spark of life is missing. Feelings of irritability, anxiety and displacement nag at the heart. Stress sky-rockets.
It’s not uncommon to re-think the decision to retire. Why does this happen?
The timing may have be wrong. Retirement may have come too early. If so, a return to work — perhaps on a part-time basis — might be the solution. Unfortunately, sometimes retirement happens too late, and poor health limits enjoyment of retirement years.
Work provides structure to life and when that structure is gone, boredom arises. The phrase ‘boredom in retirement’ ranks high for internet search engines. This is a common concern.
Everyone gets bored from time to time whether retired or not and everyone has found a way through such times.
With so many choices about how to spend precious retirement days, it’s hard to imagine boredom lasting too long. A review of the bucket list might spark new ideas to help make a purposeful plan for retirement years. Saying ‘yes’ more often when family and friends issue invitations to take part in events is another strategy. Adding structure by calendaring daily and weekly events also helps to plan for free time.
Some people have few or no interests. Many jobs are all-encompassing. Coupled with the demands of raising a family, the work years left no time or energy to develop hobbies, skills, friendships, other pursuits.
When people with an over-busy career history leave work, a huge gap appears. Taking courses in areas that have always held interest or re-kindling past hobbies may be a solution. This process may involve missteps. It may take months to find something enjoyable.
A loss of identity is not uncommon as many people over-identify with their jobs. Their title and status in the workforce define who they are.
Job identity stops at retirement leaving the person to struggle with redefinition of the self. Answering the question “who am I?’ is difficult until a new identity emerges. The retirement identity evolves slowly developing simultaneously with pursuit of new interests and new relationships.
Even smart people have difficulty letting go of the past. Grieving is part of the transition to retirement. Workplace friends and peers are lost. Emotional readjustment happens when work ends. Self-definition changes. Keeping perspective allows consideration of new and challenging opportunities during retirement instead of re-playing the good old days.
Some people suffer from loneliness when they leave the camaraderie of work friends. The buzz of work, even the stress, is missed. Emptiness, isolation and feelings of personal insignificance accompany the loneliness. These feelings will gradually subside as new friendships develop. A retirement network evolves to replace the social connections of the workplace.
Many people miss the ‘achievement factor’ after retirement. The awards, accolades, respect, and promotions provided a sense of achievement that is gone after retirement. Too often, achievement equalled happiness.
In retirement, the ‘projects-to-complete’ and ‘goals-to-attain’ involve achieving deeper insight and self actualization. Reframing the measurement of achievement and learning how to reward oneself for retirement accomplishments will fill the achievement vacuum.
Smart people will struggle with retirement. For some, this will happen in weeks or months. For others, it may take years before reaching a level of comfort.