Finding a post retirement identity is a process that involves transitions. I realize that I am slowly making these transitions during this wonderful third stage of life.
Just over a year ago when I retired from work, I was gaga with all the new-found time and freedom that was suddenly available. Now I realize that this was the first of many transitions that I would make as I adjusted to retirement.
I also realize that the transition began long before I left the office. That transition began about two years earlier when I realized that my life energy was finite and that there were many aspects of living that were impossible as long as I was devoting 14 – 16 hours to a demanding job, to commuting to downtown Toronto every day and to a heavy schedule of travel that often involved weekends away from home. I began pre-retirement planning that involved psychological preparation, discussions with family, financial assessment, and finally, sending that letter indicating the formal decision to retire.
One of the dreaded aspects of the retirement decision was having to face the formal retirement event. As it evolved, this was not just a single large reception for a broad network of friends and colleagues but it also included several smaller events that spanned several weeks. There were dinners, luncheons and receptions. It felt like I would never finish writing and making thank you speeches. The tributes were wonderful. I felt grandly feted.
Through this time period I also realized that I may never again see many of the people attending these events as our link was professional and not personal. Along with anticipation of a new stage in life, there was sadness and loss. As with all endings, that final day at the office was bittersweet. It was sad to leave the place where I had spent so much time and made so many memories. Most of all, it was sad to leave people with whom I had worked closely and with who I had shared so many good and bad times. But, in my heart I knew that I was ready to leave for retirement.
The first days, weeks and months were wonderful. It felt like the honeymoon that is often described as one of the early stages of retirement. I began blogging in earnest and those early posts chronicled the freedom of using my time as I wished, of spending days without structure, enjoying leisure and having a life plan that was free of goals. I resisted making any commitments. I spent the days re-creating the unencumbered lifestyle of an earlier life stage. I floated through the summer of 2010 walking on the beach, lying in the sun and doing absolutely nothing.
Gradually I began to long for more structure. I thought about hobbies I had enjoyed and decided to re-engage with some of these hobbies — cooking, gardening, reading were the beginning. I joined a book club. I tried some handicrafts but found that I no longer had patience for pottery, macrame, tie-dying, carving or sewing. I began taking continuing education courses and I started to make commitments: local diet, yoga classes, regular lunches with some of my friends and gym buddies.
This transition was also marked with disenchantment. I was diagnosed with moderately severe osteoarthritis. My sister was dying with melanoma. Life seemed less enjoyable that in those early weeks after leaving the office. Although I did not miss working, I missed seeing former colleagues and was eager to hear updates about my previous work. Fortunately I was able to maintain a sense of balance. I found the inner strength to deal with the death of my sister and to face the change in my health status as I had my hip replaced and learned to walk again.
As I look back at this transition I realize how much support my husband gave to me as I moved through this transition. Negotiating retirement needs means some tweaking to marital relationships as couples learn to spend more time together. Many people who retire realize too late that their couple relationship — if they are in such a relationship — will change with retirement. As I spent more time with my husband I learned again what a supportive, fun and loving man he is. I also learned that, much as I love my husband, I needed time alone. I have come to treasure those two days every week when he goes to his office!
As I look back on these retirement transitions, I realize that I have been forming a new identity. I no longer define myself in terms of my previous career and professional identity.
My life purpose is evolving as I explore new interests and begin to live the dreams that I postponed during the work years. This process of re-orienting my life is in the early stages.
I am learning more about my inner world and am more confident about rejecting the societal expectations for retirement. I have no interest in golf. I’m not sure that I am ready for a busy travel schedule as I have only recently un-packed the overnight bag that was always ready for unexpected business trips. Having time to enjoy the four walls of my home and cottage feels like a great luxury at this stage of my life. I proudly describe myself as ‘retired’ when asked about my occupation.
Many people contemplating retirement ask me about ‘coping strategies’. That’s a difficult question to answer as each person’s experience will be different. No transition is pain-free but understanding that there will be emotional and psychological changes helps. I know that staying mentally and physically active are important methods of coping. The retirement journey is one that requires a personal roadmap and a level of resilience to adjust plans as life changes occur.
Retirement transitions have allowed me to redefine who I am. These adjustments have been helped by an understanding that there are many stages of retirement. I have passed through some of the stages and have emerged as a different person.
Now I look forward to further changes. Just as the education journey begins with kindergarten and moves forward through high school and post secondary studies, so does retirement. I’m sure that 10 years hence my reflections on retirement will be more robust. I look forward to the growth I will experience in the next transition.