Retirement is a big transition. It ranks number 10 of life’s most stressful events and is more than a moment in time where you no longer go to your workplace. It’s a process of changing activities, finances, routines, relationships, and identity. Since this process creates stress and uncertainty, it’s not surprising that people feel lost as they adjust to a new way of life in retirement. Your adjustment will be smoother and more fulfilling if you adopt practices like these:
Accept Your Situation
For many people, work is a big contributor to their identity. It’s important to acknowledge that retirement is a big change. While not everyone has the same psychological experience, you can expect to have a number of reactions that are common: happiness, excitement, relief, agitation, sadness, confusion, emptiness, grief, and even anger. Recognize your reactions and feelings – whatever they are – as normal. One way to practice acceptance is to verbalize what is going on with you by saying, “Right now, I am experiencing _____,” which can be emotions such as frustration or sadness, or circumstances such as a lack of structure or a shift in finances. It’s important not to resist the reality of what you are experiencing. Acceptance allows you to face your circumstances head on and build the capacity to change what you can. If you are suffering or struggling to accept this new phase of your life, seek support through a professional.
Keep Pieces of Your Past that Still Serve You
Just because you no longer have your regular job, it doesn’t mean that you must divorce yourself entirely from the identity you had that was tied to that job. If you enjoyed what you did at work, it may be in your best interest to engage in activities related to what you did previously. Consider staying involved in professional organizations, continuing those work relationships that you enjoyed, volunteering, consulting, teaching, or reading related material. You now have the flexibility to choose what you want to do that is related to your previous profession. Think about what you enjoyed when you worked and determine whether it would be helpful to you to continue those activities in your retired life. As you hold on to pieces of your professional past, occasionally check in with yourself to see if it serves you to do so. If yes, continue. If no, take it off your to-do list.
Create New Activities and Interests that Feed Your Spirit
Just like holding on to pieces of your past that serve you, it’s important to engage in new activities and interests that feed your spirit. A great way to find yourself is to consider your passions and interests. Think back to hobbies and interests that may have fallen to the wayside in your lifetime. Would you like to revive them? What else might you want to explore in retirement? Look for classes and activities at your local community center or senior center as well as online to get some ideas. Explore your spirituality more deeply through spiritual practices and reading. Do you have a bucket list? Now is the time to start checking items off. Give yourself enough time to see if these changes truly feed you and if they do, keep pursuing them. If not, let them go and move on to other interests.
Find a Structure that Works for You
While you may have more time to take advantage of opportunities, you also may find it challenging to manage your time without the structure of employment. If you are the type of person who benefits from structure, try imposing structure to your days. Just make sure that the structure works for you. Figure out how to fit in all important areas of your life: socializing, family, exercise, leisure, and personal growth. Let nothing valuable to your wellbeing fall to the wayside. Whether you schedule things rigidly in your calendar for every hour of the day or loosely with “sometime this month,” being intentional with a schedule that works for you can go a long way to helping you feel grounded.
It’s really important not to isolate upon retiring from a job. Connection can provide meaning, validate worth, and stave off depression and feelings of emptiness. Stay connected to former co-workers through coffee, lunch, or activities of mutual interest. Join a club or interest group. Get more involved with your family. Volunteer. Take a class to meet other people who share your interests. Again, do what serves you well and feeds your spirit. Do not try to connect with another out of a sense of obligation or “because you should.” Be true to yourself.
Retirement is a significant transition, but it does not have to be a life sentence of boredom and emptiness. Take advantage of cultivating acceptance, holding onto pieces of the past that still serve you, creating new activities and interests that feed your spirit, finding a structure that works for you, and fostering connection. Taking these actions can help you find your true self in retirement.