Reactions to retirement vary: Some people slide into it easily by turning their hobby into a full-time activity, while others struggle to find a new life. The challenge is to recast your identity, re-establish meaningful relationships and develop an engaging purpose – what I call your “Psychological Portfolio.” Get your portfolio in order and retirement will be easier.
Identity is key to your psychological portfolio. How do you identify yourself when you are no longer a bank teller, roofer or college professor? As one man told me, “I know who I was, but not who I am.” Madge, a journalist, could not wait to retire so that she could do some serious painting. Yet it took her two years to say to herself and to others that she was an artist. Incorporating a new identity takes time. In between, though, it is important to remind yourself that you are more than your former job title.
Relationships play a critical role in your psychological portfolio, too. Cal said what he missed most was “schmoozing.” Replacing work relationships requires time and effort.
In addition, readjusting to family relationships is also challenging. Cal was amazed that he heard himself screaming at his wife at the checkout counter about the brand of cereal she had bought. Now that he was no longer working full time, he went grocery shopping with her. Adjusting to being at home after 50 years of spending days apart takes time.
Meaningful involvement is critical to well-being, as successful retirees demonstrate. Work provides social, as well as financial, capital. One woman reported, “When I worked I helped organizations find their mission. Now that I am retired I need someone to help me identify my mission statement.” Participation in volunteer or part-time work is one effective way to build up your social capital.
Some Final Tips
- Balance Your Psychological Portfolio. Before retirement, look at your psychological assets – your identity, your relationships, and your meaningful involvement – and figure out ways to replace and/or strengthen them.
- Follow a Proven Retirement Recipe. According to psychiatrist and author George Vaillant, successful retirees will be those who find new relationships to fill the void, learn to play, focus on their passion, and continue learning.
- Be Patient. Transitions are a process, not an event. You think about it, plan it, do it. Be patient, knowing that today is not forever.
Nancy K. Schlossberg is the author of “Revitalizing Retirement: Reshaping Your Identity, Relationships, and Purpose,” published by the American Psychological Association.