Avoiding the Retirement Identity Crisis
Here are five ways you can make the transition to a new you.
Posted December 6, 2010
A few years before my first “retirement”, my husband and I attended a cocktail party where I became keenly aware of how attached everyone I met that night was to their work identity. On the way home, I remember smugly commenting how sad it was that so many people would be lost without the identity provided by what they did for a living. So imagine how stunned I was, those few years later, to find myself completely and totally lost when I left my career as TV and special events producer. I found I no longer knew who I was once I left my title behind.
My friend Nancy had “retired” to the country at the age of 45 when her husband—twenty years her senior—retired from his career. She had what—at the time—seemed like terrific advice. “Just tell anyone who asks that you’re temporarily retired,” she said with a twinkle. “First, they’ll be terribly jealous, and then, of course, they’ll ask what you used to do. Voila, you have your identity back!”
Now that I’m older (and hopefully wiser) and have survived my first retirement identity crisis, I now know that clinging to the past is not the way to successfully make this transition. While it can be scary to walk away from the identity you carried for so many decades, there are some excellent ways you can avoid a serious identity crisis:
1. Think of retirement not as an ending, but as your next career move. Who said retirement has to be a drop-dead point? Stop looking at this transition as the end of life as you’ve known it—the big black hole into which you are about to freefall. Instead, approach this next stage of life as if you were planning the next step in your career. It doesn’t matter if you want what’s next for you to be a 180 degree departure from what you’ve been doing. As you craft your next “move”, you’ll be creating a new identity.
2. Start trying on new identities for size before you retire. Don’t wait to begin exploring what’s next until the day you walk out the door of your current work life. Use your time wisely by dipping your toes into lots of different activities and experiences. The more things you try, the more easily you’ll be able to determine what you really want to be doing next. Some things will work; some won’t. And, it’ll all be perfect, because along the way, you’ll be building confidence in your abilities, and weeding out those things that aren’t a good fit for who you are now.
3. Tell people you’re rewiring, not retiring. I recommend Jeri Sadler’s book, Don’t Retire, Rewire, to everyone I know, not only because it’s a great book, but because the title is the best description of what it is we’re really doing as we transition into this next life stage. This is a great time to gain the tools you’ll need to overcome whatever might short-circuit your success.
4. Better yet, let go of caring what other people think, say or do. Remember, this is your time, and there is no such thing as a permanent record. What if you finally do what you want to do? What’s the harm in taking all the time you need to discover what it is you want to do, and exactly who it is you want to be? Isn’t it time you let go of worrying about what other people think, and stopped twisting yourself inside out to please them? And ask yourself this: is it really other people judging your decision to retire and take a new life course, or is it just you judging you? Is the chorus of naysayers in your head so loud that it’s paralyzing you from making the best possible choices about who you want to be for the rest of your life?
5. Drop the masks and get to know the real you. How much of the identity you’ve been carrying around all these years is the real you, and how much of it has been masking who you are in your soul? How much of your personality did you leave at home every day? How much were you able to express the “real” you in your career? This is the grand opportunity in the transition in to retirement: to finally get to know your true self, the identity at your core, your essence, and then find ways to express it fully in the world.
If you look forward to creating a whole new fabulous you in retirement, you won’t have to fear what’s next, and you certainly don’t have to worry about losing your identity.
Lin Schreiber, PCC, is a Retirement Revolutionary who loves helping self-reliant women reinvent themselves in the next stage of life, formerly known as “retirement.” Lin is featured on the PBS series Boomers: Redefining Life After Fifty, and is the author of The ABC’s of Retiring Retirement. A Professional Certified Coach, Certified Retirement Coach, and founder of Revolutionize Retirement, Lin combines her contagious enthusiasm, nonstop energy, and passion for her subject to create a fun, dynamic learning environment that energizes and inspires her audiences.