Moving into Uncertain Waters: Considering Retirement?

You’re still working, but the kids are gone, and that promotion or next deal is in the rear-view mirror.  You are approaching that age 65 marker and wondering what you are going to do next.  You are not ready to leave work and yet there is something stirring within you to “move on.”  This is the “Pretirement” micro-stage.

Welcome, and you are not alone.  There are over 10,000 people per day turning 65 and this will go on for another 15 years.  You all have something in common.  Your children (if you have them) are pretty much on their own and have probably left for college, work, or their own next stage of life.  You have had a reasonably successful career, and you may be the leader of your team, company, social club. There is not much left for you to accomplish other than normal goals and responsibilities.  However, you are facing 20 to 30 and perhaps 40 years of useful, open and “to be determined” life ahead of you.  Now what?

The purpose of this blog is to describe the thinking and feeling process that often besets people coming into a retirement stage of life.  In my book, Next Stage:  Creating the Life You Want Before It’s Too Late (Balboa Press, 2019), I describe this stage of life and explore five critical questions.  Some of these questions are obvious to you and others may be challenging to you.  There is much to be learned, discovered and determined in each.  These questions are:

  1. What are you going to do with your time?
  2. Will you have enough money?
  3. Who are you going to live with?
  4. How do you stay healthy?
  5. Who are you going to be?

The book and other blogs will describe the factors, research, decisions and offer illustrations for each of these questions.  For this blog, let’s look at what you will likely be facing as you enter this incredibly important time of life.

Reinventing Adulthood

In the book I describe this stage as the “Reinventing Adulthood” stage of life.  It comes after that time when you were at the pinnacle of your career or your profession, and it comes before the consolidation stage where your world becomes smaller and you are simply not able to get around.  But you are not there yet, and there is much to do, experience, and figure out between now and then.  It is also important to remember that at no time in history have so many people lived for so long.  Medical science and healthier life styles have created this opportunity, and you have been born at the right time.  You and many thousands, millions like you are redefining what “retirement” means and creating a new set of norms, images and activities.

White the book discusses ten stages of life, and focused on Stage 8, “Reinventing Adulthood”, there are micro-stages that one typically follows as they transition into the next stage.  The following describes that steps that individuals typically follow.  This process was described by Marjory Zoet Bankson, in her book Creative Aging:  Rehinking Retirement and Non-Retirement in a Changing World (Skylight Paths Publising, 2010).  I have built on her descriptions based on my own personal experience and those that I interviewed for my book, Next Stage.  I hope you find a similar path for yourself.

  1. Release

It may come gradually or suddenly, but there will come a time when you realized that you are no longer a working professional.  You may continue to work a few days a week or month, but this work is no longer defining your identity (or soon won’t be).  The experience initially is one of “release.”  You wake up on Monday morning and do not have to go anywhere, fight the traffic or rush out to make a meeting.  There is air in your schedule.  There is a list of many things you want to do today, and there is a sense of excitement and opportunity.  You are excited about all the possibilities and it feels like the first day of summer.  Wow!

After a few weeks or months, you find that you have settled into a pattern, and you are starting to worry.  You have improved your golf game, did several long-waiting projects around the house, and have said yes (perhaps too many times) to people who need you to do something (as a volunteer, not for pay).  You miss your co-workers.  You miss the daily excitement and challenge; you miss the sense of accomplishment.  You have heard that they have replaced you at work.  You are getting a little bored and there may be additional tensions at home as you now occupy space during the day. You are expected to do some things around the house because you now have the time.  Now you become as busy as you were when you were working.

  1. Resistance

You are starting to feel “resistance” to the current tasks and wish you could go back and do some things at wor, or perhaps find another job.  Tuesday feels a lot like Saturday, and this makes you uncomfortable. You miss the work activities, connections with people, feeling like what you did made a difference, and you miss the income.  By not generating income for the family, you are feeling less valued and important.  You call a few work colleagues to have coffee, lunch or a beer, and see if you can network into finding some work opportunities. You may not be looking for a job, perhaps a consulting contract, a project or a chance to fill in for someone who is on leave.  You are casting around a bit, but you don’t want to take on a full-time commitment (or maybe you do), and you are getting a little frustrated being out of the line of action.

  1. Reclaiming

This next micro-stage can be characterized as “reclaiming” your life.  You realize that you want certain things that the temporary work was not providing.  You may have tried a few “gigs”, but they don’t seem to have the same meaning as your career once had. You want to think, discuss, and read more about things you can do in this next stage of your life.  You realized that you are at a different point, that this stage is unique, and you can do something you’ve always wanted to do.  The author, visionary, naturalist Henry David Thoreau once said, “Life isn’t about finding yourself; it’s about creating yourself.  So, live the life you imagined.”

  1. Revelation

After a short period of time you have a sense of “revelation.”  You have this gift of open time to pursue a new sense of your identity, calling, passion and adventure.  While you may still need to earn some money, there are some other things you want to do with this time.  While you may have some health limitations, this is a time to make yourself as healthy as you can be.  You have the time to do yoga, active walks, an exercise routine.  You start to feel as if you are in control more of your life than you have ever felt before.  You don’t need the approval of others like you once felt.  You have a sense of independence and autonomy, and a sense of purpose is starting to emerge from within you.  This starts to feel like a time that is very different than other times in your life, and it is both exciting and scary.

  1. Restructuring

The next step is to do some “restructuring” of your life.  You may want to make your house more livable for the future.  You may want to downsize or renovate the house or find a vacation home that is in a desirable climate condition.  You seek to find a place to live that is closer to doing the things you love – a golf course, hiking trails, city-life, community-life, your family/children, or a place you’ve always wanted to live.

  1. Risk-Taking

As part of the restructuring time is taking risks and trying on new things.  It may not be wise to permanently eliminate many things until you have tried the new things out.  Some will take bold actions and realize the consequences.  Others will do a “rent-to-buy” kind of moves, to see if what they envisioned would truly become the reality.  Some will do a few things for a while, then move on, continually exploring.

  1. Renewal

As you go through these life changes, you see whether they work to bring you meaning, value and are sustainable.  It is okay to make a mistake, if you learn something from it.  What is happening to you is a reinvention of you.  Your start to feel yourself with a new identity, and new sense of who you are and what you need to do in this world.  It is a time to experience “renewing.”

A Life Well Lived

One of the realizations that emerge from this time of change and reinvention is that you are closer to the end of the journey than the beginning.  You’ve been thinking about things you’ve always wanted to do, and realize that if you don’t do this now, when will you?  There is both a sense of urgency and importance.  Now the terms are about your life and what you want to make of it.

So these are the micro-stages one goes through as you enter and grow through this next stage of life. Your success in this period will depend on your own initiative to examine, explore, and act.  This is a time for holding on to some things and letting go of others.  While you may have responsibilities or limitations that will reduce your options, how you think about your life, your time and your opportunities are what will bring you meaning and happiness.  Now is the time to make the changes you want, hold on to the things that are good for you, let go of those that are not, and appreciate how this makes you feel.  After all, wouldn’t it be wonderful to be able to look back on your life and say to yourself, “This life was well lived.”  You have the opportunity and responsibility to make it so.

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