When you’re a year or two away from retirement, or from your kids graduating and moving on with their lives, you start fantasizing about how wonderful it’s going to be to have lots of free time to do whatever you want to do.

It all seems perfect in your daydreams, but once the time comes, it can be challenging to figure out who you want to be now and in what direction you want to head.

You undoubtedly want open time to spend with your friends and family, or alone, but this is also your opportunity to do something entirely different, to reinvent yourself. Since getting started on this new road is often the most challenging step, it’s important to break it down into manageable actions that can help you determine who the “new you” will really be.

 
 

If you know you want to explore some fresh iterations of yourself, but you aren’t exactly sure what those might be, try these five steps.

Take a Step Back in Time

Look at some old photos of yourself, from when you were in college or first starting a family or even younger. Play some music from that time to set the mood. Open your journal and start writing anything that comes to your mind. Think about what you always dreamed of doing if earning a living weren’t a consideration.

Remember the activities that excited you, even if they aren’t that different from what you ended up doing. Who knows? Maybe you were a manager in a high-stress business but what you’d really like to do is join the Peace Corps and teach people good business practices. Use this exercise to reconnect with long-held dreams you’ve all but forgotten.

Get Out of Your Comfort Zone

If the answer to everything you fantasize about doing is, “Oh, I can’t do that because I’m too scared,” then you have to use this time to get braver.

You’ve no doubt done many things in your life that required courage and inner toughness. You can certainly try some new things at this end. When I first dragged my suitcase up the hill to live in the dorms for two weeks when I recently earned an MFA degree, I wanted so badly to turn around and get back into the Super Shuttle. But, I’m so glad I didn’t.

I got over my nervousness and opened myself to a whole new world of people and ideas and paths I want to follow. Rely on the strengths you know you have and you’ll find yourself feeling comfortable again in no time.

Develop Some Kind of Daily Practice

This is true if you’re rusty at the skill you’re ready pursue in this phase of life, but it’s also important just to help you establish confidence and discipline. Whether it’s a daily gratitude journal or a mindfulness meditation session, doing something every day – regardless of whatever else is going on – is great for focus, creativity, and building self-esteem.

Last year, I took a photograph out of doors every day of the year and I posted it on Instagram. I only have about 20 regular followers, but that’s not why I began “A Year Outside.” As a writer also interested in pursuing creativity in practically any form, it reminded me to really look at the world around me, to play with filters and angles, and to simply go outside.

The latter was important for me because being able to walk unencumbered out in the world was a big dream of mine while I was sitting at a desk during the last five or six years of work. Yet, I didn’t really do it every day until I took on this project. The sense of accomplishment when you set a daily goal and complete it does wonders for your sense of yourself.

Listen to Your Own Voice

Even though you may be free now from the ideas and opinions of your old boss and co-workers, or the judgment that came from the rolling eyes of your teenagers, there are still a lot of people in this act of life who want to tell you what you should do. Some will urge you to do absolutely nothing for the first year of freedom, while others will suggest 18 different places you can volunteer.

There may be merit in all suggestions, but what’s most essential is what you want to do with your time and energy. And remember that it may take some time to find your own voice amid the others. It may also be tough at first to give yourself permission to explore the world on your own terms at your own pace. But, one of the big truths of the third third of life is that you deserve to live this on your own terms, so do it and enjoy it.

Expect Mistakes in the Transition to Retirement

This may seem like ending on a negative, but it really isn’t. This is the first time in probably 35 years that you can set your pace, pursue your own interests, and involve yourself in the world as you see fit. You’re bound to find at least couple of interests that don’t pan out or weren’t what you thought they were. This is natural and part of the process.

We’ve been on the clock for so many years, being able to meander and choose what sounds good to us will seem foreign initially, and it will make you think you need to do the first thing that comes along. Give yourself time to make mistakes, to discover new – or old – things about yourself, and to see the world from a new angle.

This is the time of your life that you worked for. Enjoy every minute of finding your new path.

How are you reinventing yourself in the transition to retirement? How are you preparing to enjoy the third act of your life? What interests do you look forward to pursuing? Please join in the conversation.

Ginny McReynolds is a longtime writer. She holds an MFA in Creative Nonfiction from Goucher College, and writes about communication, retirement, reinvention, self-concept and creativity in The Washington Post, Curve magazine, and Together.guide. Please visit her blog called Finally Time for This: A Beginner’s Guide to the Second Act of Life.

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