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3 Ways Retirement Can Take You by Surprise

By Marcia Smalley October 03, 2022 Lifestyle

Every life transition has both peaks and valleys. We become excited about new possibilities, yet we can’t avoid the shadows. Transitioning into retirement isn’t any different. It’s a glorious and fun-filled time of life. And it has a darker side.

For the record, I chose to retire from full-time work, and it’s been one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.

But some of us at this life stage have no choice or are forced into a retirement we don’t want or aren’t prepared for. Others crafted a careful plan, and something happened that changed everything.

During my pre-retirement research, I found a lot of valuable, practical advice on creating a financial roadmap, planning for adequate health care, or selecting a location for retirement living.

I didn’t find a lot of shared wisdom around the issues that are harder to talk about.

What I did find were three questions deserving of reflection whether we’re knee deep into a retired life, or we’re looking forward to one in the coming years… and regardless of why we make this change in the first place.

Why Does Retirement Sometimes Feel So Difficult?

Most retirees don’t miss the alarm clock or the demands of their work schedules. There’s a list of things we’re happy we’ve given up and an even longer list of things we still hope to do.

Yet, even if life hasn’t thrown us a curve ball, we sometimes feel at loose ends. We silently admit that retirement is harder than it looks.

Maybe we change homes, making multiple trips to the local charity in our efforts to right size. Or we purge every nook and cranny of our existing homes. There’s little left to organize, paint or re-decorate.

We look around at our orderly living spaces and realize we’re facing a new phase of life as relatively vibrant, admittedly smart people, with more than a few contributions still to make in the world.

And that can feel daunting. The underlying question we have is, “So, now what?”

That’s when the deep work begins. We embark on an inner journey that requires soul searching and heart excavating. How do we replace the old with the new? What does that look like?

The good news is that we can get started right away. The tougher news is that, as with any journey, it may not be easy, and it may take us a little time to arrive.

The better news is that we’re all works in progress, and our quest will probably not follow a straight line. And that’s OK.

Is It Normal to Feel Empty Inside?

We usually celebrate retirement. We get cake, cards, even a party. Or we take a cruise or a trip around the world. As well we should.

Then we go home, and life quiets down. We greet a new normal, but we don’t know exactly what that is. Routines escape us; our natural rhythms are skipping a beat.

It’s natural to feel loss when we leave our careers. It’s normal to feel a little like an empty vessel. Retirement can be unnerving, especially at first and oftentimes at points along the way.

This discomfort can grow if we don’t address it. The key is to fill the emptiness with people and activities that nourish us and contribute to our growth. And to notice whether we’re managing those empty feelings or whether they are managing us.

What’s Next for Me?

As with any life stage, retired life reflects whatever we bring to the party. Your “what’s next” depends on you.

If you loved your work, then it’s possible the only thing you’ll retire is your paycheck. You may stay in your lane and remain involved with your previous world in some capacity.

If there’s something you’ve been dreaming of doing, like start a business or travel, then you’ll probably take that adventure at some point during retirement. If you’ve been longing to just enjoy each day and take things as they come, then you’ll set your course for that.

And if you sink into hopelessness whenever you experience big changes, then you need to be watchful of that tendency at this stage of life, too.

No matter the direction you take, now that your house is in order, it’s time to get busy and to move forward.

Your What’s Next is waiting.

Let’s Have a Conversation:

What are your concerns about retirement? How are you addressing those concerns? What advice would you give someone considering retirement? Please join the conversation!

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The Author

Marcia Smalley is a certified retirement coach and life coach, a writer and a teacher. She delights in helping mid-life women step confidently into their next act and design a joyous, expanded life. Marcia provides coaching support to women who are navigating retirement or other life transitions and writes a monthly e-newsletter to her entire online community. Please visit her website at

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