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Finding Your New Identity After 60 Requires Saying Goodbye to the Old One

By Hilary Henderson January 08, 2022 Mindset

Most of us do not stop to reflect on how entwined our identity is with our work roles. Have you noticed how people meeting you for the first time tend to start a conversation by asking what you do?

That is because it is a very useful entry to understanding who somebody is. In employment we also have titles and job descriptions that reinforce who we are and what our status is in the organization.

The day we retire or transition away from full-time work, we leave this core part of our identity behind. Our identities as wife, mother, grandmother, sister etc., do not change as we continue to live those roles.

But the anchor that gives you the status of manager, personal assistant, nurse, IT technician or expert falls away.

Stages of Letting Go

To find a new identity for ourselves, in many cases we must work through letting go. Dr. Elizabeth Kϋbler-Ross studied the process people enter when a loved-one is dying.

Though formulated in the 1960s, I find it remains relevant and beautifully explains the process of letting go. We can apply it to the process of grieving our identity as a full-time member of the working community.

It is important to understand that this is not a linear process, i.e., most of us do not move through one stage after the other, to the state of acceptance.

Rather, we jump around from one stage to another as changes crop up in our lives. You may also think you have attained acceptance, only to find yourself the next day in denial or bargaining!

The 5 stages of grief, and some of the emotions that characterize them, are described below.


Denial involves avoidance, confusion, elation, shock and fear. Have you delayed planning for your retirement? Do you put it on the back-burner and hope it will sort itself out when it happens?


Anger is expressed with frustration, irritation and anxiety. Have you found yourself irritated by people asking what you are planning to do in retirement? Do you wake up cold in the middle of the night worrying about your retirement?


Helplessness, hostility, flight and feeling overwhelmed are signs of depression. Are you overwhelmed by the many hours of the day in which you drift without purpose in retirement? Do you feel you do not know where to start to plan your retirement and therefore put your head in the sand?


The stage of bargaining involves reaching out to others, telling one’s story and struggling to find meaning. Does your mind play games on you? One minute it tells you it will all be fine, the next puts fear into your head, regarding the way things could pan out?

Do you debate with yourself, your loved ones and your employer over your date of retirement, or consider putting it off?


When you accept that retirement is a natural stage of life, now you are ready to explore options, put a new plan in place and move on.

You can apply this 5-step model to help you understand your own adjustment to life in retirement. If you are not yet retired, but finding yourself reluctant to plan, perhaps it is that you are not yet ready to relinquish your work identity.

Accepting the status of retirement is important in the process of finding purpose.

If we do not know who we are in retirement, how can we hope to find purpose? I know most of those who continue to work do so for financial reasons, but some introspection is also necessary to eliminate fear of the loss of identity.

In my own retirement process, I found a new identity in Life Coaching. I realise this is a new ‘work-related’ identity, but until I had accepted that I was retired, I was unable to find this new identity.

I floundered for a couple of months because I was forced to retire very suddenly. However, once I accepted I was retired, I was able to move on and find my new identity.

Yes, I was very angry indeed, and I did put my CV up on the Internet with a view to continuing as before. I also retreated into introspection which is what I tend to do when I am down.

Initially, I vehemently denied I was retiring at 60, telling myself that I had planned to do that at 65! All this in the first 6 months of retirement!

Where are you on the road to acceptance of the fact that you are or will be retired? If not, what is it you still need to work through? Please share your introspections below.

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The Author

Hilary Henderson is a Retirement Coach http://www.nuhorizons.co.za. She brings to her coaching her experience as an Occupational Therapist as well as an entrepreneur. Her mission is to help people find relevance, purpose and meaning in their retirement years. Facebook is one way to reach out to her.

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