I was the first of my close friends to retire – by a long shot. Even most of my work friends had another five years to go. Only then they could turn off the alarm clock and plan their days to their liking.
To my surprise, I experienced at least a year or so of anxiety and self-reflection before I figured out this next iteration of my life.
That angst isn’t part of the scenario we fantasize about when we’re plugging away at our desks during the last year of work, proudly X’ing out each day on the calendar. Instead, we imagine open time, no schedule, traveling, long lunches with friends, and no one pushing us to “finish that project.”
And thankfully, if we’re lucky, all those elements are there; however putting some thought into the days ahead will make this truly the best time of your life.
There are many things to consider well before you clock out for the last time, but there are really five that are most important.
For many of us, leaving a long career is lovely, but it presents the issue of identity and meaning. When we’re working, we know who we are, what we’re doing and why we’re doing it. Even if we hate our jobs, we know that someone has to do it, and we can pat ourselves on the back because we got through it.
By the time I finished my career as a community college dean, I felt as if I could barely manage another day of public education. I’d already taught for more than 20 years before that, so I was longing for days that didn’t include conversations about enrollment, complaints about lack of student preparation, forms to complete for accreditation, and the ever-present paper grading.
What looked good in those final days of work was the view from my couch, a book in my hand.
I was also smug enough to “know myself” and to understand that I wasn’t great with lots of unstructured time.
In fact, I was so aware of this that I enrolled in a two-year MFA program in writing. It definitely added meaning to my life and got me moving in the direction I wanted to head, but I still felt weird. When people asked me what I did for a living, instead of saying that I was retired, I told them what I used to do. It was hard not to see my writing as a “fun hobby.”
When you stop working after several decades, it naturally takes some time to adjust and figure out who you are in your new life. Giving yourself permission and the opportunity to feel the discomfort that comes with change will make it easier.
I’m serious about my role as the first of my friends to retire, and I’m starting now to remind them that golf and Netflix are not enough. There’s room for a lot more of both when you don’t have to go to work every day, but you will be throwing your remote at the TV very soon if you think binge watching is going to calm your nerves.
I’m constantly reminding my friends that they need to prepare more ahead of time than I did. I had a great idea to involve myself in a college program, but I needed more consistency in the area of identity building. In other words, I knew I wanted to move from my career as an educator to becoming the writer I’d dreamed of being when I was first in college.
And, even though we don’t just become something overnight, it still would have helped me early on to embrace the lifestyle and behaviors of a writer. It would have been easier if I’d set up a realistic writing schedule – with plenty of time off for golf and Netflix. It would have also made a smoother transition if I’d had a specific plan about how I was going to approach not just writing, but “being a writer.”
If you are an accountant who is interested in now being a woodworker or a hospice volunteer, you need to think about it just as you crammed for your first CPA exam. You need to take on as much of that new life as is comfortable for you. This will help when people ask what you do, and it will be a much more pleasant experience than waking up three or four months after retirement day and realizing you’ve seen all the movies you want to see.
My younger friends look at me skeptically when I tell them there’s more to preparing for retirement than checking on your investments or being sure your pension is solid. And truthfully, I felt the same way when I was still seven or eight years out. I wish now that I’d dug a little deeper as I got closer, though. I would still have the lovely, creative life I do now, but it would have been just a little bit easier to get here.
What have you always dreamed of doing in retirement? Have there been hurdles along the way? What is involved in living that dream? What are the steps you could take to make that happen? Please share in the comments below.
Hi. My pre-retirement anxiety is a little different. I’m scared of whether or not my replacement is going to be able to handle the job and what happens if she doesn’t work out and leaves? I’m retiring June 20th after 40 years in the Workforce with the last 25 as the CFO of a local government. I gave 7 months notice. My replacement started April 3rd which is only giving me 3 months to train her. I’m putting in a lot of hours, typing up policy and procedure manuals, introducing her to anyone that can be of help to her, but I’m terrified that the place will fall apart without me. The previous CFO – I was his assistant for 2 years before he retired. I practically knew mostly everything. I told my Director a year ago to get someone on board that I can start to teach. I also volunteered to come back once a week after I retire. But if she doesn’t like the job, and she has no one to train, and only gives a few weeks notice, that place is screwed and I’m going to feel so responsible yet I don’t know why.
Claudia, please breathe and relax, and realize this is no longer your problem. You clearly asked your manager to hire someone sooner, and he/she chose not to do that prudent thing. You’re providing everything you can possibly do to give the new person a running start. It’s time to realize your successor (and manager who ignored your suggestion) are responsible for their own “sink or swim” progress.
I did similar documentation and training for a woman who took over my position after a promotion… and after 6 months of frustrating training, it was clear the new person just wasn’t able to do things as quickly or optimally as I did for years, and my manager finally told me that I needed to let go – so the new person would have to sink or swim on their own. Basically he told me it’s not my job any longer.
You can only do so much, and need to let go of the anxiety you’re feeling – because it’s time to spread your own wings, and figure out your own next phase! It’s time to stop looking back.
Oh boy you really hit home here. I’m 60 this year retired from education three years ago prior just prior to covid. I’m an older parent of teens 14 twins.
Even with the busiest of my days I flounder within myself. I’m a specified professional and don’t want to do small jobs in my field.
So I began thinking and re-thinking and would like to do a short course to learn the basics of interior design to work in a good furniture store helping people with design but that’s not in the cards at the moment, and had another idea but not sure so this is actually awful and it’s been such a struggle. I knew retiring I’d have more housework and more things to attend to in my household with the children so young but it’s tough really tough. I’ve had to talk with someone as it’s been such a hard time coping.
I would say your article is spot on!! Everyone should heed this advice I’m just sorry I saw it now and not earlier.
Thank you for helping me feel not so out of sorts. That this actually happens!!
In my last days before retirement I had a much respected person come to my desk to specifically to let me know to go easy on myself the first year of retirement. She kept stressing just that one statement. It was excellent advise I realized shortly after retirement. I found myself spinning in circles. I began to understand and follow her advice. Can’t say it totally calmed all that was running thru my head but at least I had an idea that it was normal. I have taken her lead and shared this with women I know that are close to their retirement.
Thank you for such a well written article and the women you will help!
Many good thoughts here – but getting your MFA (Master’s Degree???!) when you retire isn’t my idea of retiring – lol – it is different for each of us. I have been working part time for several years now ‘semi retired’, i called it. I’m a blue collar worker primarily (law enforcement [early partial retirement], and grocery [which gave me a 401K]). My careers were solid, but the wear and tear on me physically has left me unable to do many things i could even a year ago.
So hobbies (painting, guitar, more reading, chasing writing ideas) is the way to go for me. Taking a class here and there, staying open to any valid work at home prospect i might qualify for – i do have clerical skills that rock for transcription or something more brain, less back. And i make my own health a priority (maybe i should have put that first). I have hip issues and other things that medically and financially don’t make sense to fix – structural issues, all; my vital organs are all aces. I walk daily, have p.t. including stretching for my hip stuff, and i have resistance training tools here at home.
Some days, i don’t feel like doing it all. I rotate things to keep it fresh and see what may eventually pan out into something … worthwhile (some things take practice, practice before they are presentable, yes?) and they’re all things i enjoy – even the exercise; i’ve always been active to whatever level i could.
To top this ‘plan’ off, i go to my local senior center (they take members at 55). They have a game day i’ve chosen (they have many to offer) to make a regular thing, so i’m getting some light socialization to new people. Our mental/social/emotional is SO important! and i’ve never given it much thought when i was naturally socially active in my younger years. Senior Centers are a great resource in so many ways. A veritable hub of activity and info. (But be warned that Bridge players can be oh, so serious!) This site is like that, too – a hub of activity and info and other people at my own place in life :-)
This was not meant as a rebuttal for anything in this article; i got a lot out of it. I only lay out what i’m doing as an option for someone who may be a little … ‘differently abled’? and maybe not as ambitious. Whatever you do, do touch base with your own core and see if something is calling you from the distance. I hear people tell me to do what i’m passionate about. um … not much. but by going to things that call me – things i enjoy, i’m taking first steps on the road to what’s next. and some journeys don’t need a destination.
Excellent excellent article. Thank you! I will share this in my facebook community this week as one of my posts.