Retirement Is a Transition, Not A Destination

My Comments: Personally, I’m still in transition. I tried to retire years ago, became terminally bored, so went back to work. I no longer work as hard nor am I as successful as before, but I’m still productive. At least in my own mind.

That being said, I frequently encounter others who are starting to think seriously about retirement, about getting their financial lives in order to provide some surety they can pay all their bills in future years.

What follows is a way to help those start thinking about the last of the three major stages of life most of us experience as the years pass.

By Dorian Mintzer \ 2 JAN 2019 \

It’s less important to think about what you’re retiring from and more important to think about what you’re retiring to. Some industries no longer have a mandatory retirement age, so the decision may be up to you. Many of you can now negotiate if, when and how you want to retire. This reality may be both exciting and daunting. It can be complicated if you’re an individual living alone and even more complicated if you’re in a relationship.

In the prior generation, when life expectancy was shorter, the expectation was that people would retire by age 62 or 65 and, within a few years, die. The employment situation was also different then. People often worked in the same job for many years and received a pension at the end. Most industries had a mandatory retirement age so there weren’t opportunities for negotiating different ways of working. After the retirement party, the myth was a life of leisure, often in a warm climate. During those years, the exception was those people who lived into their 80’s or beyond.

Fast forward to the 21st century and the expectation is that people will live an additional 20, 30 or more years beyond the traditional retirement age of 62 or 65. Now that we’re living longer the concept of retirement is changing. Some people don’t like the term since retiring in the past was associated with disengaging and detaching from life and, except for the leisure life myth only enjoyed by some people, many people associated retirement with despair, depression, isolation and ultimately death. People would retire and then within a few years, die. Some people now want more uplifting terms such as reinventing, revolutionizing, recharging or rewiring which suggest vitality and an opportunity for a new life, which may include a combination of work (for pay or volunteering) and play.

If you decide to retire, remember that you’re retiring from a job, not from life. Some people want to keep working since they love what they’re doing and still others recognize they need to keep working so they don’t outlive their money. Others decide not to retire all at once, but instead negotiate working part-time or consulting or mentoring younger workers. (Industries vary if they’ll allow a “phased retirement.”) Others want to use their skills in another way, perhaps in an encore career or by becoming an entrepreneur. And still other people are “retired” from their job by mergers or downsizing and want to continue to work and may, because of their age and skills, have trouble finding work.

Reflecting on your past transitions will help you as you anticipate your retirement transition. Throughout life we experience multiple transitions such as going to school, getting a job, changing jobs, getting married, perhaps having children or getting divorced and ultimately dying. Retirement is no longer a destination in and of itself, but more of a transition. As we’ve learned from the late William Bridges, all transitions have an ending, a “neutral period” or period of “unknown,” and a new beginning. Think about earlier transitions in your life. Did you have more trouble with the ending, with the unknowns, or with the new beginning?

Picture a trapeze artist who climbs the ladder, stands on the platform, grabs hold of the bar and then lets go—swinging through the air (hopefully with a safety net below) and then grabs hold to a new bar for an ending and another new beginning. In a similar way, it may feel like a risk and a leap of faith to leave a job—to let go. In the retirement transition, it’s important that you have a safety net. The safety net hopefully includes a financial cushion, a place to live as well as emotional support from family, friends and others. If you are retiring from your job, celebrate the ending, enjoy the accolades and your retirement party, if you have one. And then take some time and give yourself permission to think about what’s next.

When you think about it, work gives you a reason to get out of bed in the morning and provides structure to your day as well as connection, engagement, purpose and meaning, self-esteem, meaningful relationships and a sense of community. If you’re no longer working, or working in a different way, you may need to figure out what will get you out of bed in the morning. What kind of structure will you build into your life, so you don’t stay in bed all day? It’s OK to stay in bed for a few days, but not good on an on-going basis. If you were “burnt out” from work, you may want and need to take some time off but, after a while, too much free time may feel meaningless and too isolating. What will give you a sense of connection, engagement and purpose and meaning. What will help you develop a sense of community?

In other words, what are you retiring to?

There is no “right way.” You may want to initially travel and play golf. Or work so there’s money coming in. Or join a cause important to you or volunteer to “give back.” Or spend time with family and friends. The opportunities and “new beginnings” are endless. It’s helpful to create your own vision for this chapter of life and, if you’re in a relationship, to have your spouse or partner do the same and see which interests align and which things to do by yourself or with other people. Think about the years ahead like a life portfolio that you need to periodically reevaluate as you would a financial portfolio, sometimes changing the goals and dreams as life circumstances change.