Friday, 25 October 2013
Adapting to Retirement
Some people plan the end of their working years. Others, like me, are forced into it before their time. The latter has been especially true for older workers following the financial crisis of 2008.
Many who were let go then never found work again; suddenly retired against their will.
The biggest personal loss with retirement, however it comes about, is identity. Before 2004, I was introduced (or introduced myself) as a television producer and, later, managing editor of the CBS News website, among similar job titles.
I clung to that description of myself for a year of job hunting until it became apparent that I would never again be hired for anything resembling the kind of work I had done all my life.
And then I had to learn to say “retired.”
It wasn't easy; I choked on the word for a long time because – as it cannot have escaped the notice of any retiree – retirement is not a concept the rest of the world, the younger world, cares about or, more particularly, is interested in knowing people who fit the category.
In time, you make peace with being retired, of leaving the workforce behind, but that's not the same thing as coming up with a new identity - not necessarily for others but for yourself. Who am I now that I'm not a teacher anymore or an engineer, pharmacist, truck driver, shop owner?
Maybe some people have no need to find a description for their retired selves. That's probably healthy but I'm not sure everyone is at ease with that. I'm not.
One way of finding a new identity is asking yourself what, without a job to go to, gets you out of bed in the morning? What's your passion? How will you spend the hours from now on that you once filled with work?
There may be things you spent a 40- or 50-year career telling yourself you'd do when you retire. Following one or two of those can become your purpose and identity - or a good part of it.
Maybe there's something you always wanted to study so you become a student again – formally or on your own. If there is time and money, you could become a world traveler to all the exotic places you've dreamed of.
You're not too busy anymore to learn a language, watch all the movies you've missed through the years, read all those books you didn't have time for or you could even write one.
Of course, there are a gazillion things to do with your retirement, including nothing at all and who is to say that isn't a perfectly good choice.
But no one can do the choosing for you and it's not necessarily easy, even as you take on a volunteer job or plant a garden, to emotionally work it into an identity that fits comfortably and feels right.
It's creating a new way of being yourself after decades of being something else so it won't happen over night.
Me? It happened gradually that as I wrote this daily blog over the first three or four years, I morphed from a kind of field reporter on the age beat into an advocate for elders. It took several years and I didn't notice how I had changed until my new self already fit like second skin.
How are you doing in adapting to retirement?
At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Henry Lowenstern: Memories of a German Childhood