My Work Was My Identity. Now What?

Benjamin Haas |

In my experience, many of my clients have thought of retirement as retiring away from something. No alarm clocks or long hours. No stressful situations like answering to a boss or managing relationships with co-workers. And for some, no more physical grind on the body, time away from the family or long commutes.

Often what gets missed in retirement are the good things that come with the bad things we look to leave behind. Indirectly, we now miss routine, socialization, and the satisfaction of conquering challenges. For many, work was an identity, and not having that can feel scary. More than the financial questions, moving into retirement often means finding a new sense of purpose and enlightenment. Clients hire us to help fill the void left by no longer receiving consistent paychecks, but a rewarding byproduct of our relationship is working through the emotions of thinking their career is their identity.

Sure, there’s often a honeymoon period where you’ll celebrate the free schedule, catch a mid-week/mid-day movie, do some shopping and meet friends for lunch. There will be honey-do lists and home projects that were set aside for years and maybe a celebratory vacation. But what comes after that? Think about it. Life expectancy suggests you may have 8,000 days of retirement to fill. What will you do to not just fill the time, but make it full?

Here’s a list of what I hear my clients doing and as mentors, what they would suggest to you:

  1. Volunteer – service to humanity is the greatest work of life. Giving of your time and talents to others leads to fulfilling experiences, not just to those who receive your gifts, but for you for having given. I’m sure there is no shortage of opportunities within your community.
  2. Social groups – A lot of my clients get involved in civic organizations, social groups through their church, informal dinner groups. They take up memberships at a local theatre or start taking lessons on a new hobby and meet new people that way too.
  3. Mentoring opportunities – Tim McGraw said it well: “When you get to where you’re goin’, don’t forget [to] turn back around [and] help the next one in line.” Share your stories, your experiences, your valuable time with someone eager to listen and learn. Find an alumni association, a local trade association, or any other the formal mentoring programs like Big Brothers, Big Sisters or an Optimist Club.
  4. Part-time work – Many of my clients earn money again, not because they feel they have to, but because it gave them an opportunity to be paid to do something interesting, different or fun. Some work retail, others drive for Meals on Wheels , help their friend run their small business, one became a travel agent, several do some ad hoc consulting projects….
  5. Memoirs – Write about your life. Not only have I been told this is a healthy outlet for emotions, but it stimulates the memory and may provide invaluable life lessons for others. Document your experiences, your transformations and reflections, what you learned and how you applied certain principles in order to get where you are today.

As you prepare for your next phase of life, don’t forget that being “prepared” is far more than crunching the numbers and recreating a paycheck. While we can help with that, we’d be honored to help you think about what life has in store for you beyond the numbers.


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