Six Perils of
By David Corbett
wait to retire. Now you’ve done it, and your
life feels unhinged. Your calendar and email in-box
are empty. Your spouse wants you to do anything
that involves leaving the house. And you feel guilty
for not being productive.
Welcome to retirement. Even those who work part-time
after leaving a primary career, as most people now
do, face major logistical and psychological challenges.
Retirees who don’t anticipate these landmines
may learn about them the hard way. But you can prepare
for them. Here are six pockets of turbulence and
suggestions for how to avoid them.
1. Where did
the time go? Retired people often say they’ve
never been so busy in their lives. But there’s
a difference between being busy, on the one hand,
and on the other, being engaged in doing things
that satisfy, help us grow as human beings, or enable
us to help others. You may ask, “How did I
get swept up in a bunch of activities that, to be
honest, don’t excite me all that much?”
Certain activities, considered alone, may be good
and worthwhile, but what about other demands on
your time? Everyone has to strike a balance between
commitments and keeping the flexibility that lets
us remain in control of our time. A key rule is
to reject demands on your time that don’t
fit your short- or long-term goals.
used to be . . .” People often make
the mistake of allowing themselves to be defined
by their careers. If they fail to diversify, they
pay the price —unhappiness — when a
career is pulled away. For a driven type person
who was a top corporate executive, it might take
a while to get over the social awkwardness of not
defining oneself by one’s career. In reality,
you don’t lose your identity when you quit
a job. You lose that identity; and you shed one
of your identities. But you who you fully are, inside,
as a human being, is deeper. Look at your identity
as a work-in-progress that evolves with you. Ask
questions you may have thought were answered once
and for all. Who am I? Do I matter? What can I do?
New answers yield new purposes when the old underpinnings
are pulled away.
3. Loss of
work-related social bonds. Even if you’re
making new friends, a key set of relationships with
people in your life have changed. Not facing this
reality and, as a result, not taking time for proper
closure with these relationships, can leave you
feeling rejected when former colleagues don’t
call you up. That isolation can prevent you from
moving forward in your life. Build your new networks
before you leave your job. Find new social circles.
Turn to family and old friends for support —
and to new friends and colleagues as well.
4. Loss of
support systems. This one is hard for people
who had secretaries, lots of high-tech office tools
to keep them on track and assistants to whom they
could delegate tasks. They may lack the discipline
or support they need to get through the day seamlessly.
Having to replace the ink cartridge in the printer
or make their own travel arrangements can drive
them crazy. Self-reliance is simply the cost of
leaving your job. You have to develop these skills.
Yes you have to think big and follow dreams —
but you may need to change the toner cartridge,
households. Marital strain often follows
retirement, which reshapes intimate relationships.
When both spouses are “home alone” everyday,
tensions often arise. Work keeps spouses apart for
much of the week. But removing a job doesn’t
mean that the couple has to spend every minute together.
Discuss this with your marital partner beforehand.
Figure out how much time you need alone. Decide
which activities will be done jointly and which
individually. Sparks can also fly when one spouse
is primed to de-emphasize work and the other wants
to keep putting in long hours. Most women who entered
the workforce 1970 to 2000 did so after age thirty-five.
Having begun careers later, they’re not ready
at the same chronological age as some men to dream
new dreams—or cast off as camp cook in a big
RV. By being open about your feelings and respectful
of others you can minimize these strains. Recognize
the need to amend preconceived plans and find some
middle ground when choices conflict. If it seems
tough, remember that we’re dealing with essentially
a new stage of the marital relationship.
You may feel as though you are cheating your family
out of money by not working. Instead of
enjoying a movie during the afternoon, you may feel
as though you should be at work. Among men, guilt
may be linked to a socially conditioned premise
that a man who is not productive is not a man. Remember,
lots of terrible people have been very productive.
And many poets, mystics and saints who left the
world better than they found it appeared to do nothing.
If you want to feel productive, give some full attention
to your gifts, needs and goals, perhaps to the benefit
of others. Examine your assumptions. Enjoy whatever
People who have it toughest during the post-career
phase of life generally did not anticipate, prepare
or plan for it. Sadly, people are still deluded
into thinking that rest, leisure, and recreation
will be enough or that retirement will evolve by
itself. They are at risk of being bored and without
a purpose. Find a passion. Live that passion. It
may add years to your life.
Finally, remember to introduce change bit by bit.
Challenge so-called “facts” and be willing
to change habits. See life as new each and every
day. Be grateful for it. Find ways to stay energized
and optimistic. The evidence shows that such an
attitude can make a difference.
is the founder of New Directions, Inc., in Boston,
and author of Portfolio Life: the New Path to Work,
Purpose, and Passion After 50, published by Jossey
Bass. Visit him online at www.portfoliolifebook.com)