By David Corbett
couldn’t 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.
2. “I 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
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, too.
5. Fractured 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.
6. Guilt. 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 you do.
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.
(David Corbett 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)