Making Your Retirement Work for You

Flamingos in Ria de Celestun, Yucatan, Mexico 

Flamingos in Ria de Celestun, Yucatan, Mexico 

Retirement is a process, not just an event or status.  A person can make all kinds of preparations for the date when full-time employment comes to an end, and still find unexpected challenges during the adjustment to “full-time” leisure. I wrote about planning for retirement in an earlier blog post. These comments are a follow-up to those earlier suggestions.  Nancy Schlossberg, a professor emeriti of counseling and personnel services at the University of Maryland, recently addressed these issues in her new book, Too Young to be Old: Love, Learn, Work and Play as You Age.  An article in the May, 2017, issue of Money Magazine, entitled How to Become a Happy Retiree, is adapted from the book.  


The article hit home for me, since I have been refining my ideas about retirement for many years.  My first “retirement” occurred in 1995 when I left my position as a District Court Judge.  Since I had been steadily employed or in school since beginning Kindergarten, I decided I was entitled to take some time off before jumping into a new career.  Some health issues gave me a good excuse to rest and work on developing activities that nurtured my body and soul.  Fortunately, months of advanced planning for the transition made it possible for our family to handle the financial aspects of this transition.

While I had intended my employment break to last about 6 months, it turned out to be over two years.  There were some issues to be sorted out.  As the Money Magazine points out, beyond the financial issues of retirement are the issues of Identity, Relationships and Purpose.  After years devoted to a particular career, many of us see ourselves first as a person holding a responsible job, rather than a person who holds particular values, interests and skills.  The process of retirement forces us to think about who we are as a person, rather than just clinging to our old identity, with the insertion of “Retired” before the title we once held.  For me, I struggled with how to answer the questions “What do you do?” and “Are you employed?”  It once was easy to answer those questions, but now answering “Retired” doesn’t seem sufficient.  I still don’t have an ideal answer and sometimes I just say I’m a free spirit, a grandmother or someone who loves to travel.  The answer changes with the day and circumstances.  (Scroll past pictures from my trip to Mexico to read remainder of text.)

Back in 1995 I did realize that Relationships could be an issue in retirement.  Employment provides a set of co-workers and community contacts that you likely spend more time with than your family and personal friends.  As I left my legal career I found I wanted to keep in touch with many of my work friends and did for awhile.  However, I opted not to participate in the professional organizations that would have allowed me to be part of groups of retirees.  I attended a couple functions as a retiree, thinking they might provide volunteer activities or an opportunity to have friendships with other retirees, but the experience was disappointing and I never went back.  I did, however, take on volunteer responsibilities in the community which I could continue to perform during the retirement adjustment period.  Those positions served me well, by providing relationships and contacts that would stay with me during the changes that were ahead.  What I also needed to add were purely social activities to make up for the socializing that can occur automatically with work colleagues.

The third element identified by Schlossberg is Purpose.  She mentions that part of her work experience had been helping companies figure out their mission.  She asks:  “What makes you want to get up in the morning?” and suggests we each need a mission statement for our lives.  When we are so busy caring for home, family, and job responsibilities, we often don’t have the luxury of pondering what our personal goals are and how we hope to achieve them during the coming years.  Retirement provides time to think of the future and to wonder how we can best make a contribution to our family and community.  I’ve found this to be an on-going process, which is assisted by brainstorming, listing, and prioritizing personal goals.  A planning calendar can then be used to write down monthly and weekly goals.  I’m now back to having to-do lists which allow me the satisfaction of scratching off items that have been completed and provide a record of the progress I’ve made toward achieving my goals.  This can be a challenge, because some of the important goals involve tedious tasks that are easy to postpone when there is no paycheck or employment supervisor making sure the task is accomplished in a reasonable time.  So far, I have resisted hiring a personal coach, a professional organizer, or a therapist to push me along the path of achieving goals, but I know that assistance might be helpful. 

Schlossberg suggests you give some thought to what type of a retiree you would like to be.  She describes six types.  Use your imagination to determine what she means or check out her book or the magazine summary:  Continuers, Adventurers, Easy Gliders, Involved Spectators, Searchers or Retreaters.  We all need to decide what type of retirement works for us and to recognize that retirement can be successful and happy in many different ways.  The secret is to determine what works best to help us achieve personal goals while nurturing personal relationships along the way.  The path may never be entirely clear, but we can take pleasure in continuing the search for what works best for each of us.

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Carolyn Hayek