Retirement  Loss Of Identity Or Exciting ChangeRetirement Loss Of Identity Or Exciting Change

Over the past several years, I have, from time to time thought about the whole issue of retirement and the obvious and sometimes devastating effect it has on many people. I have looked around and wondered how many people are able to make the transition so painlessly while others worry and fret for months, or even years, before making the 'leap? and then, when they do, they seem to come apart. What can be done to help others to make the transition without so much 'separation anxiety?, grief and uncertainty?

Many men and women yearn for their retirement to arrive and then, as it rapidly approaches, they appear to turn on their heel and their little legs can't seem to take them away from the ?big R? fast enough. When they see it approaching, the only thing that can be seen is a cloud of dust rising behind them as they do the Wile E. Coyote air run, waiting for their Keds to get a grip.

What causes this dramatic shift in the psyche ? from that longing, yearning, pining place to the sheer and utter terror that seems to grip the heart when the big day approaches? Why do men and women want to retreat from their well-earned reward? Why do men and women stay in frustrating, bureaucracy-laden workplaces, toeing the line for months or years past their retirement date? Why do well-intentioned men and women ?gum up the works?, causing unhealthy delays in the upward mobility of the young, energetic, fresh-thinking crew that is nipping at their heels?

I remember listening, although not really fully understanding, as my father described young men (remember we're talking about many years ago), with university education, who were relentlessly pursuing their careers, potentially putting my dad's in some peril. I remember him quoting Mark Twain, saying that their 'schooling? got in the way of their ?education?. The other thing that I believe I remember (I say that because none of us can be entirely sure that our recollections of the past are objectively accurate) is his tacit belief that General Motors might somehow falter once he left. Now, looking at his situation through more educated eyes, I can see why he felt this way. It wasn't logical then, it isn't logical now but it happens nonetheless.

It has occurred to me that when a person retires from having served a significant time in a particular organization or profession, the most difficult aspect of the transition is this perceived 'loss? of identity. When a doctor leaves the medical profession, he or she is no longer known as 'my doctor? or 'their doctor?. When a police officer leaves policing, they are no longer known as 'my friend the cop? (and fortunately no longer have to endure the endless, ?watch it, she's a cop? when introduced to strangers). Often, this sense of loss can be traumatic; it can lead to feelings and emotions akin to grief. These feelings are at the root of the difficulties encountered by many men and women who are about to embark upon the newest, and potentially most exciting aspect of their lives.

So what to do about it? What can you and I do to prepare ourselves for this radical surgery we are about to undergo?

I now believe that much can and should be done by men and women who have invested their entire adult lives in carving out for themselves their personal niche within small and large organizations; organizations that have, to varying degrees, defined them as people.

Hanging On To The Past

Professions that capture the public's attention from time to time exercise considerable influence over those involved in the profession. As alluded to earlier, policing, for example, defines the person and in large measure influences who that person is; if not in the eyes of others, certainly in the eyes of the person him- or herself.

Some individuals, when they retire, hang on to the past with a death-grip. Whenever possible, these folks gravitate toward those who are either still involved in the work or those who have also retired, from the ?job?. When listening to conversations among these folks, they almost invariably revolve around 'remember when?, e.g. remember when Joe had that high-speed chase on highway 11? or, Remember when Fred shot himself in the toe?

Seldom do these conversations involve discussions about new and challenging situations in which these retirees have found themselves. Even when such conversations do occur, they are often short-lived and eventually return to the familiar ground that cements these relationships. It should be stated here that many, many retirees make a lie out of this generalization!

Remembering and reminiscing about the past is a good and healthy and enjoyable pastime. It is among the things that friendships are made of and it a pleasant way to wile away the time. But should it be all that defines us at this stage in our lives?

This article isn't intended to suggest that anyone ought to change anything about their lives. It is intended to discuss alternatives, however, and perhaps invite one and all to think about lessening the trauma that all too often pervades that magical date.

This article is aimed quite squarely at those who identify with one of the following:

1. I'm having a tough time really getting serious about retirement. I'm still really enjoying myself at work and can't see any reason why I ought to leave, even though I've been here for 34 years. 2. I'm not ready to retire. I've still got lots of good ideas and as long as I'm making a contribution, why should I leave? 3. I'm in the middle of __________ project (you fill in the blank). As soon as I've finished it, I'll consider leaving. 4. I'm not ready to retire yet. I'll be damned if I'm going to work for 34 years and then go and work for someone else! 5. I'll probably retire in about a year from now; I'm just not ready quite yet.

If any or (perish the thought) all of these statements resonate with you, I'm delighted that you're still reading!

Moving Into the Future

In order to carry on with this next, and arguably the most exciting part of one's life, some preparation well ahead of the event is a great idea. If you're even beginning to think about retirement ? not necessarily tomorrow, now is a great time to begin planning your journey!

When planning this next phase of one's life, all too frequently, we are forced to do so in isolation. If we are lucky, we can have some meaningful discussions with our partner. Sometimes, however, a partner's goals for your retirement can be somewhat different from yours and occasionally, one's partner might be even more apprehensive about your retirement than you are! How often do we hear about the partner's concerns about having someone ?under foot?, causing major interference with his or her routine, after having spent a few or many years with the house to themselves? It's understandable but not particularly comforting, perhaps.

If you accept the notion that much of the difficulty around retirement has to do with the perceived loss of identity, then the first step that needs to be undertaken is a decision about your new and improved identity. If you spend a bit of time really trying to develop a ?picture? of the new you, you're going to become really excited about your future.

? What are (or were) the very best parts of your working life and your personal life?

? What are some adjectives that describe values that you possess (or wish you possessed) or that describe people you truly admire?

? What are the most frustrating parts of your work and why do these things make your face twitch?

The answers to these questions and others form the basis for step one of a safe and exciting journey from where you are to where you really need to be. By taking time to clarify who you really are you can create a new place for yourself that until now you've been unable to occupy. It might take a little guidance and encouragement but believe me; it makes the trip really memorable.

If you are having some difficulty making up your mind about retirement, or if you develop hives whenever the thought crosses your mind, take comfort in knowing that you aren't alone. The grieving process that is often associated with retirement is common, but there are ways to overcome it and, in fact, use it to your long-term advantage.

You don't have to make this journey alone. Talk to someone who you believe appears to have made the trip in relatively good shape. Ask lots of questions; investigate others? successes and then adapt them to your needs, your wants and your dreams.

You've worked a long, long time and you deserve to squeeze as much satisfaction, joy and fulfillment from this wonderful phase of your life as you possibly can.

by Robert Fitches
References and Bibliography

Bob has been retired from the Ontario Provincial Police for six years. As well as having a successful training and consulting practice, Bob is a Personal Life Coach, assisting people through the transition to retirement. He can be reached at (705) 325-6164, or at

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