Work plays a key role in determining our sense of ‘who we are’ and our sense of esteem. It is a topic of conversation (think about how many times you have asked someone “what do you do?” or “how is your work going?”), it determines a large part of our day’s structure (e.g., when we need to awaken from sleep, when we can plan errands and leisure time), it offers opportunity to socialize, and it contributes to our esteem.
When we retire from work, we can lose some of the defining roles that work plays and so it is important to replace these roles. The more strongly we identify with our work role, the more difficult this may be to accomplish. Even those of us who are well prepared for retirement can expect a period of transitional adjustment that can take a toll on our sense of identity, our worth, and our well-being.
For some of us, despite the many roles we have in life (e.g., spouse, partner, wife, husband, parent, grandparent, coach, mentor, hobbyist) no role is as important or influential as our work role.
People you admire
You can learn a lot about yourself and what you aspire to in your future by taking note of people you know who are retired, and whose path in retirement is something you admire. You may not want to take the same path, but you may learn something about the process they followed to get where they are and the ways in which they made their transition possible.
Try this: Write down the name of someone you know who is retired and whose retirement path you admire.
- What is the person’s name?
- What is it about this person’s retirement that you admire (e.g. they spend 6 months of each year abroad; they volunteer on a regular basis; they have part-time employment as a consultant to their original employer)?
For each of the components of their retirement that you admire find out the specific steps that this person took to achieve them.
The earlier you develop specific goals for your retirement and translate these goals into actionable steps (i.e. behaviour) the better you’ll be prepared to cope with the potential psychological repercussions of retirement. You don’t need to fear that you are going to be locked into any of these goals—you can change or modify them as your circumstances, interests, opportunities, and skills change.
Setting goals is an empowering exercise and one that can give you a sense of direction and optimism.
What are your retirement goals in each of the following categories (you are best off planning for a balanced portfolio of goals):
- Health(e.g., weight train three times weekly).
- Wealth(e.g., continue to build the value of my assets).
- Personal(e.g., learn to paint with acrylics).
- Social (e.g., establish a monthly get-together with a group of friends to comment on a book we are reading).
- Giving to others(e.g., teach in an area that I have some expertise in).
After you have written down your goals, think about two action steps you can take in the next short while that will bring you closer to achieving these goals.
When setting goals, it’s important to keep the following in mind:
- The goal should be important to you.
- The goal should be within the realm of possibility for you (based on talents, skills and interests). If you need more practice or learning to achieve the goal, include this as part of your plan.
- Define the goal very clearly.
- Break goals into small parts that can be achieved without too much effort or time.
- Be specific about your goal in behavioural terms. Always think about what you need to do, in terms of actions, to achieve the goal.
- Include plans to deal with any obstacles that might interfere with achieving your goal. These could be mental or emotional (e.g., “I tend to give up easily when I’m frustrated”).
Spread your goals across different areas of your life (e.g., health, social, community). Much like having a balanced portfolio of finances, you should have a balanced portfolio of goals.
Brainstorm options for your future from your past
The broader and more expansive your identity, the more activities and pathways you’ll have to choose from during retirement. For example, if you identify as “a retired accountant” you’ll have many fewer choices in your future than if you identify as “a person who is always willing to learn and looking for new adventures.”
One of the ways you can come up with options for future activities is to think about what you’ve enjoyed in the past.
Make a list of activities and accomplishments from your past that are part of your warmest and happiest memories. Need help remembering? Review high school yearbooks, old letters and correspondence, photo albums, appointment books and calendars, journals, etc. Talk with friends and family about the past.
As you pursue this life review, keep these questions in mind and write your thoughts down as they come to you.
- What interests or talents did you demonstrate in the past (think about things you accomplished, created, pursued)?
- When you were in your teen years, what did you enjoy doing in your spare time? What extracurricular activities did you participate in?
- What were some of your happiest moments of your life as a teenager and young adult? What were you doing?
- What are your most satisfying and proud achievements?
- More recently, what did you enjoy doing (e.g. the past work week, the past weekend).
Note: When you are doing this exercise, pay particular attention to your actions and behaviour. The point is not to just remember when you felt happy or were having a good time, but to recall the specific actions you were taking (i.e. your behaviour) at those times. This way you’ll increase your chances that you will have specific actions to take during retirement that will serve to create even more of these good memories.
For more information about planning retirement, the following sites may be helpful.
- MoneySense Magazine. www.moneysense.ca
- Government of Canada: Retirement Planning. https://www.canada.ca/en/financial-consumer-agency/services/retirement-planning.html
- Sources of Retirement Income. https://www.canada.ca/en/financial-consumer-agency/services/retirement-planning/sources-retirement-income.html
- Determining how much you need for retirement. https://www.canada.ca/en/financial-consumer-agency/services/retirement-planning/money-to-retire.html
- Canadian Retirement Income Calculator. https://www.canada.ca/en/services/benefits/publicprensions/cpp/retirement-income-caltulator.html
- Government Benefits (Chttps://www.getsmarteraboutmoney.ca/plan-manage/retirement-planning/planning-for-retirement/government-benefits-cpp-oas-gis/
- How much you need to save for retirement. https://www.getsmarteraboutmoney.ca/plan-manage/retirement-planning/planning-for-retirement/how-much-you-need-to-save-for-retirement.
- An Emotional Playbook For Couples In Retirement. https://www.forbes.com/sites/nextavenue/2018/06/27/an-emotional-playbook-for-couples-in-retirement/#785284ed75ba
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