Imagine waking one morning without a job to go to, without a schedule to follow, and without coworkers to share the day with. Its going to happen to most of us, if it hasnt already. It is called retirement. Is retirement a time to rejoice or a time to regret? For some, it is a time to rejoice, for their job has been replaced with FREEDOM. Freedom to follow THEIR heart. Freedom to spend more time on their hobbies, to make new friends, and to follow personal goals. Suddenly there is time to catch up on those unread books, investigate those unanswered questions, and set out on new adventures.
Isnt the idea of having the time to do whatever you want exciting? Not to everyone. After all, any large and abrupt change can be stressful. So, those caught unprepared may find their lives filled with grief instead of joy. Although most people prepare for their retirement financially, many have not thought about the psychological and lifestyle changes they will face. The sooner we prepare, the better off we will be. Perhaps I can share some ideas to consider.
Retirement is not a time to be idle. Some people cant wait to retire so they can sit around doing nothing. But after six months of doing so, they experience “retirement letdown.” Some, in fact, will sink into a major depression. Why? Because they no longer experience the meaning, challenges, and fulfillment that their former job provided. Its fine to retire from your job, but dont retire from life, or else youll experience a letdown. You need to have a reason for being here, a reason to awaken every morning. And you need challenges to face so you can experience victories. Finally, if you live with meaning and challenges, you will be fulfilled. That is, youll be happy. However, if you do experience clinical depression, seek assistance because medical help is available and they can help make your life worth living once again.
You are not your job. Why is it that when someone asks us what we are and what do we do that we answer with our job title and description? For example, we may answer, “Im an engineer. I build bridges.” It doesnt occur to us to say, “Im a human being and I enjoy life.” Isnt that what you are? A human being and not a job. Men often identify with their jobs. The more they do so, the more they may experience a loss of identity at retirement. They feel as if they have been stripped of their identity and robbed of their worth and power. Before they were somebody, something. Now, they are nobody, nothing. This perception can be very painful. They need to realize that their job was like a suit they wore. They are still the same people; they have just removed their suit.
The many roles forced on women are, in a sense, a blessing in disguise. Usually, they dont identify with their job because they dont have one but many jobs! When asked what they do, they will be tempted to say something like, “Im an accountant, mother, cook, housecleaner, wife and lover. What am I? Im exhausted!”
The differences in how men and women react at retirement are striking, as pointed out by Professor Chris Sharpley of Monash University, Australia. As the Head of the Centre for Stress Management and Research, he and his team found that men experienced “retirement letdown” after six months, while women didnt experience problems until five years after retirement. Although Professor Sharpley didnt explain why women experience problems five years after retiring, I suspect it is due to excessive demands placed on them by their aging husbands.
Create a routine. After working for 30, 40, or 50 years, you have grown accustomed to following a routine. To suddenly stop doing so can be jarring. It is not only a matter of being used to following a schedule, but it is a law of life. Doesnt the sun rise and set and dont the seasons change according to a schedule? Whats the point of getting up if you dont have something to do? To live without a schedule is to live without things to do, and that isnt living, its merely existing. So, pull out a pen and a sheet of paper and create a schedule. When you fill your hours with activities, you are filling yourself with life. With so many things to do, its easy to create a weekly schedule. Here’s a sampling of activities you can consider:
- Visit the grandchildren, family members, and friends.
- Enjoy the pleasure of serving the community and making new friends. Become a volunteer.
- Join a health club or join friends in taking a mall walk.
- Join a club, association, or group.
- Cultivate a creative hobby such as embroidery, painting, photography, or poetry.
- Enroll in adult education or online (Internet) courses.
- Get in touch with nature and spirituality.
- Supplement your income and render service with a part-time job.
- Travel (even if its just to another neighborhood).
- Work on the house and in the garden.
- Learn how to play bridge, gin rummy, mahjong, chess, backgammon, and other games.
- Learn line dancing, Tai Chi, golf or tennis.
Be positive. Remember the magical law of life: you will find whatever you look for. The good news is, if you look for opportunities, fun, and friends, you will find them. The bad news is if you look for things to complain about, get upset over, or get indignant about, youll find them too. So, stay out of the shade by focusing on the bright side. True, we cannot choose what will happen to us, but we can choose how we will respond. We can respond in a positive or negative manner. The choice is ours.
Perhaps no one was more aware of the importance of choice than the Austrian Psychiatrist, Viktor E. Frankl, who died on September 2, 1997. As a survivor of Auschwitz, he had to face unimaginable horrors, yet he realized that “Everything can be taken away from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms to choose ones attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose ones own way.” He chose to cope, survive, and overcome. He chose to reject fear, despair, and anxiety. We can choose to do the same.
If we carefully plan for the vacations we take, shouldnt we be planning for the biggest vacation of all: our retirement? Of course, some of us are already having so much fun we never plan to retire. Bob Hope and George Burns come to mind. While taking a break from chomping on his cigar, George said, “Retirement at sixty-five is ridiculous. When I was sixty-five, I still had pimples.” Whether we quit working or not, lets not settle on drifting in a river of ordinary days, but lets make the remaining days of our lives extraordinary ones. All it takes to do so is the right mental attitude.