A common theme found in studies of retirees is the psychological struggle that many experience letting go of their job. Immediately after retirement there is a sort of “honeymoon” during which the retiree experiences the euphoria of not having to get up or be anywhere to meet the demands of an employer. Later, after the thrill of nothing mandatory to do wears off, a “what have I done” attitude or even depression can arise, caused by the retiree’s detachment from work.
I have been acutely aware of this issue for several years. There is no question that I have been substantially defined by my work. Heck – my name is on the office door. I also knew that I had other interests that I was not pursuing. More important, I knew that the time for me to leave work altogether was creeping ever closer. How would I handle this? Would I just let it happen and adjust on the fly? That didn’t sound like much of a plan for retirement success.
The first step I took was to restructure my work environment so that I was not compelled by external factors to work. If I was going to prepare myself for a “no work” retirement, I had to make time to do this. So, I created circumstances that would allow me to choose to when to work, how much to work, and even where to work. That made a huge difference in my mindset. Work became more of a voluntary activity and less of being “me.” I let go of many of the concerns I had about how our business was being managed. Others could do that job.
Third, through my learning and meditating, I came to understand that none of these activities – least of all my job – define “me.” Indeed, I am changing my understanding of what “me” or “I” means. (More about that in another post.)
I believe I am making progress.
I can imagine this scenario happening even while I am still working:
I am at a social occasion and making small talk with someone I just met. I am asked the standard small talk question: “So what do you do?”
My first response, I hope, will say nothing about my work.
If you can spontaneously and comfortably tell a new acquaintance “what you do” without mentioning your job, I’d say you have accomplished something. I’s also say that you are that much closer to being able to retire without regret.
Are you still defined by your job?