Finding happiness in retirement

Transitioning to Retirement

Transitioning to Retirement

I knew the date of my retirement four years in advance. For the first three years after setting the date, I kept it out of my mind. I loved my job and didn’t want to start imagining myself doing something different. However, as the final year was in sight, I began to consider a transition plan for myself. I read anything I could find related to the emotional side of retirement as well as questioning retired people about their choices of how to live. I was blown away by the number of people who saw the retirement years without work as difficult! I couldn’t imagine that given a choice of working 8-12 hour days and endless free time, why anyone would glamorize work?

A quote against a picture of a blue sky

I was startled at the realization that many people don’t have the luxury of choosing when they retired. Some are pushed into retirement sooner than they wanted. New management brought their own people and styles and pushed out the old. There were those who lost their career job in their fifties and then pieced together work for the following decade. While the stories were varied, the result was the same. Beyond financial security, these people had been denied a period to transition.

We find transitions throughout life. From the time someone drops to their knee until the date of the wedding, is a needed transition period. In the Catholic religion, engaged couples are required to attend a series of sessions that prepare them for their lives together. Discussing shared and individual values and goals helps to create a firm foundation to begin married life.

A full-term pregnancy allows for a 9- month transition. Couples love to imagine what their lives will be like with the new baby. More “mindful parenting” practices encourage couples to create a vision together of what they want for their family along with setting goals to keep themselves on track.

For retirement, a transition period provides the luxury of time to imagine, question, and research. We can begin to form a vision of how we want retirement to look.

Where do I want to live?

With whom do I want to spend time?

Will not going to work create any voids in my life? How will I fill them?

What do I want to make time for?

How will I live on less money?

Man jump through the gap.

I wondered why retirement is so hard for some and fraught with negativity? We imagine that if given some freedom from something or someone that’s tying us down, our lives would be joyful. During my last year of employment, I focused on being very aware of everything at work that made me happy. I kept lists of the activities and people I would miss. I often amused myself by listing those that I wouldn’t miss! I came to realize that the workplace provides a built-in social network, structure, and purposeful activity. For me, a void that I’d have to fill would be talking and sharing life experiences with others.

In addition to leading a school, I was in charge of professional development for my school district. There were about 3 weeks between school closing for the summer and my last day of work. In that 3 -week period, while I met several times with the person assuming the professional development position, I had little to do beyond purging and cleaning. Since I wasn’t taking work home, I made use of that 3 weeks to dip my toes in the waters of retirement. I expected very little of myself when I wasn’t at work except to be aware of how things felt. I took more walks, ate slowly, spent more time with my family, attended church more frequently, and stayed up and got up later. One Saturday, I did very little. I watched a lot of television and read. Laying around for a day did not feel good. If someone had caught me on that day, I’m sure I’d have sounded like an idiot. What became clear to me was that I wanted to be able to do and experience all the things that I didn’t have time for while working. My awareness helped me to see what I wanted in my daily life as well as over the course of the next 30 years.  I started keeping a list of things that I wanted to do, either daily or frequently. I read a lot about creating a vision for my life. I couldn’t quite get that vision to evolve on its own, so I began working on developing a vision board. It was through the work on that board that my vision emerged along with my goals.

I was planning to create something permanent to keep my vision and goals in sight. Instead, I wrote my goals on a chalkboard in my kitchen. I kept a journal nearby that I tracked my daily and long-term progress. It took a while to develop my new, flexible routine. I didn’t have the structure of the work-place, but neither did I have the time constraints.

Picture of a chalkboard with various goals written on it.

Habits take time to form. One of the most difficult habits to begin is the daily fitness routine. I’m relieved that I had that one in place. My challenge is daily prayer or meditation. Many times I’ve fantasized how great my life would be if only I began each day with a prayer or meditation session. I have been doing that most days and have found that it’s everything I imagined it to be. Beginning the day with the positivity, awareness, and great intention can only attract goodness.

Life transitions are messy and require flexibility. Thinking through how you want your final 30 years to look is a good start towards making that happen. It worked best for me to begin retirement with some structure for the day/week rather than letting the days evolve on their own. Daily habits aligned with a personal vision and goals help work against the negativity that many retirees report; not using their time productively. It’s a lot easier to loosen up what is already in place than to haphazardly add things. Starting retirement with a vision and positive daily habits may be grounding during the times when life gets messy and requires flexibility. Fortunately, no one is going to evaluate your performance or dock you if you have a lazy day. You’re completely in control of your time!

Click here for some research on retirement.



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