Finding Your Life

Retirement, It’s a Long and Different Time

For most people, retirement is a time of mixed emotions, from uncomfortable fears of the unknown to joyous expectations of long-awaited freedom from the responsibilities, annoyances, and hectic pace of full-time work.

Whatever feelings a person experiences, one thing is certain: retirement brings change, and how well you plan for this new phase of life will significantly affect the quality of your life in later years.

Whether you are planning to retire soon or at some as yet undetermined time, you will encounter retirement issues from a different perspective from that of previous generations. One reason is that health and medical advances have boosted life expectancies in recent years.

Today, writers and researchers specializing in retirement use the term the “second middle age” to describe the later stages of life, especially the years between 50 and 75. As people live longer and are increasingly active, there is a shift from the concept of “aging” to one of “longevity.”

Life Expectancies for Men and Women1

Man aged 65      Woman aged 65

80% chance        81 years               82 years

50% chance        89 years               90 years

25% chance        95 years               96 years

1 Teachers Income and Annuity Association Mortality Tables, 2018

These figures mean that if you retire at age 65, you may have a quarter of your life ahead of you to accomplish goals, enjoy a hobby or sport, and spend time doing what you’ve always wanted.

We are realigning the way we plan and structure our lives. A generation ago it was assumed that life would proceed in three stages: education, work, and retirement, in a linear fashion that Richard Bolles described in his book, The Three Boxes of Life (Ten Speed Press). It’s obvious today that those three “boxes” are being stacked, restacked, and reshaped in various ways.

The consequences of this shake-up include greater job flexibility, more life options, and adjusted expectations. We are free to redefine ourselves and decide on different career and non-work paths throughout our lives.

Thus, retirement today is only part of a process of life transitions.

The Transition to Free Time

Retiring from a job means leaving behind aspects of a lifestyle to which one has become accustomed. It requires that we shed certain self-images and no longer define ourselves in terms of a specific job or career. Retirement can also require learning to manage unstructured time, as opposed to days and weeks and longer that were highly structured; losing an established connection with certain peer groups while enabling other social ties, and adapting to changes in home life, whether due to family situations or a move to a new location.

Some people may miss the authority and respect they enjoyed in their careers and former positions – being part of and contributing to an organization- large or small. They may long for a sense of place and for the feeling of being needed.

Regardless, a Work Reorientation becomes necessary, no longer taking our identity from work and becoming able to redefine ourselves out of the abundant possibilities that can emerge in retirement. Good retirement life planning makes this an easier and more fulling aspect of retirement transition.

– Elgin Summerfelt