“What are you going to do all day?” was a common question asked of retired friends and colleagues that I interviewed recently about their personal, emotional or psychological approach to retirement. Their answers to the question fit rather neatly into career theorist and author William Bridges’ model of transition. According to Bridges in his book, Transitions, life changes begin with an ending that is sometimes planned, often not and takes time to process. As endings can be difficult we often try avoiding the reality of what has happened, but this only makes it harder to let go and move on.
My friend and colleague, Sylvia, had little notice that she was being laid off as a college administrator. And although she had been mentally preparing, Sylvia was in shock for days after the announcement. She experienced a real crisis over the loss of income and the identity she received from working. But after alleviating some financial concerns, she had an aha moment and realized it could be a good thing. As she really thought about it, Sylvia knew she didn’t have the energy to start something new and began taking advantage of the opportunity to rest and get caught up on her sleep.
Bill crafted his career ending in stages after learning, unexpectedly, that he was able to receive his wife’s social security after her passing. Given the restrictions this placed on his earnings, he cut back on his casework as a vocational rehab counselor, and focused on a small segment of his practice until he quit completely. At that point Bill felt considerable relief from a complex set of responsibilities and his issue became learning to say no to people who continued to inquire about his services.
As people integrate the effects of their ending, they move into a confusing, undefined and potentially creative period Bridges calls the “neutral zone” before landing at the edge of their “new beginning.”
To facilitate his transition, Bill decided that he would make no serious time commitments for a year after leaving his practice. He spent time with extended family, went to the movies, out to hear music and to church as usual. Despite the activity Bill felt he was allowing himself to lie fallow and wait for something to ripen from inside.
Sylvia began to question her commitments as well, and decided to limit the number of times she volunteered, especially in the evening. If it wasn’t fun she wasn’t going to do it! Sylvia acknowledged that it took her inner strength and a sense of self not tied to her job to get through this period.
Both of my friends acknowledged how conscious they needed to be to resist the action oriented nature of our society during this period. How much adrenaline it took to get through their days while working. And how nice it was to not have to push themselves any more.
After a while they both found themselves naturally making decisions to reestablish commitments, and focused on creating time for meaningful and healthy social interaction as well as the opportunity to give back, read, pursue cultural events, stay in shape and travel. Sylvia feels she is healthier than before retirement. Bill is utilizing his counseling skills in social service, but not as a counselor. As their lives continue to unfold they acknowledge ongoing losses as friends pass away and hair thins but they are enjoying their leisure and re-commitment to community service on their own terms.
Their advice to you as you contemplate your retirement? Go inside and listen to what you really want at this stage of your life. Be selective. Learn to say no to what isn’t right. Keep some open space for things to unfold. Rest. Do you want to go from one gerbil wheel to another? Cultivate a sense of wonder; be willing to explore. Don’t smoke. Exercise. Hang out with old friends. Watch old movies. Let go, have fun and enjoy your life.
Originally posted on Career Transition: The Inside Job