I don’t mean to strip you (or anyone else) of your idealized view of retirement that may have helped you overcome Lord knows how many miserable days—or years—of perpetual, slave-to-the-grind ladder climbing throughout your career. But, the first stretch of your much anticipated retirement is likely to be one of the most stressful events of your life.
I admit that this phenomenon was a surprise to me, initially. I began my career with a partial mission to help clients reach and enjoy financial independence, so it wasn’t until I began walking some of them into and through the transition that I realized how nearly-traumatic it can be for so many. But if you doubt my hypothesis on its face, please consider this reasoning:
Most of us Americans, fortunate enough to enjoy a middle-class or higher upbringing, are born into environments—households, churches, schools, sports teams and other associations—that breed into us a sense of independence and empowerment. We are set on a trajectory of productivity and accomplishment, aiming less toward our vocation or calling—more toward our occupation. We may hear or read, “You can do anything you want to do!” and “You’re special.” and “Dream big!” but by the time we enter the work force, many of us realize we have been set on a course designed to capitalize financially on our most marketable skills.
We are trained to be do-ers, but not, so much, be-ers.
And for many (although not most), it works. We become “productive members of society,” producing enough income to reach the penultimate goal of financial independence, a visual snapshot nicely captured for us in the high-def, beach-front commercial renderings lathered on by banks, brokerage firms and insurance companies.
It’s our lives’ work to be voracious do-ers until we can afford to be aristocratic be-ers.
So even if we are financially prepared for retirement by every tangible measure—certified by the most certified of financial planners—the transition from do-er to be-er is an exceedingly difficult one, and most of us don’t entirely understand why because the rhythms of our lives have become part of us. The real difficulty is not in dealing with the visible, but the invisible.
What, then, would life, work and retirement look like if we:
- Placed a greater emphasis on be-ing, prior to retirement?
- Were more deliberate about do-ing, in retirement?
We might cultivate ourselves more as individuals who are part of a community and less as employees who are part of a company. We may allow the question “Who am I?” to precede “What am I going to do?” and certainly “How much am I going to make?” This self-analysis might lead to a path more akin to finding a calling than a job and would be more relational than transactional. It would be more others-oriented than individualistic, ensuring that those we labor with and for would remain a priority over the work itself. Instead of establishing, arriving, cashing-in and checking-out, we might see our progression as perpetually evolving, even into and through retirement.
“That sounds great,” you say, “but it wasn’t my path…so what should I do now?”
Don’t retire from something; retire to something. Even if you conceded the last 20 to 40 years of your life to the big hamster wheel, it doesn’t mean you’re relegated to settling into a meaningless, unproductive retirement. Ask the questions you wish you’d have asked yourself at the onset of your education or career and answer them. Envision your transition into retirement less as an encore and more as act two of a three act play.