The above was from an article written in 2013 when the thought of early retirement didn’t exist. I was fully immersed in a career that I loved, working for a company and with people I respected, and really doing well….until my Father died shortly after it was published and I became the primary caregiver for my Mother. I spent the next four years immersed in elder care, my job and nothing else….until I started considering early retirement. There is lots of advice on the financial aspects of retirement and how to spend your time, but not that much about one’s shifting identity and the emotions involved. I think of retirement planning in terms of three F’s: Finances, Fun and Feelings (MOSTLY feelings.)
Finances and Fun: Determining that I was financially able to retire wasn’t difficult. I’d always had a job, dating back to my freshman year of high school – sales clerk, lifeguard, cashier, then later factory worker, teamster and pipe-fitter apprentice in college. I didn’t take a gap year, I went straight to work full-time a week after graduation and worked for 36 years non-stop. Since I saved money all that time and was fortunate to have a pension, determining the feasibility of retirement was the easy part. The discussion on Finances ends here, because you can “Google” Retirement Financial Planning and find plenty of advice. Understanding that retirement is supposed to be fun also came naturally to me. I had been working really hard for years, and doing double time the last four years. I was exhausted and it was time to have fun. I had a long list of places I wanted to go and things I wanted to do.
Feelings: This is where guidance is lacking, and where I continue to struggle. Making the identity shift has been my biggest challenge. I was trapped in my identity of “female manager in the power industry.” Even my volunteer work was in industry group roles and charities for our customer base. Unlike most of my retired friends, I’m not a Wife/Mom/Grandmother. I thought a lot about who I would be as a financially independent woman. I was afraid of the loss of structure, the built-in support system, and of becoming invisible. I was so afraid of being under-utilized, the first 2 weeks following retirement I was booked solid with volunteer activities and appointments. This was followed by the planning and execution of numerous trips. Since my April 1st retirement, I’ve traveled to Japan, California, Canada (twice) New Orleans, Fort Morgan, Alabama and New York City.
I remember when my Father retired after 33 years as a Naval officer. He said how strange it was not to be saluted anymore. I feel similarly out of sorts and that my role in life is less clear now. However, over the last few months several things have helped me with the transition:
- My scared shitless survey on Facebook resulting in only 2 of over 100 respondents telling me I should keep working.
- My annoying “interviews” of recently retired friends who indicated “it’s great, it’s fun, you won’t look back, it might take you 45 minutes to get over it.”
- My on-going lunch dates with colleagues who talk about work and the distinct lack of gut churning I now feel about work stress and office politics.
- I no longer get phone calls and texts in the middle of the night.
- Spending time with other new retirees and seeing how they have blossomed in retirement by getting more exercise, eating healthier, reading more, spending quality time with family and friends, and learning new things.
- The very helpful advice from a walking buddy who is also a pastor; “We seek out retirees and long for their commitment to our ministries. Don’t make any commitments for a least a year.”
- Living in a community that has lots of public events needing volunteers, gives me a chance to try things without a long-term commitment. There are always planned and unplanned events that create opportunities to add value; Ironman Texas, fund-raising races, art education, and hurricanes.
- Realizing that, although I’m no longer an employee or elder care provider, I’m still a friend, sister, aunt, cousin, student and patron of the arts, lover of animals and travel, and dabbler at new things.
- Learning in the world of volunteerism, that I am no longer the woman working in a man’s world. I’m volunteering in a world dominated by woman, and these woman know how to get stuff done.
In my search for a post retirement identity, I continue to do a lot of volunteer work, compare notes with fellow early retirees and try lots of new things. Even though I’m not sure what my purpose is yet, there are purposes out there to be had. If you are struggling with post retirement identity feelings, you are not alone. Plus, you can be doing lots of good and having great fun as you figure it out!