By Ailis Clarke, Psychologist, Psychotherapist and Mediator >
Lots of us find managing change difficult, and retirement is a transition that can be particularly challenging. Some people think of retirement as their reward for productivity after a lifetime of work; for others it may be a complex moment as they reckon with goals that weren’t achieved. Still more might want it to compensate for difficult decisions they made in pursuit of their career: time apart from family; friends and hobbies put to one side; sometimes even alcohol or drug addictions that crept in as coping mechanisms. In short: retirement has a lot to live up to.
Critically, retirement also signals stepping away from an established persona and embedded behaviours. Finding out who we are, without the title, status and power that are often afforded to those in successful roles, can be daunting; while losing the daily routine of leaving home to go to a different life is a huge change in itself.
It can be helpful to speak to someone about these emotions in order to process them effectively, whether that’s at the point of retirement or even ahead of time. Being prepared for feelings that might crop up will help to make the process of transitioning to the next stage of your life smoother. For those within relationships, it may also be useful to consider couples therapy, so that each partner can explore their thoughts about the changes taking place.
Two examples of common issues that individuals face as they reach retirement are described below.
Roger was a senior executive who excelled at his career and retired comfortably at 58 years old. Roger recognised early in life what was needed to succeed and, as the only son of a single mother, relentlessly delivered it – he ensured his mother had security in her old age as well as carefully supporting his own family. Throughout his professional life, Roger worked through weekends and holidays, missing milestone birthdays and important personal events, but he justified these decisions as necessary sacrifices in order to provide for his dependents. At the point of retirement, Roger planned to finally enjoy time with his loved ones – however, he had spent little time at home in the preceding decades. He had not developed shared interests with his children as teenagers, and now struggled to relate to them as adults with their own families and careers. His plans to make up for lost holidays and weekends away with his partner were only a partial success as she had her own priorities to attend to, including an independent social life. In sum, Roger planned his retirement without reality-checking it with those he expected to share it with, discovering late that life had moved on for everyone else while he had been busy in the office.
Gillian had a different experience. She had always loved being abroad, and understood that travelling was a goal for many people at the point of retirement. However, having had a twelve month ‘honeymoon’ period adventuring overseas with her husband and friends, she returned home and realised that the life she had retired into was no longer the life she wanted. She had lost her appetite for travel, and yet her large family house in the countryside felt burdensome and inconvenient now that her children had left home. Gillian found herself remembering a time before she had had children and risen up the ranks in her career as a lawyer, when she had been able to indulge her interest in art. She reflected on how happy this had made her. For Gillian the change at this point of retirement was significant. She realised that the things which society expected her to enjoy, and which she herself had enjoyed once, no longer appealed. Instead of travelling and maintaining a large family home, she wanted to focus on her talents and the things that gave her joy. Gillian realised that she would rather move to a smaller property in the city, close to her adult children, and enrol in an art course – even if this was a new path for her, and one that might be seen as unconventional.
If any of this resonates with you, and you would like support to explore this stage in your life, please get in touch. Together we can discover how and why you have lived your life so far, identify what you now need to thrive and put a plan in place to make it happen.