Retirement – The Psychological Journey

Retirement is a solo journey. This is a period of  personal transformation, requiring a  psychological re-orientation.

It is a psychological journey with feelings not unlike those experienced in marriage and divorce.

On the big day of the retirement party, all you may remember are smiles, handshakes and good wishes as colleagues see you off. So, you are off to your honeymoon.

For the first time in life, you experienced total freedom. You are in the G0-Go stage. This is  a period when retirees get to do all the things that they wanted to do once they stopped working.

However, honeymoon cannot last forever! When it is over, the newlyweds will need to get down to the nitty-gritty of life, the business of living. Many retirees will find that they will have to deal with a feeling of let down. After all, retirement isn’t a permanent vacation; it also can bring loneliness, boredom, feelings of uselessness and disillusionment. You find yourself in a black hole and there is no compass to guide you.

Retirement involves discontinuing one’s identity and establishing a new one. The process can be painful. Who you are and how you define yourself in the last few decades will be forever changed at the point of retirement. The simple acts of changing your e-mail address, and returning your keys, computer and staff cards, registering yourself as retired members of professional societies could also be emotional moments. You are, in effect, wiping out your “being,” as a professional. It’s peeling off an identity. . . .  from an industry, a firm, or a personal work history . . . .  and entering a completely new chapter in life. Retirement is also a loss of routine; until a new routine is established.

In a way, retirement is like a divorce and breaking up is hard to do. There are very real emotional challenges in letting go of a career or work habits and  to accept that the relationships with your former colleagues and indeed, with you own self, have forever changed and the organization you worked for just moves on . . . . . the world still keep on turning, with or without you!

New and satisfying  answers to the identity questions must be found if the retiree is to satisfactorily close the chapter of work life. New purpose in life has to be defined. New and enjoyable life styles are to be established to replace the routine when the retiree is at work. There is no right way to retire. Retired colleagues I know of all seem to have finally found their way of coming to a new routine in life. The main key is to let go and move on. Of course, there are  some fairly key life changes and adjustments to make. It will take a while to get accustomed to a new life.

Finally, a new routine evolved. You do not have to go after things but things comes after you and the new landscape becomes familiar territory. You develop a new relationship with time and embrace every moment of it. You value the variable of meandering a bit in any given day, week, or month.  You are always making new plans, cultivating opportunities and exploring options . You continue to update these plans, recognizing that doing so is an important part of retirement. You are now happy that you have survived a divorce. . . . . . . .  you have successfully crossed the bridge from the world of  work to retirement!

Now is the time that you are free for authoring a new chapter of life that features the best you ‘ve ever been.

PS  Photo above shows suspension bridge crossing Bosphorous strait from Europe to Asia.

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25 thoughts on “Retirement – The Psychological Journey

  1. The best part of being retired is that those emotions you have bottled up during your working life are suddenly released. You look at those who are still working with a lot of sympathy-having to spend hours working and re-working until the tasks are finished. Of course, the tasks are never ending with the start of a new day. Human beings are born lazy and after retirement, it is so nice to snuggle in bed until it’s time to get up for breakfast or lunch.

  2. Well said. To be able to be totally released from work related stresses and wake up at whatever time you think fit are some of the joys of retriement. I also sympathsize those who are still unable to retire financially and pity those who financially can retire but default to working for worrying of the transition to a more meaningful retired life.

  3. For retirees, it is of paramount importance to keep themselves healthy, both physically and mentally. You may be interested to read the following article from Apple Daily today.

    【本報訊】在職人士未有為退休生活充分打算,退休後百無聊賴,隨時陷入抑鬱症危機。有精神科醫生指,退休後約三個月出現抑鬱症求診個案有上升趨勢,退休前從事高職或專業人士更屬高危族,主要是因為患者退休後的自我形象,與退休前存有落差,同時失去工作及社交圈子,易令患者由憂慮變成抑鬱。
    精神科專科醫生趙少寧指,長者抑鬱症狀與其他年齡人士不同,年長患者情緒未必沉鬱,卻容易感到焦躁緊張,又時常出現「周身痛」,但往往不能指出具體痛症位置。他說,近年持續有剛退休長者患上抑鬱症,退休後三個月是發病高危期,「剛退休仍然會感覺新鮮,但時間一長就會覺悶,甚至有抑鬱情緒」。專業人士有較高社會地位,退休後自我形象落差更大,出現抑鬱風險相對較高。

    無記性被誤會腦退化

    他表示即使家境富裕的長者,若未能處理好情緒問題,也有機會患上抑鬱症。此外,慢性疾病與抑鬱症也息息相關,患上抑鬱症的長者平均有 3.42種慢性疾病,如心臟病、高血壓及糖尿病等。
    腦神經專科醫生鍾鎮邦指,長者「冇記性」同樣可以是抑鬱症病徵,但容易被誤當作腦退化症。他指,腦退化症患者記憶力會持續衰退,難以有改善;若長者心情愉快或親友到訪時會變得特別「醒神」,則可能受抑鬱症影響。
    抑鬱症可透過藥物及認知行為治療舒緩,鍾鎮邦說,一般會處方鎮靜劑或血清素調節劑( SSRIs)治療,但鎮靜劑易上癮或影響記憶,血清素則會與心臟科藥物及抗生素互相干擾,不能同時使用。新一代血清素及腦腎上腺素調節劑( SNRIs)可減少藥物相互干擾,副作用也較舊式藥物少。

    • Absoultely agree, we need to keep ourselves physically and mentally healthy. Thanks for sharing the article from Apple Daily. Please keep us posted of anything interesting relating to retirement.

  4. This is a very true and accurate portrayal of what it means to retire, in my opinion. I retired last July. First, I was like a kid in a sweet shop, feeling jolly good about my new life. Then I realised that I missed any kind of routine. I promised myself that I would make timetables and plan several projects – sounds ridiculous now. Then I went through a brief period of ‘mourning’ and depression, feeling useless without my former status. Now I have ‘cracked’ it. I am happy and excited about all the endless possibilities; remembering what life was like at sixteen when I was free to explore the world and experiment with all that life has to offer. It’s great 🙂

    • Hi I also retire last July thinking that transition into retirement is just a piece of cake. The psychological part proved to be the most difficult part to get through. It was for this reason that I have written this article in the hope that other to be retirees would get themselves better prepared.
      Glad that you are now happy with your retired life and thanks for stopping by my blog!

  5. That’s a really good analysis of a situation I hadn’t really considered. Both myself and my husband come from agricultural backgrounds, where retirement is not really something that ever happens. You know, like a bumper sticker – Old farmers never die – they’re just put out to pasture 🙂 Also, as we’re self employed, there is no ‘sell-by’ date on our careers. I think for us, our work is a way of life, an expression of our creativity and, luckily for us, not something that we do at the behest of other people. I think your pragmatic style of writing is just perfect for this topic. And your English is top notch too.

    • Hi, you are so lucky to be self employed and that every day’s work is an expression of creativity. Like you, I would be happy to go on forever doing the job. There is a certain sadness not to be able to continue with a job which is enjoyable and meaningful and it is for this reason that I have to adjust myself phychologically which I didn’t think of before retirement. Thanks for your kind comment; I am really flattered. Best wishes to you and your husband, Michael

  6. I have to take back a comment I made before. How well you describe the process! How wise to compare it to divorce. I love my profession and it defines who I am, and as a result I dread retirement. And yet, my dreams of travel will not be fulfilled unless I do. Love the post, touched by it, and your photos are great.

    • Hi Rachel, for people who like their work and are committed to it, retirement is really like a divorce. However, no matter how much we love our work, we will have to leave it at one stage and start on this personal journey of retirement. Thanks for your candid comment! Michael

  7. Hi Michael

    I was intrigued to know what you had written about the psychological aspect of retirement so I came to visit. I finished work voluntarily at 54. My job was stressful and I had an opportunity to leave early and so I did. What I hadn’t expected to feel was the sense of loss that you describe, but feel it I did. 7 years later I feel I have made that transition and I am now “happily retired” and enjoying the freedom that goes with it. I am also now in receipt of pensions, work and government, which wasn’t the case when I finished work. Perhaps that also helps me to feel “officially retired”.

    Nevertheless, the transition was more painful and more lengthy than I had expected. Creating a new life post retirement takes courage and creativity. I think how you end your working life probably colours how you feel about it and my ending was not as satisfactory as I would have liked. That may have affected how I subsequently felt. I would say it took me at least two years to let go, and the process was painful. I had invested alot of myself into my working life, too much, and the knowledge that I was not indispensable, even quickly forgotten

    • Hi Corinne, the sense of loss depends on how attached you are to work, the esteem you derived from work, the circumstances relating to your retirement, how much you are able to meaningfully reuse some of the knowledge from work, how quick you are able to find something meaningful to pursue etc. Leaving work in a bad state is like having a bad divorce. I think many people have underestimated the emotional attachment; understimate the length of transition into retirement. Usually, this is not a question of finding something to occupy your time ( although this helps). After working for a single company for 36 years and building my life around work, I did have to overcome the fact that I have to pursue a new and entirely different life. Looks like some couseling for many to-be retirees would be of some benefits. Regards, Michael

  8. Hi Michael

    It’s tomorrow’s post, prepared today. Finding this blogging is a feat of organisation. Early start tomorrow so have to get it ready so all I have to do is push a button in the morning.

    Regards
    Corinne

  9. Pingback: Who comes first? | soulsnet

  10. Hi Michael

    Thanks to you too. I am so glad you enjoyed the post and will follow the blog. I would love to use more of your photos in the future and will always let you know and acknowledge and credit etc

    Have a good day

    Corinne

  11. I agree with Rachael’s comment, in that my profession defined me. I loved my job, but the time was exactly right to retire, and I did. Now I do many of the same things with the same people and organizations because they are my friends, and my life, but I do them on my own time without pay or restrictions (whether my own because I was working, or others). I am probably still in my honeymoon, but I blogging has helped me establish new goals and new routines, possibly even a new career. I think that having a positive attitude, whether you are working for someone else or living for yourself, is the key to a happy and healthy life. Thanks for the great posts, Michael. 🙂

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