Gone are the days when “retirement” typically meant moving someplace warm and taking up a hobby or two. Today, more people have financial limitations that may require working longer, or they may want to stay where they are, near family and long-time friends. Or perhaps the loss of a spouse has caused you to rethink your plans. Maybe playing more golf or dusting off your old paintbrushes sounds nice, but you still want to continue contributing to society in a meaningful way. Any of these can, of course, lead you to redefine what you thought retirement would be.
The truth is, while some people retire and make big changes—like moving or leaving a job—when they reach, say, 65, for many others retirement very often unfolds in myriad ways over time. For you, retiring may mean smaller changes, like planning more trips or cutting back on work hours that slowly transition you into the next chapter. However it unravels for you, being able to thrive during this new stage of life is important; continuing to be productive and successful—whether it’s with work or a new challenge—is essential to your health and happiness.
It is also a time to consider seeking assistance. This is a major life change and being unsure is normal, but often doesn’t feel normal. If you were going to learn how to play an instrument, you would most likely find a teacher; when you are redesigning your life, a life coach can be helpful. We are accustomed to being expert at what we do when we reach this life stage. It is hard to be an expert when you are new at something.
When you’re ready for things to shift, think it through; only you can know what your next steps will be. Here are a few tips to help you figure out what's right for your version of retirement:
Consider your situation. What’s happening in your life when it comes to finances, relationships and your health? Think about what you really need moving forward. Is it a steady paycheck? Relatives and friends who live close by? Do you want to downsize where you live? Once it’s clear what you'd like to change, and what should stay the same, you can begin to think about what’s next. Maybe that means continuing to work in some capacity, at your current job or in a new way. Or perhaps it's time to ask your friend for the name of the realtor she mentioned a while ago.
Acknowledge your desires. While you may still have responsibilities, this is a period of your life in which you should devote more time to the things you love or yearn to do—things that truly fulfill you. If it’s travel, start by simply looking at your calendar for dates you can get away. If it’s spending more time with your grandchildren, find out when they’re free. If it is, in fact, moving someplace warmer, start researching possibilities or ask family and friends if they know people who live in a place you're considering. Maybe your desires are more personal, like reconnecting with your spouse now that you have more time to spend together. It could simply be acknowledging that you want to stick with your job because you continue to find the work rewarding and motivating. Listening to your desires and making them a priority is the most important way you can define what this new stage means.
Reassess periodically. Because retirement is different for everyone, it’s important to not only be mindful of what's right for you, but to recognize that it will likely change. So take a little time to reflect as you go; it could be six months down the road or in another five years, but checking in on where things stand helps ensure you’re on the path you desire. Circumstances are bound to change over time and reevaluating from time to time what you want and need can be helpful as you navigate this stage of life. You may be ready to leave your job, devote time to a hobby or make another change you hadn't even thought about when you first retired.
Simply put, retirement today is really a time to think about where you’d like to steer your journey next. That can mean making changes—big or small—professionally or personally, or both. And even if this chapter isn't all you'd expected, it can still be a period of rediscovery that nurtures and fulfills your spirit.
Many people are surprised by the experience of retirement and how it differs from their fantasy. Free time sounds like a gift until it is all you have and there is no map. The work of retirement is exploring rather than knowing; you are successful if you are learning about yourself, your interests and possibilities. Change can be energizing and overwhelming—anticipate both, give yourself room to explore and if you feel stuck, ask for help.