Retirement: An Underrated Challenge

Retirement is perhaps one of the most underrated of life’s passages!  For those lucky enough to reach that stage in life, it’s filled with surprises, some good and some not so good, most of which we are unprepared for.  Suppose you are leaving a very busy, successful, and beloved career. In that case, the passage needs preparation and planning…. making an inventory of who you’ve been and what has brought you the most joy will help you figure out who the person you will now become.  But how do we do that? 

It would have benefited me to have attended some seminars on transitioning from being “somebody” to suddenly becoming ” nobody.”  As a person whose identity and satisfaction were very tied up with my professional career, this change was enormous.  I had no real hobbies or pastimes, and most of my relationships (apart from those of my husband and children) were connected to my work life.  To say I felt somewhat empty would be an understatement!  And I hardly knew where to begin to build a new me, a life that would be rewarding and fun. 

 And, I should add, my husband was going through his transition to retirement simultaneously.  We both felt we needed to do “meaningful” and “purposeful” things.  Unlike me, he already had pastimes he loved but still felt morally obligated to do more serious things to feel worthy enough to indulge in the fun stuff.  I didn’t even have that. I wish I’d had a group of fellow new retirees to share my frightened feelings with.  We read a terrific book called “Don’t Retire, Rewire!” which helped give us a new mindset about how to think about this new future.  

We’d been talented professionals and knew we could also become talented retirees if we stopped demanding so much from ourselves and instead delighted in the opportunities all this free time gifted us!  Yes, we did remain involved in giving time to several community non-profits, but we also permitted ourselves to have fun.  I chose to learn to play golf and bridge, declaring this was a perfectly acceptable way for a retired person who’d worked long and hard for many decades to do it!  I also became involved in our local Cinema Society and had the time and interest to participate in a book club for the first time.  

I no longer found it bizarre to be introduced as “Mallory’s grandma” and came to treasure that introduction.  It took me a while to let go of that admired, well-known industry businesswoman I’d been for many years to welcome the enormous joy of doing things that felt good!  I made many new friends and felt incredibly blessed to have had it all:  a family I adored. This career was exciting and successful; ultimately, a retirement life brought me so much happiness. 

But it isn’t easy to cross that passage if you don’t open yourself up to becoming a new and different you.  Just as we see people benefiting greatly from support groups in other areas, i.e., grieving, the same would be enormously helpful to those getting ready or just having entered retirement.  It’s essential, too, to acknowledge and be realistic about some of the limitations that aging places upon us. However, even with all the back issues, joint issues, arthritis, pacemakers, and the like, there is so much to learn about yourself as you become a new YOU and for that new you to be someone you genuinely love.  Retirement can be the best passage through this beautiful journey we call life by opening one’s mind to all the possibilities and cutting yourself some slack.

Joyce Kole was president of Kole & Company, an executive search firm she founded in 1995, specializing in recruiting for catalog companies. Before starting her company, she held executive positions in marketing and sales and was a frequent speaker and leader at national catalog conferences.  For decades, Joyce held a prominent place in the catalog and direct marketing industry.