The Last Frontier

When planning a journey, I think it’s always a good idea to know where you’re starting from, where you’re going, who your traveling companions will be, and most importantly, who you are. Retirement is a journey. 

I recently retired from my clinical practice, so I’m a newbie at being retired. Still, I prepared for retirement as a personal project and worked hard to get my practice and patients ready. One critical takeaway I’m learning from people I’ve talked to about retirement is: that despite common factors, everyone’s retirement is unique and personal. As psychologists, we focus on self-awareness, regardless of our professional activities or theoretical orientation. The question, ‘who am I’ is an existential must for psychologists to answer, first about ourselves and the patient, client, group, organization, etc., we are serving.  

Peter LiBero is a retired clinical psychologist. He continues to work as an executive coach and psychological consultant to management.

As I was getting ready for retirement, these were the questions I considered and re-hashed many times. My prep time for retirement was about three years, with a lot of attention to getting ready to close my clinical practice. 

Our other big focus as psychologists is development. Psychologists of all persuasions know that as human beings, as a person, we develop. We grow and change along that long and winding road, a twisting road that is the trajectory of our life. Retirement is one of those significant life inflection points on our development path. This developmental milestone has been written about eloquently by some of our esteemed colleagues, mentors, and teachers.

Getting ready to retire was a project; I made it that way. The big questions about the retirement journey needed an answer for me. Where am I departing from? Where am I going? Who are my traveling companions? What will I be doing when I get there? Am I fit for the journey? 

I had lots of conversations with people about retirement during my prep phase.  One question I was frequently asked was: “What are you going to do when you retire?” sometimes said with an underlying emotional message of ‘… how can you not work…what else is there?’  Such a conversation became a projective test for the person asking that question.

Why all the focus on preparation for retirement? Think of all the life infliction points we went through as adults: graduating from high school, college, and graduate school—marriage and kids (maybe). And for us psychologists, many hoops to jump through to start and run a practice. All these changes demanded we develop and adapt, and it took time, energy, planning, and dealing with emotional angst before the Big Day. How you want your retirement to turn out may depend on how you prepare for the change. So far, I’m happy with the time and energy I put into getting ready.

As a doer, I need avocations. By happy circumstance, friends encouraged me to re-learn the guitar a few years before retirement, which has been one of the best retirement activities. It has all the ingredients that drive retirement in a good direction for me: learning, creativity, social involvement, and enjoyment of music. I re-invested in photography, a life-long endeavor, another cornerstone of activity. I realized I needed to keep using what I’ve learned about psychology, so I kept my consulting practice going, which has different time demands, engagements, and emotional pressures, compared to clinical practice. Lastly, the keystone that holds the whole framework together is being active physically. I can’t recall who said it, but it’s true for me: ‘…if you got your health, you got your wealth.’ 

Caio, buon viaggio!