More than year ago, Kevin and I began to plan for the timing of my retirement. Since he had already retired more than a few years ago and because he loves his life as retiree, he was ready for me to take this life-changing step. About 9 months ago we decided that an extended trip would be a great way to celebrate the next phase of our life. The reasoning escapes me right now but we landed on Central America as a destination.
Six Months and Counting:
Then came the difficult step of actually making the commitment. About six months ago I told my boss that I would plan for March 1st – a date with no good rationale however it was as good as any other date. (Leaving for vacation on March 3 was carefully thought out, however, for all of the reasons you can imagine). A six month notice would give my boss enough time to recruit for a replacement and personally I thought it would give me enough time to do the personal work that goes along with making such a huge personal change. My sense was that I needed to prepare in the same way as one prepares for other major life changes such as having children or being an “empty-nester”.
Withdrawal from the Addiction to Work:
Withdrawal from a lifetime of professional work would require me to tackle the difficult process of making an identify shift. While I knew I was ready to have more time to do the things I couldn’t do as a full-time worker, my desires alone wouldn’t guide me through the emotional aspects of this life transition. While I have experienced as least some level of addiction to the compelling and exciting aspects of my work, my desire to have “time” to enjoy life was a strong opposing force. I was ready to begin the process of “letting go” of my professional identify and the associated rewards.
Preparation: Big and Small
The following are some but certainly not all of the steps I have taken to prepare for the transition:
- Clothing: Because the type of clothing we wear can be viewed as a component of one’s identify, approximately a year ago I begin to purchase less professional wear (especially suits) and have focused on wearing more casual clothing to work.
- After the close of each season, I gave away at least some professional clothing from that season.
- Professional reading and resources: About the time I announced my retirement date, I began to substantially reduce the amount of professional reading and acquisition of new professional knowledge. More often than any time in my career, I deleted informational email messages pushed to my account, especially if they were focused on acquiring new knowledge.
- Change in focus: Instead of focusing on being personally successful, my goal with staff in my work area was focused on helping them to go through a leadership transition. (This may have helped me more than it helped the staff).
- Living in 2 Worlds: For the past six months, I was conscious of the fact that I was living in two worlds – as if I was betraying my employer by having an affair with retirement. The world of “I really need to not care about this because I’m retiring” competed with “I am still in a job and while here, I need to do what is expected of me”. These were rough waters to sail.
- Talk about Retirement: While it was difficult to discuss the excitement of retiring at work, because I have a number of friends and family members in the same age group, we spoke often about our plans to retire. Ed, John and Kathleen – 2 BIL’s and good friend are retiring within days of me. Kathleen helped me to name and frame ‘retirement grief” one experiences, just like any other loss we experience. Believing it would help my emotional journey, I saw a therapist for a single visit. As a person in the same age group as me, I could tell that she hadn’t thought about this next phase of her life – in fact I think my discussion about retirement made her more anxious than I was. No need for a second visit with her. I bailed.
- Work Hours: To the degree possible, I have worked fewer hours in the past six months, and have done less work at home. While this was very difficult in a job with great demands on my time, it helped me to spend more time engaging in leisure activities. I found that the more time I had, the more I wanted.
No doubt there are many aspects of retirement which I’ve not prepared for such as how it will feel to not have a professional identity or what it will be like to not have the intellectual stimulation of which is derived from being with work colleagues. While I may not have prepared for all that is ahead, I am certainly ready to not get up and go to work five days a week as I’ve done for the past 40+ years.
A leisurely morning cup of Jo sounds good to me right now.