Sep 10

The Psychology of Retirement

The Psychology of Retirement

Living the good life, retiring happy, wealthy and wise

is a little like Clark Kent taking off the Superman suit. It’s peeling off an identity – from an industry, a company, or a personal work history – and entering an entirely new life stage.

There’s freedom and excitement, the time to do all the things we’ve been waiting for, but there’s also some fairly key life changes and adjustments to make, some of which may be totally unexpected.

Although retirement is one of life’s most mentally challenging milestones, retirement advice usually focuses on finance rather than feelings. Planning for both can make a tremendous difference.

The bright side & the down side

So, what are the changes we face when we step into the retirement phase?

Time stretches luxuriously in front of us, something many of us have craved our entire working lives. Time to travel, read the books we’ve always wanted to read, take up a new interest or spend hours doing what we love. Some of these activities require money; many just need a good attitude and a mind that loves a challenge. However they all hinge on what retirement offers: time, and a lot of it.

But retirement can carry a downside. As Dr. Robert Delamontagne writes in The Retiring Mind: How to Make the Psychological Transition to Retirement, “For the first time in my life, I had no answers. I had fallen into a black hole where there were no guideposts for me to follow. What had happened to me? I built a successful company and lived a very active and dynamic life…yet I had no clue what to do next. For the first time in twenty-five years, I did not have a company to manage, nothing that urgently needed to be done, and, most troubling, no one who needed me to make a decision or contribute to a discussion. I did not play golf, nor belong to any clubs, and had little interest in doing either.

I wish that I had though, because brother, was I stuffed.” 1 The challenges of retirement can be numerous – from dealing with a change in identity and filling the hours previously spent working, to being labelled ‘retired’ or feeling unneeded. With no job, industry, company or colleagues to confirm who we are and where we fit, it’s easy to forget our own sense of purpose.

Charting a new course

Whether retirement is a goal or an unexpected curve ball, planning for retirement mentally as well as financially is key. Some people take a hybrid approach and continue working – either part time, in a consultancy role, or in a new industry with reduced pressure (and salary).

Many choose to get involved as a volunteer, evidenced by the 34% of the adult population of Australia who volunteer at least one hour every week with community organisations.2 Others take on a new project, sign up for courses, or help family raise young children.

Charting a new course for retirement means we need to think about our values – and act on them. What we do with retirement will give us satisfaction if it lines up with what we truly value. It’s wonderful to take care of the grandkids, for example, but extremely important to decide upfront how much time you’re happy to give. And buying that beach house is only a good idea if you love relaxing, which some people actually don’t.

Feeling good about retirement is an important goal, but it may not come as naturally as we think. It’s important not to underestimate the psychological impact and that’s where planning can help. Sorting out real values from perceived values will help us transition into retirement – and live the good life we’ve been waiting for.

1 Delamontagne, Dr Robert P. The Retiring Mind: How to Make the Psychological Transition to Retirement, Synergy Books, 2010, pp.1 – 2.
2 Volunteering Australia FAQs.

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