Something is missing in my life after retirement. I feel as if I am on vacation, going down a scenic country road with windows open, music playing.
At the same time, I’m anxious because I don’t know which exit to take.
The problem is not financial. Nor is it medical or social.
What is wrong is that my work identity has vanished, and I have no ready replacement.
For some, retirement pursuits are obvious, but others figure those out later. I belong to the latter category. It has been hard shedding a work identity developed over 50-plus years. Looking back, I could have done some things better to prepare.
I have found that creating a retirement identity includes a shift in mindset. While retirement was an important date on the calendar, I didn’t have a vision as to what “me” would look like once the echoes of work were gone.
So, as retirement began, I kept my workplace identity.
My personal shift began recently. One day, in response to a somewhat desperate question about how to fill my days, my wife told me in rather firm terms: “You have had many experiences. Go write about them.” Her comment struck a chord. Before marriage, kids and my career, I used to love writing.
Our talk also made me remember the ways I found to continue writing when I was working. There were write-ups for company awards, newsletters and outreach programs. As I put in many hours to craft these documents, I wondered if it wouldn’t be easier just to do my normal job. But I am glad I kept those thoughts at bay. Those write-ups honed a skill that I’m relying on today.
An initial roadblock to sustaining my new identity was that my mind didn’t understand the relaxation part of retirement. And why should it? During my work years, I paid for a gym I rarely used, rejected quiet breathing and yoga without trying, and stoked my energy level with caffeine. It is hard to turn relaxing on after years of refusing it.
In retrospect, I needed to give myself permission to relax — and to accept that the ability to do so evolves over time.
In summary, to those approaching or planning for retirement, recognize the challenges that will be created by the loss of your workplace identity. Prepare for and, over the years, nurture your new retirement identity. By doing so, you will ease the transition and map the exit you need to take on that scenic country road.
Eric Sebo, a recently retired technology manager, wrote this for the Dallas Morning News.