What to Do Now That You Are Retired

Expert Author Carolee Duckworth

You have long thought about retirement, but perhaps never fully taken in the reality that it could and would happen to you. The final day of work at the job or career that has defined you most of your adult life, can deliver quite a jolt. And images of what comes next are fuzzy at best. The old paradigm of retirement as a time for leisure has been rapidly changing as the 77 million Baby Boomers cross the retirement threshold and reinvent retirement to suit their own visions for the future.

The answer to the question of what you yourself will do now that you are retired is, of course, very individual and personal. Yet there are themes, based on what has been happening throughout the Boomer peer group, that can guide your own process of designing your retirement life. Here are five truths about the new retirement that may be helpful to you as you figure out what to do next.

This is not your father's retirement

Your father may have been the model of the old paradigm of retirement, complete with a retirement party, then doing fix-ups around the house, then looking around for a hobby, and ending up spending most of his time fishing with his brother. But that was then, and this is now. And that was him, and this is you.

As you enter your own retirement, you may have higher expectations and be determined to discover meaningful pursuits that will keep you engaged and purposeful through the many years you have ahead.

You will want social connection, personal purpose and mental stimulation in retirement, as well as financial security

Money likely will not be the only thing you expect to miss when you stop working. In fact, it may not even be at the top of your list. Research on recent retirees has uncovered the surprising fact that if 30 retired Boomers were gathered in a room, 21 of them would report being most concerned over loss of something other than income. Ten would say that what they miss most since retirement is social connection. Six would report that they primarily miss having purpose and work goals. Four would say their number one lack is mental stimulation. Only nine out of the 30 would report that their main loss is income.

To continue to have these three reportedly essential elements--social connection, personal purpose, and mental stimulation-- after entering retirement, is a process of invention. Where during our work lives, these came with our employment, in retirement we must define and find them for ourselves.

If you choose to continue to work in the workplace, you will be in good company

If your vision of your own retirement includes work, you will be among the majority, not the minority. Retirement research shows that most retirees, almost 80%, plan to work at least part-time after retiring. Only 23% intend to stop work completely. A labor study covering 2006 to 2011 found that the 55 and over cohort showed growth, while other workforce segments decreased. Department of Labor projections point to continued increases in the workplace participation of older workers.

In your retirement, you may plan to rebalance work with leisure and other elements of life, such as study and travel. But you may not intend to stop work completely.

Your life may well be a balance of pathways that include, but are not limited to, work

When you were determining as an emerging adult what you wanted to be "when you grew up," the pathway that you were trying to define was a single one - the pathway to career work. In retirement, it is important to step back from this accustomed notion that life will follow a single pathway. Whereas your career may have followed a single pathway, your retirement career can and probably will follow a combination of pathways.

Consider the full range of pathways open to you, including: new work, leisure, entrepreneurship, volunteering, creativity, travel, and/or study (from Shifting Gears to Your Life and Work after Retirement). Then arrive at the combination of pathways that will best fulfill you and shape for you a meaningful, purposeful retirement life.

Retirement will involve reinvention, not continuation

Your design for retirement needs to focus on, reconsider and fulfill, not what others may want or expect of you, and not necessarily what you have gotten expert at during your career. This is the time to uncover your own authentic self and enlist it in making the choices ahead. The task of reinvention is active and creative, not just trapsing along into more of the same.

Grant yourself the time and resources to complete the full process--breaking free from your past work, expanding and combining your pathways, reinventing yourself to clarify what you uniquely want to and can contribute, rediscovering your next work, and moving forward. The reward for taking this time for yourself is nothing less than the rest of your life well spent - with vitality, engagement, purpose and enjoyment.

Dr. Carolee Duckworth is a recognized educator, author and career change counselor, who has guided thousands of individuals of all ages through major career shifts that changed their lives. She designed and initiated College-Online.com---providing a path to significant work advancement for tens of thousands of working adults since 1996. Her current focus is assisting retiring Baby Boomers (of which she is one) with their own next great career change. She also is writing the Your Great Trip series (co-authored with her son, Brian Lane) for independent travelers, starting with Your Great Trip to France: Loire Chateaux, Mont Saint-Michel, Normandy & Paris, to be followed soon by Your Great Trip to Italy: Tuscany, Cinque Terre, Florence & Venice.


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