Retirement: A Rite of Passage
My father worked at the same factory for over 40 years. He started working in maintenance and climbed his way up to lead several factories across the U.S. by the time he reached retirement age. He enjoyed his work most of the time, but there were many occasions over the years when he’d wax on about how he couldn’t wait to leave the rigors of his high-pressure job so he could enjoy the freedom of doing whatever he wanted when he wanted in retirement, just like Grandpa and Grandma had.
When he did finally retire, he received one of those retirement parties everyone hears about but rarely ever experiences these days: a company-funded sit-down dinner with adult beverages, co-workers who made speeches reminiscing about what it was like working with my father and the traditional parting gift of a gold watch for a job well done. It was more than he could’ve hoped for his big send-off. However, the following morning the realities of what it meant to be retired started to sink in.
That sense of freedom which my father was looking forward to as a new retiree wasn’t automatically there like he thought it would be. Instead, he found himself faced with spending more time alone than he was used to and a way of life without any routine structure in place to give him direction. His way of coping with his new reality was to visit the factory he had just retired from every week for a few hours just to ‘say hello’ and to take his regular nightcaps a little earlier in the day and let them last a little later into the evening.
Unfortunately, my father’s story isn’t uncommon for many new retirees. It’s easy to become so wrapped up in the financial planning needed to get across the finish line to retirement that you can forget you also need to prepare yourself for the spiritual and psychological changes you’ll face once you’ve retired. You’re not just letting go of a steady income, your letting go of who you’ve believed yourself to be over the past 40 plus years of your adult life. It’s a rite of passage much like puberty. You’re not the same once you go through ‘the change.’ You’re letting go of who you were and discovering a new way of how to be you in the world.
Here are a few things to keep in mind as you prepare for your transition into retirement other than the state of your financial portfolio:
Contrary to what TV commercials like to sell you, the purpose of retirement is not to show off the wealth you accumulated over the years by becoming a consumer of luxury goods. It’s about letting go and downsizing your material responsibilities and external attachments - everything from letting go of taking care of a large household to letting go of accumulating professional achievements. Retirement is your time to moderate external endeavors so you may find more time to focus on internal work such as finding peace and harmony not only in your own life but also in all of the other lives that surrounds you.
Practice: 6 to 12 months before you retire, commit to journaling once a week. Write 3 self-enrichment activities you think you’d like to do once you’re retired. It could be learning Spanish, woodworking or having regular playdates with the grandkids. Doing this small activity will help you in your transition into retirement. It will provide you with the bones of what your life mission will be once you’re retired.
Wisdom is found through the exercise of reflection. Retirement is your time to step back and acknowledge the wisdom you’ve accumulated over the course of your life. It’s time for you to look inward and discover what you’ve learned to be true about yourself and your relationship with the world. Doing so necessitates a shift in perspective. Instead of putting a premium on examining life through the lens of your rational, strategic mind for how best to make a living, you need to adjust your gaze to look through the empathetic lens of your heart to uncover the meaning of living.
Practice: Commit to taking time to deliberately be alone with yourself when you’re retired. You may choose to sit in silence on a park bench, at a coffee shop or take a leisurely stroll outside as you observe the movement of the world around you. Focus on what you observe in the world and how you can empathize with it. Seek to find the underlying wisdom of life as you reflect on what you observe.
Just because you’re retired doesn’t mean you don’t have a lot to offer the world. Your friends, family and community still need all the tacit and experiential knowledge and skills you’ve accumulated over your working years. The question you face as a retiree is, where do you want to use your skills? Instead of being focused on leveraging your skills to pay your bills, you now can put your attention on using your skills to promote causes that are important to you and sharing the skills you most love with the world. Being of service rather than chasing accomplishments is the job of a retiree.
Practice: Is there a cause or organization you’ve always thought that you would like to participate in but didn’t because of the amount of time you spent at your job? Make it a priority to get involved and volunteer your services when you’re retired.
My father has now been thriving in retirement for almost 10 years. It took him more than a year to find his way, but he’s discovered the type of freedom he hoped he would in retirement. He spends much of his time puttering outside and teaching his grandkids to fish, hunt and otherwise enjoy the great outdoors. He’s still very much the patriarch of the family, but he’s let go of the role of householder; he’s become comfortable being more reflective on life and discovering how giving of himself is more rewarding than any paycheck ever was. About the Author Ann Zitzmann is a writer and teacher who researches beliefs, spiritual practices, and how they impact the evolution of the individual, society and natural environment. The goal of her work is to help others recognize how their individual beliefs and spiritual practices directly influence the world we live in. You can learn more about Ann and her work at www.spiritualtheorist.com