De­ci­sions, de­ci­sions

In spring, an old man’s fancy turns to thoughts of re­tire­ment

Winnipeg Free Press - Section H - - FRONT PAGE - BAR­BARA BOWES

SPRING is a won­der­ful time of re­ju­ve­na­tion; trees take on their green shim­mer and a world of colour reaches out from the flower beds. There even seems to be more ac­tiv­ity as peo­ple take time to get out­side and en­joy the weather.

It’s def­i­nitely a time for new be­gin­nings.

Then, as we move from spring, Easter cel­e­bra­tions and into our sum­mer sea­son, peo­ple also start to so­lid­ify their va­ca­tion plans. Some ea­gerly await the day when they can open the cot­tage. Oth­ers are so­lid­i­fy­ing their camp­ground rentals or sched­ul­ing that longed for travel to a far­away coun­try. Fi­nally, many oth­ers are busy plan­ning for a fam­ily re­union or sched­ul­ing their en­gage­ment in larger scale com­mu­nity sum­mer events and cel­e­bra­tions.

The spring sea­son as well will see a large num­ber of our baby boomers strug­gle with the chal­lenge of defin­ing their own be­gin­nings and end­ings as they seek op­por­tu­ni­ties for per­sonal re­ju­ve­na­tion. The im­age that comes to mind is of a per­son walk­ing along a path­way slowly pluck­ing the petals from a daisy, all the while whis­per­ing, “do I re­tire or don’t I, do I or don’t I?”

This con­ver­sa­tion is a true chal­lenge. Af­ter all, our baby boomers are well ed­u­cated, they’ve been high achiev­ers through­out their ca­reer and they gain a lot of mean­ing from their work. Most con­tinue to be healthy and want to re­main ac­tive in one way or an­other. How­ever, al­though they’ve con­tin­u­ally dealt with prob­lems and chal­lenges at work through­out their ca­reer, they may find that man­ag­ing change in their own life pat­tern will be one of their most dif­fi­cult chal­lenges.

Part of the rea­son for this chal­lenge is that while many peo­ple have their fi­nan­cial re­tire­ment plans well in hand, they rarely take a good look at the emo­tional as­pects of their life, nor do they de­velop a plan to re­place the ben­e­fits of work in their new life­style.

The is­sue of lack of life­style plan­ning is of­ten made fun of and is echoed in state­ments such as “the chal­lenge of re­tire­ment is how to spend time with­out spend­ing money” or “the trou­ble with re­tire­ment is that you never get a day off.”

While we may laugh at these con­cepts, the truth is right there, star­ing us in the face: Work cre­ates emo­tional ben­e­fits that need to be re­placed. For in­stance, our time man­age­ment is re­lated to work as is our sense of per­sonal util­ity. Work also gives us sta­tus, it fa­cil­i­tates our so­cial­iza­tion and it cre­ates that over­all sense of ac­com­plish­ment and achieve­ment.

These work-re­lated ben­e­fits must be re­placed at the next stage of life or your tran­si­tion into re­tire­ment will be rocky and un­sat­is­fac­tory. With this in mind, there are a num­ber of pow­er­ful ques­tions that po­ten­tial re­tirees should be ex­am­in­ing with re­spect to their emo­tional well-be­ing. How do you de­fine work ethic and how im­por­tant was this dur­ing your work­ing life?

The rea­son this is an im­por­tant ques­tion is that your per­cep­tion of work in gen­eral de­ter­mines the level of sat­is­fac­tion you re­ceived from work and what depth of mean­ing work had for you. Get­ting a grip on un­der­stand­ing your work ethic will help you de­ter­mine how to en­gage in ac­tiv­i­ties that help you to feel a sense of value and util­ity in the next stage of your ca­reer. What per­sonal and pro­fes­sional iden­tity did you gain from your work and oc­cu­pa­tion and what did this mean to you?

Most peo­ple gain a great sense of per­sonal sat­is­fac­tion from the iden­tity they achieve at work. This is typ­i­cally ac­com­plished through their work ti­tle. When you tran­si­tion into re­tire­ment, the ti­tle is left be­hind, it’s lost. So, you need to think about how im­por­tant this ti­tle was to your iden­tity. What will re­place this sat­is­fac­tion? Those in­di­vid­u­als who have a stronger at­tach­ment to their job ti­tle will have more dif­fi­culty with this is­sue. What does a high level of well­ness mean for you? What are your spe­cific ideas about liv­ing vi­tally?

While many peo­ple fo­cus only on the phys­i­cal and men­tal well-be­ing, it is also im­por­tant at this stage of life to find per­sonal mean­ing in your life. How will you learn to live a re­laxed life­style? What gives you vi­tal­ity? How strong are your self-care skills and how will these carry you for­ward so that you have zest, en­ergy and that you en­joy life? How would you de­fine your abil­ity to make and keep friends, to de­velop, nur­ture and main­tain in­ti­mate re­la­tion­ships?

Re­la­tion­ships in our lives are im­por­tant in that they help us to feel that we be­long and that we are safe. Our per­sonal self-es­teem is af­fected by the af­fir­ma­tion of oth­ers. Re­la­tion­ships will be im­por­tant as they will pro­vide sup­port as you make changes in your life. How im­por­tant has leisure been in your life so far? How can you cre­ate per­son­ally sat­is­fy­ing ac­tiv­i­ties that stim­u­late your mind, en­rich your spirit and re­ju­ve­nate your body in re­tire­ment?

No mat­ter what, leisure is a fun­da­men­tal need, with­out it we will even­tu­ally be­come ill. Yet, many peo­ple do not see leisure as a valu­able en­deav­our, but rather they fo­cus on achieve­ment. I’m sure you have of­ten heard the lament, “I haven’t ac­com­plished any­thing to­day.” Now is the time to re­flect on the mean­ing of liv­ing and learn to ap­pre­ci­ate the beauty around us. You may have en­gaged in per­sonal and pro­fes­sional de­vel­op­ment dur­ing your work years. How will you con­tinue to stim­u­late your per­sonal de­vel­op­ment in re­tire­ment?

Re­tire­ment is an op­por­tu­nity to take on more, not less per­sonal de­vel­op­ment. While per­sonal de­vel­op­ment in the past cen­tred on work, this is a chance to en­sure that you and you alone are the fo­cus of any new learn­ing. Don’t let a sense of empti­ness over­come you; get out there and find a new mean­ing in life. Learn a new skill, de­velop a new and en­rich­ing hobby.

As the change of sea­son pro­gresses, it’s im­por­tant for all of us, no mat­ter what age, to not just plan for the beach­side va­ca­tion or the new home or car, but to be­gin build­ing a com­plete plan for re­tire­ment. The plan must in­clude much more than se­cur­ing fi­nan­cial sta­bil­ity. Rather, your plan needs to in­clude spe­cific strate­gies for re­plac­ing the ben­e­fits of work. This in­cludes how you will spend your time, how you will re­place your job ti­tle with a new iden­tity, how you will main­tain and cre­ate new so­cial re­la­tion­ships and how you will con­tinue to stim­u­late your think­ing and in­tel­li­gence.

Thank­fully there are trained coun­sel­lors and fo­cused tran­si­tion pro­grams that can help to map your path to an ex­cit­ing fu­ture. Af­ter all, there is in­deed a sil­ver lin­ing within those grey clouds.

Source: New Hori­zons: Map­ping Your Path to Re­tire­ment, Ca­reer Part­ners In­ter­na­tional, 2009.

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