Coaching: Transition into retirement

I was sitting in the bar of a local restaurant recently, waiting for my carry-out order when a woman sitting nearby began chatting with me.

At first, her comments were about the menu and she then quickly became more personal. She had retired after 30 years with a huge corporation. Still, she was only 53-years old when she left the workforce. 

In a few sentences she described the psychological upheaval that so many retirees experience when they haven’t created a blueprint for life after full-time work. (I swear I did not tell her I do retirement coaching until we were well into this topic.) 

Like most of us, she had worked the greater part of her life. What she didn’t realize when she sailed off with a comfortable pension, is that the various benefits of working – beyond the financial compensation – become so integral to us that they become needs. They become essential and if they’re not satisfied after we leave the job, we can begin to lose ourselves in some ways and can even get sick because of neglecting these “needs.”

For two years, that’s what was happening to my new acquaintance. She described days of lying around in bed ‘til late afternoon. She found herself wanting to move “happy hour” up to the time Oprah came on, then even earlier. 

This was obviously a bright, engaging woman who had made the quantum leap into becoming a “third ager” while still holding onto the out-dated rocking chair approach to retirement. It took her a while, a couple of chaotic years in fact, before she stopped in her tracks and did something about her misery. She’s now happily pursuing a certification program in a health care field and learning a lot about herself and the lifestyle that fits who she is. After all, this chapter of her life might well last longer than all those years she spent in her first career.

There are five important benefits that we derive from full-time work. Part of the planning for a vital retirement involves finding replacements for each of these five benefits.

1.    The paycheck. Some people have done their financial planning well and are prepared for the loss of financial compensation once they move away from a job. Others have a plan but know that they will need an income stream of some nature during retirement.

Financial planners almost make it their mission to help us have adequate funding to support the lifestyle we want in retirement. Still, there are surprises. The current national and global economic crisis for example. Other life events can emerge unexpectedly within the best-laid plans. When I’m coaching an individual or couple, they take an online assessment that includes measuring their financial readiness and confidence. If they need to focus on this area and do not have a relationship with a financial adviser, I refer them to competent professionals in that field. 

2.    Time management. Most jobs have quite a lot of structure no matter how free-wheeling we might feel about the workday. In all those working years, we have the comfort of a routine and don’t have to think a lot about what time we wake up, when we take a shower, when we pull out of the driveway to head to work. Many of us have a PDA or some other way to keep track of those jam-packed days. Many, many retirees miss that structure and feel at a loss to plan their days. Some sad people in this transition allow others to take charge of their schedules. “Oh Sam, now that you’re so free, would you mind picking up Tommy from pre-school every day?” Granted, time with Tommy might be a desirable activity, but only if it is Sam’s choice. My Dad retired early, and I was shocked to hear him say things like, “Well let’s see. Tuesday I go to the dry cleaners.”

3.    Sense of utility or purpose. A few years ago a dear friend said, “My biggest fear in retirement is that I’ll be irrelevant.” Whew, what a word. We all want meaning in our lives, and part of planning for a healthy retirement is doing a contemplative search to identify those things that have meaning and purpose. The answers will likely be unique to each of us, and we’ll know we’re there when we feel it in our gut. 

4.    Status. This word often gets a bad rap. Actually, status is not haughty or self-serving or condescending. Status is a combined sense of personal worth and identity and each job has a certain status attached to it. A client told me, “When I walk into the building where I work, I immediately feel like I am somebody.” Status has a definite place in our world and requires attention as

we’re planning for any transition – certainly retirement.

5. Socialization. I went through one phase of the “new retirement’ when gradually I moved from being surrounded by colleagues in my own business, and returned to a solo coaching practice. I knew myself well enough to know that I needed some level of social relationships in the new workplace. I no longer had employees, but other professionals in the building soon became friends and fulfilled that socialization need, even if some mornings it was a brief, “How was your weekend?” conversation.

These five work benefits don’t disappear because we retire. If we need to continue an income stream, there are many options, from work in the same general field to a mix of volunteer and paid work. With thoughtful planning we can prepare to replace all five benefits, in a customized design that takes into account the degree of importance of each need. For example, time management will be high on my list as I know I’m capable of frittering away an entire day if structure-free. (Works great for vacations but not everyday living.)

The career and work arena is just one category of focus in retirement coaching. The conversation at the restaurant reminded me of how blindsided people can feel when they haven’t done the soul-searching that is part of a retirement plan. Every area of life has to be involved. In retirement planning we examine attitudes about health, about aging, about leisure, relationships – well,  everything.

It’s all about doing whatever we can to experience vitality this third act of life. My coaching business is called Retirement Con Brio because I’m so passionate about helping people achieve a life filled with zest and energy, a vibrant life. “Con Brio” means injecting the present moment with its full measure of life and love. It is being fully alive and vibrant, and is almost entirely dependent on our internal world, not the presence or absence of arthritis or whatever changes happen to our bodies. 

I help clients embrace what enhances them rather than what tears them down. What a privilege! Wherever you are, I hope you are choosing to live vibrant, “Con Brio!” days.

Aging is not a thief in the night. Aging is our master teacher.

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