How do you retire when your whole adult life you’ve been building a career?

How do you retire when your whole adult life you’ve been building a career?

June 17, 2019

I’ve been thinking a lot about retirement lately.

As a career development practitioner, I’ve advised many older people that “retirement is not an event, it’s a process…. another career transition.”  But now I’m that older person and I’m finding it’s not an easy a transition. Don’t get me wrong I’m ready to “retire” from the full-time schedule of the last 45 years. I have even given my workplace a date (yipes)!  But, I’m still not sure what retirement looks like for me.  Rooted in this is the one fear that rules us all – the fear of the unknown. There’s so much to think about: finances, personal fulfillment, not wanting to be marginalized in a society that places so much value on work, being called a retiree, wondering what I will do with myself when every day is a weekend.  What happens to my identity when leaving a lifetime of meaningful work behind?

There are lots of role models in my life around retirement or more accurately non-retirement. My Mom worked every spring, summer, and fall until she was 78 years old and would have continued if not for her health. My aunt, her sister, worked part-time until she was 82. I have dear friends who continue to work well into their 70’s. Working long beyond the acceptable retirement age helped them maintain their financial security, independence, sense of purpose, social connections and vitality.  These are all aspects of my working life that I value and want to hold onto.  So how do I do that and retire?

Maybe I don’t retire; maybe instead I “restructure.”

For many years I’ve taught (and believe) that career development is a lifelong process. At its centre is hope and it starts with looking in and looking out. So now is the time to have faith in that process.   As Gelatt says, (I’m paraphrasing) when the future is uncertain you have the chance to influence it.  So, with that, I have been looking inward thinking about who  I am and what I need to build towards my desired future and connecting this introspection with thinking about all the opportunities out there that are waiting for me.

“Working in place” is one option I am exploring.  This means staying with my workplace in a different capacity, more as an associate, working fewer hours, maybe a month or two out of the year, or focusing on one specific project at a time. I am one of the lucky ones. I love and value my work, my organization, and my colleagues.  The women I work with are brilliant and fun and I don’t want to lose them.  Continuing to work with them in some capacity will allow me to maintain these relationships and keep me connected and contributing to my field. Fortunately, my organization is a thought leader in career development. Our team is values-based, forward thinking, flexible and open to alternative work arrangements.  Now, you can see why I love them.

And then there is the opportunity to devote time to all those interests that have been neglected for years. There’s my telescope that’s collecting dust, my half-written articles, the French language program sitting on my bookshelf, the seed bank I want to start, the research I want to do, and the courses I want to take and give.  Each holds the potential to engage and nourish me, perhaps even lead to a new business venture.

It’s true that retirement will lead to new realities and possibilities that I can’t predict.

It’s nerve-wracking and a bit exciting, like when you set off on a trip to some far-flung part of the world you’ve never been before.  You try and prepare but really don’t know what you’ll find until you are there. But, isn’t that the very definition of adventure?