Who Am I Now That I Am Retired?
The retirees we interviewed for our book “Shaping a Life of Significance for Retirement” (Upper Room Books, 2010) identified several such challenges, including refining our sense of identity or self worth, facing declines in physical capabilities, coming to grips with our own mortality, and planning for the later stages of life. This week we shall focus on changes in our identity as we leave full-time career pursuits.
Most of us derive at least a part of our identity and self worth through pre-retirement adulthood from our work. When we leave full-time career pursuit, we loose a daily schedule, important relationships with colleagues, and the sense of accomplishment that we derived from our professional endeavors. These losses raise the question “Who am I now that I am retired (or semi-retired)?” What will my identity become in this new phase of life? One small but practical way this loss may manifest itself is in how we introduce ourselves in a social situation. When working full time, we will often introduce ourselves in terms of our profession. (Hello, my name is Jack, and I am the Associate Director of the ABC Research Institute.) What do we say now?
By the time we begin looking seriously at retirement or enter into it, we are familiar with identity challenges, because we have lived through them. They can occur during adolescence, in midlife, as the children leave home and we have an “empty nest,” and at other turning points. Several of the individuals we interviewed suggested that refining identity as they moved toward retirement was less the “crisis” of these earlier life stages and more like pulling together the values, dreams and projects conceived of earlier in life and figuring out how to live them out now. Or, as another person noted, retiring does not change whom we really are inside.
In thinking about our identity as we make the transition from full-time work, several questions may be worth answering.
1. If still working full time, to what extent is your identity and self worth associated with our professional pursuits? Or if you have retired, to what extent was this the case when you were working? 2. How do you usually introduce yourself to others? What do you want people to know about you in an initial interaction?3. What has the potential for replacing work as a significant contributor to your sense of identity or self worth in retirement? Or if already retired, is there some pursuit that has grown in importance as a contributor to your feeling of self worth?
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