Phased Retirement: Change is Hard

No matter who I talk to, their thoughts on retirement are generally quite positive.  There’s usually a focus on all the good things about retirement – freedom of schedule, a more relaxed lifestyle with family and friends, opportunities to pursue long-held interests, and meeting new friends.

There’s also typically quite a lot of commentary about things that won’t be missed – like dress codes, commuting, the stress of deadlines and scrutiny over your work, certain meetings, and even certain people!

What I don’t hear as much about in my conversations with friends, family and professional connections are the things that will be missed once they retire.

Change can be hard.  Even a change to a very positive outcome like an anticipated retirement comes with a certain period of adjustment.

The author Morrie Shechtman wrote about this over 25 years ago in his book Working Without a Net.  Part of his assessment in the book is that with individual growth and change, while we gain some things, we lose others.  While we look forward to retirement and all that it offers, we also lose much of what’s been familiar to us for many years.  Generally, he stated that any change impacts us and we go through the well-known ‘grief cycle’ of Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression and Acceptance. 

Even a change like a promotion means leaving behind the comfort of your old position and it alters your relationships with co-workers.  There can be a sense of ‘imposter syndrome,’ sensing that former co-workers feel like they should have been promoted, and imagined whisperings about “…who does she think she is?”

Retirement is a big change.  We will leave behind relationships and professional interactions, daily routines, and a big chunk of our identity.

But Mr. Shechtman also notes that, “We see how success and change are accompanied by loss.  Part of changing our attitude about change is learning to acknowledge and accept those losses.”

Knowing and acknowledging the changes brought about by retirement – even planning for the emotions that might rise up – helps us better deal with the many changes we’ll experience.  By managing your retirement in a phased approach, retiring gradually over time, you can minimize the impacts of the change so that it’s not so abrupt and shocking.

The goal is to ultimately move us from ‘Denial’ that we’re not needed in a former role all the way through to ‘Acceptance’ of our new lifestyle!

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