Phased Retirement: Withdrawal Symptoms

Withdrawal symptoms are more often associated with the aftereffects of quitting smoking or after a long period of substance abuse.

But more generally withdrawal symptoms can occur after any period of prolonged dependence.  And if you’ve been depending on your career for many decades – for your financial support, your social outlet, and providing you with a day-to-day purpose – then it’s likely you will go through some period of withdrawal when that ceases.

I’ll recommend you consider this even if you think you’re one who could be perfectly fine on your own doing nothing all day.  Twenty or thirty years of retirement is a long time; it’s going to be a change for you!

I work in the information technology area and there are plenty of highly visible, highly stressful jobs. I recently read a reflection from a former Chief Information Security Officer about his transition from that full-time role to being an industry research analyst.

He was not retiring. No, he was retaining an active full-time position, but he still experienced the ‘withdrawal symptoms’ from a high profile position managing complex risks to a lower-profile role writing research papers.

He stated, “Making the change from an always-on lifestyle to one of ‘normalcy’ was far more challenging than I ever would have imagined.  At first, I admittedly was a bit lost. The urgency and immediacy, hell, the chaos, that fueled most days was gone. There were no more critical issues to manage.”

This is all the more reason to stage or phase your retirement.  An abrupt change could disorient you and your initial response may be to return to work full-time as the only avenue you know that will address your needs.

Instead, cut back on your responsibilities and your work hours gradually to the extent that you can.  Fill that time with new interests that you think you might like to pursue in retirement.  You’ll have some real experience that will provide feedback for you on whether it’s something you’d like to do more of when your work is complete.

Consider not only the day you’ll retire, but also how you’ll spend your time and how you might feel in the first weeks and months after retirement.  Are your financial needs addressed?  Do you have a purpose in your life?  How will your social needs be met?

Do yourself a favor and ease the transition and reduce the impact of the withdrawal symptoms.

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