There’s no advance warning system to predict one’s reaction to retirement.
You can chat yourself up before the actual day arrives, bathe in some delusional fuzzy before-glow. But nothing can prepare you for the moment the world shifts from deadlines and demands – to dead time and sweat pants.
And that special place of refuge – the office – where everybody knows your name? Off-limits now. Your month-long end-of-career celebration left work buddies too exhausted to watch another victory lap around the cubicles.
The world you knew has gone silent.
No emails, voice mails, or texts. You’re a freshman member in the state of carefree lovingly described in Kenny Chesney’s, No Shoes, No Shirt, No Problems.
But that is the problem.
You’re conditioned to dead-heats….not dead-stops.
The Unremitting Series of Sprints Leading to Retirement
You’ve been traveling at the speed of light since the age of five.
First, nudged into Kindergarten, where children are tantalized – Pied Piper style – by the soft indulgences of finger painting and peaceful naps. Then, caught in a devil’s bargain inked and signed by society, you’re kidnapped into a Twilight Zone of commitments that bleed into the rest of your life.
Then the hard work begins.
You fast-pedal through an endless series of mapped cycles: grade school; high school; college; career; family; real estate; recessions; depressions; regressions; and hard-won victories on an unbalanced ladder of achievement.
All this while keeping vigil over the ultimate exit strategy – a 401K savings plan vulnerable to the whims of every volatile global situation from Brexit to Kim Jong Un.
It’s marathon race lasting 60 years at the end of which you’ve run so far over the cliff’s edge, there’s no solid ground beneath you.
Emotional gravity takes over for the quick plunge toward earth.
The Cold Turkey Dive into the Retirement Pool
You’ll soon realize – your response to retirement, just like the response to aging – isn’t for the meek.
I learned the hard way.
During evenings of wine-induced glibness before the big day, I made proclamations to myself and others that I would shine with intense new light in my post-career, career.
A little more than a month into the deep end, I found myself sorting through emotional jitters.
However well-intended, those now regrettable commitments created a pressure cooker of demand for a self-change management system not within my immediate grasp.
Seems like synapses were damaged in that free-fall to earth.
Calling for Help
My emotional response to retirement was messy.
Fearful I’d made a mistake, I reached out to my financial adviser for emotional support:
- Have I retired too early? No
- Do I have enough money to live comfortably? Yes
- What if I live to be 100? No worries.
- What’s your prognosis for the market this year? I know what you’re getting at. We’ve discussed this a million times. You can’t time the market.
- Couldn’t we earmark even a small amount of cash for me to execute some day trading? Under no circumstances.
He listened with God-like patience, then defined the difference between his services and the services of a good psychiatrist.
Woke up the next day with the bomb! idea.
I needed a new mission statement, potent enough to return me to those halcyon Chicken Soup for the Soul days. Everything seemed possible then.
I was psyched!
Rifling through a shelf of self-help books I fixated on Tony Robbin’s highly-touted, Firewalk, that speedy trip over burning hot coals, guaranteed to help overcome unconscious fears and master personal development.
Well…maybe not hot coals, I thought.
Perhaps something more old school would serve me better.
I took a slow drive down that worn highway of existential pain known as the To-Do list, pondering over next steps until weak and weary from frustration.
Truth be told, at that very moment I was more suited to crossing off items on my honey’s honey-do list than my own.
Then it happened.
While hanging family photos in the den of our new home, separated from the constant onus of executing on my second act, this epiphany settled over me:
Five Post-Retirement Steps To Decompress From The Whirlpool Of Work
- Give yourself time to parachute to a soft landing. If possible, start retirement with a long vacation.
- It’s not about how you fill your days, it’s about the self-fulfillment waiting to be found in those days.
- Reinvest in relationships with important significant others in your life. Find sustenance there.
- Listen to the wisdom of your inner voice and commit only to those things you might not regret in six months or one year.
- When you’re feeling cozy and comfortable in your new world, take out that old box of Crayolas. Start to draw like that crazy Kindergarten kid who wasn’t afraid to color outside of the lines.
Commit to the above.
Trust time and your wisdom to pick up and build only upon parts of your second act portfolio that feel authentic.
You own your own response to retirement. And that’s a good thing.