In the first installment of The Five Pillars to Finding Fulfillment in Retirement concepts related to pursuing one’s Purpose and connecting with other People were identified. These pillars were explored as being instrumental to ensuring aging is both meaningful and pleasurable. The remaining three pillars discussed below round out the vision for how to best maximize the potential this stage of your life holds. As such, the goal for this model is to simply provide a lens through which to view retirement age that is both practical and approachable. When it comes to lenses though, not only do people’s prescriptions vary, let’s face it, our prescriptions change as we age! Fortunately, that’s not a problem, because the value of this information lies in the way it can be uniquely interpreted and applied by each reader. That said, please reach out to us at Inspired Counseling Solutions for any questions you may have or support you may need in achieving the retirement you want.
Perspective is invaluable. As much effort that goes into establishing and altering situational factors, which is incredibly important, the greatest leverage one will ever hold over those factors is their perception of them. This is because there will always be limits to the things we can change in our environment, and never limits on how our mind perceives them. The two phenomena of course can’t be entirely separated. As physician and renowned speaker on the topic of childhood trauma, Gabor Mate, has said “before our minds create the world, the world creates our minds.” Yet, to the extent that one can exercise influence over how they view their circumstances, they can change the circumstances themselves. In other words, “If you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change,” as Wayne Dyer was quoted as saying.
In retirement age, as one’s external conditions change, internal feelings naturally will as well. One often begins to experience familiar things in a new and unique way. Additionally, many are used to being in a constant state of motion like a shark that never stops swimming. Not only has their career kept them moving physically, from one task to the next, but their intellectual energy has been channeled from one professional goal or deadline to another. The process of stepping away from a job and “slowing down,” can at times allow for the echoes of regret to ring louder. Being willing to acknowledge these thoughts and feelings, and process them appropriately, is often essential to moving past them. With the additional time for self-reflection one must be mindful to not fill it with rumination. The distinction between the two is that reflection is productive introspection with the intent of learning, while rumination reinforces negative feelings by going over and over an event or fear “beating oneself up.” Having the right perspective is critical to supporting healthy processing. Often the process is most effective when done in a collaborative manner with a partner, friend, or helping professional.
It is common knowledge that it is beneficial to plan for retirement, but what about planning in retirement? Many people go through painstaking planning to ensure they have a sound financial foundation for retirement. Yet, far fewer plan for the retirement itself. Like many things in life there is only so much planning that can be done. Practicing in the bathroom mirror doesn’t necessarily equate to giving an inaugural address, foul shots on the driveway don’t really simulate a national championship game, and any parent can tell you that reading books about it doesn’t really compare to the reality of suddenly being thrust into the position of meeting every need of a newborn. Especially one that cries…a lot. That preparation is rarely wasted, yet there is no question that retirement can feel a bit like trying to fly the plane while you’re still building it.
That is where the planning while in retirement comes in. Many people get to retirement age and are looking forward to not having to plan things. Perfect – make that your plan. The reverse is also common, that individuals struggle to adjust to less structure and less predictability in what their day holds. The reality is you’ve worked hard, and you deserve to spend the time as you wish. Plan or no plan, retirement can frequently bring with it both the need to “expect the unexpected,” and the need to become accustomed to a less varied routine than before. Planning can help to overcome negative aspects of either eventuality. It’s like the old saying “Spontaneity takes planning.” By choosing to plan, at least to some degree, you become a captain of choices as opposed to a captive of circumstances. If you want to sleep until noon, go fishing all day, or just read a book, by choosing and planning those activities you become empowered. And the best thing about becoming empowered is that you also get to change the plan at any time too.
Productivity in this case is a bit of a departure from how it is traditionally viewed, and in a sense a culmination of the four previous pillars. It’s not about how many cars you’ve sold, patients you’ve seen, or emails you’ve responded to. Productivity is different in retirement age. A person who had recently retired once expressed to me “As soon as I was retired people treated me differently.” This can be one of the unanticipated adjustments that comes with retirement. This difference in treatment comes in large part from a shift in expectations. Some people expect less of you, some people expect more. Your former coworkers no longer expect your contributions, but your spouse may have greater expectations on your time or emotional availability. One can best navigate this new landscape, not by abandoning what they have done previously to be successful, but by learning to adapt and apply it to this new context.
By pursuing a purpose, building and maintaining relationships with people, reflecting on and challenging your perspective, and taking ownership for planning some aspects of your time, you are being incredibly productive. Productivity in retirement age is less about production than process. With the luxury of no longer needing to focus on things like reports or revenue, the emphasis can be on progress and possibility. Productivity becomes less tangible, yet more substantive. Productivity becomes less about demonstrating value to others, and more about creating and appreciating value on your own terms. By doing so you recognize your own worth and achieve a high level of productivity.
In retirement, people are confronted for the first time with the feeling that they have a lot more time in the day, but ultimately fewer days to spend it. For most, particularly considering longer life expectancies, they have decades to enjoy retirement age bliss. Yet, this doesn’t change that many people begin to develop a keener sensitivity to the gradual persistence of Father Time. Irvin Yalom, the famed psychiatrist and author, put it into perspective well when he said, “Though the physicality of death destroys us, the idea of death may save us.” If one does indeed feel a newfound sense of urgency, this can contribute tremendously to productivity. It is not about feeling the burden of having less but being empowered to create the feeling of having more by being productive with what you do have.
While the golden years exist and can be magical, they are not automatically waiting for you at the end of a rainbow. These Five Pillars to Finding Fulfillment in Retirement are one framework for helping you to design your time and enhance your well-being. These years have so much to offer you, as you undoubtedly have so much to offer others during them. They are worth too much to waste, and you have earned every bit of enjoyment that you aspire to. At Inspired Counseling Solutions, we’re here to make sure you don’t have to go it alone. Aging really should be about more than just getting older, and with the right approach and support you’ll be able to discover a new dawn at twilight.
Yalom, I.D. (2002). The gift of therapy: An open letter to a new generation of therapists and their patients. New York: HarperCollins.