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How to Ease the Emotional Transition into Retirement

Everyone is aware of the need to financially prepare for retirement but not much attention is directed toward planning for the emotional impact of retirement.   When people think of retirement they envision new found freedom and a never ending vacation full of travel and recreation.  However, after several months full of leisure activities they realize having fun isn’t enough.  Recreation is great, but most retirees need more meaningful engagement in activities that provide a sense of purpose and relevance.

A recent study of 1000 people between 60 and 74, conducted by Ameriprise Financial, found that two thirds of the respondents had difficulty transitioning from their career to retirement.  They found that 37% missed the day to day social interactions with colleagues, 32% had difficulty getting used to a new and different routine and 22% struggled with finding meaning and purpose to their days.  Most of those interviewed were in control of the decision to retire and over half felt they were emotionally prepared for retirement.

After an initial sense of freedom, many retirees experience anxiety, fear and boredom.   If you don’t replace your career with something meaningful you may miss the sense of accomplishment and achievement  that comes from completing  projects, getting raises, promotions, bonuses or landing a new account.  Many retirees also miss the routine and structure associated with their career.

Additionally, after they stop working, retirees often feel a sudden loss of identity.   We spend our entire lives building our careers and creating a strong identity with what we do.  This loss of professional association, status, title and prestige can be extremely harmful to our self-esteem.   This is especially true for those in higher level positions.

The most serious threat to enjoying your retirement is often the loss of social interaction, friendships and engagement with professional associates.  Many retirees discover their entire social structure revolved around their career.  As time passes they become less connected with colleagues and work related issues which can result in isolation and loneliness.

To ensure a smoother transition, about 3 – 5 years before retirement, develop a plan on how you plan to spend your time.  Identify interests that you would like to pursue and set some goals on what you would like to accomplish.   Set milestones to accomplish goals and establish a structure or routine.

Find ways to utilize the skills and talents you developed while you were working.  Consider a gradual transition into retirement by working part time or starting a small business.   Your plan may include consulting, physical activities, community engagement, learning a new language, mentoring,  teaching, travel and pursuing hobbies.

 Explore and engage in new activities and establish new social networks before retirement.  Join organizations and meet new friends outside of your professional sphere to stay socially engaged after you stop working.  Several years before retirement, start broadening your personal identity by expanding your interests and relationships beyond your career.