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Ready, steady, retire? - Part 1

Updated: May 20

Should I stay or should I go?


This blog is for you if you are:

  • Thinking about retiring in the next 5 years.

  • Dreaming of retirement but no plan in place.

  • Scared sh**less by the prospect.

In the coming weeks I will be delivering a session on retirement for the fabulous team at Platform 55 I am delighted at the prospect of doing this.  It is a subject dear to my heart, and one on which I have a lot to say. So much so, that this blog will have two parts. The first this month, and the second next month.

In part 1, we will look at the pre-retirement zone.  Themes to reflect upon as we decide to, or plan to, make the move.

In part 2, we will look at making the move.  Understanding the transition and identifying tactics for making it smoother.

Let’s get started.

What’s in a word? -  Re-defining retirement?


Re-firement, re-wirement, re-creation, re-invention are some of the popular terms for the phase of our life when we officially stop the paid job and move on to ‘something else’.

Whatever you call it does not really matter, but how you feel about it does.

Some love the prospect, some hate it.  Some jump, some are pushed, and most of us simply ‘slide into it’.

It is probably more useful to ‘rethink’ retirement, rather than re-define it.

Not our parents’ retirement.

This is nicely phrased in a recent article on the subject Retirement as the 'third half' of life.

(I know, bad 'maths' but a good concept!) . The idea of retirement as envisioned by our parents is undergoing a radical change.

“Once viewed as the last chapter before death, it has now morphed into an intermediate phase that is no longer synonymous with old age or complete inactivity. Today, a typical retiree can reasonably expect to live another 20 to 30 years, ideally in good health, provided they continue to exercise both body and mind. In this context, the word “retirement” seems obsolete. It is perhaps more fitting to refer to it as the “third half” of life.”

It's what we do with the extra time that matters.

If we think positively about it, it can be , as Charles  Handy writes in his book “The Age of Unreason”:

“Our opportunity to discover the missing bits of ourselves, to explore new talents, to add variety to ordinary weeks, to meet new people, and to learn new skills.  Those unused hours can add up to a huge new resource for society rather than a pile of unwanted people”.

However, if we don’t think about it, and simply slide into retirement, we run the risk of focusing on activities that are shallow and short term.  As Gary Allen Foster from  Make Aging Work  puts it:

Yet, still today, so many can’t wait to abandon work to pursue – – – what? The “what” becomes the rub. For 2 out of 3 retirees, the “what” tends to be shallow and short-term. Garage cleaned and re-organized, golf lessons scheduled, checking off the travel bucket list, alarm clock disabled, pigging out on deferred Netflix series, self-indulgence to the max. One or two years in, those irritating questions surface: “Is this all there is?” “How am I relevant?” “Why am I feeling bored?” “Can I get my old identity back?”

A model for thriving in retirement.


There are three pillars to a successful retirement, wealth, health, and purpose.

Wealth – do I have enough money, and can I afford to retire?

Health – how well will I be in my retirement, physically, mentally, and emotionally?

Purpose – what will I do every day and why?

These two blogs will focus on the third, as it is the pillar most neglected. Organisations and individuals tend to put most effort and planning into the first – our finances.  When can I retire?  How much can I get? And will it be enough?  All great questions.  But planning for, or at least thinking about, what we will do all day, and why, is equally important. If finances are the ‘mechanics’ of retirement, then purpose is the ‘psychology’ of moving onto this next phase.

Retirement is a process, not an event.  It’s a journey to be planned for and managed, irrespective of whether you view the destination positively or not!

All journeys begin with the starting point, so let’s start there.

Where are you starting from?

So are you:

-          Ready to jump?

-          Feel you are being pushed?

-          Gently sliding into retirement?

It is useful to get an honest gauge on how you are currently thinking about the prospect of retirement.  Think about this, and score yourself out of ten.  1 out of 10 being ‘hate the prospect of retirement’ and 10 out of 10 being ‘can’t wait, bring it on!’

In other words, is your job a leash or a lifeline? 

If you are struggling with this, here are some self-reflection questions that might help…

Why are you retiring, or thinking about it?

Jim Yih, of Retire Happy outlines 5 reasons why you might be retiring:

  •     Employer – the company is downsizing, and I have a good ‘package’ on offer.

  •     Time/tenure – I have ‘done’ my time and now I can collect the pension.

  •     Change – I am just bored and want to do something different.

  •     Money – I have enough money and don’t feel the need to earn more.

  •     Plan – I have a plan and have met the conditions I intended to meet.

Circle the one that is most applicable to you.

What type of retiree are you, or expect you will be?

  1. Continuers – my new activities will be based on my already existing skills and interests.

  2. Easy gliders – I will just enjoy my new found freedom from schedules and commitments.

  3. Retreaters – I just want a break, I feel burnt out or bored out, and want some time out.

  4. Adventurers – I am ready and raring to go on the next project and new enterprises.

  5. Searchers – not sure what I want for ‘next’ but happy to try things out.

  6. Involved spectators – I won’t be involved as before, but still intend to be emotionally and intellectually engaged with the world and my past careers.

Circle the one, or two that are most applicable to you.

(source – Nancy K Schlossberg)

Should I stay or should I go?  Balancing the books.


With any change, there will be positives and negatives, additions, and subtractions.  It’s useful to think of this as your psychological bank account.  The credits represent the good things about retiring and how it will benefit your life.  The debits represent the subtractions, the things that you will or might lose.

Here are some to consider:

Credits (additions)

Debits (subtractions)

More time

Loss of identity

Opportunity to do more things

Reduced status

No more office politics

Losing reassuring routines

Getting away from a job you dislike

Less money

No work stress

Missing work relationships and colleagues

Reduced expenses

Missing a sense of collaboration

More time for friends and family

No break from domestic routine


Of course, not all of these will apply to you, and you will have others to add to the list.  The point is that it is important to recognise both what we seek to gain and lose when we make the transition. The ultimate goal is to ensure that the credits outweigh the debits and the ‘bank account’ is in good balance. 

There are only two ways to do this; (i) increase the credits or (ii) reduce the debits.

It is important to think about this BEFORE we retire and as we contemplate the decision ‘should I stay, or should I go?’.  Every change has both.  No matter how much you are dreaming of your last day of work and first day of freedom, it won’t all be rosy.

Practical tactics for building these credits and reducing the debits is something that we will look at in the next blog.  But for now, doing your own ‘audit’ of what you stand to gain and lose from a move to retirement will be a great starting point.

Work, meaning and identity.

You will note from the table above, that the first two debits are in bold, loss of identity and reduced status.  Do not underestimate the power of these.

Retirement often entails a profound change of identity, especially if work played a substantial role in shaping one’s identity. Losing much of what defines us while still possessing the energy and desire for a working life can be profoundly disorienting.

Meaning at work can come from contributing to a process, from being challenged, and from engaging in purposeful activity.  Understanding your relationship with your job will help you deal with its absence.

Our sense of worth and identity at work comes from two sources:

  • The work itself (work content) – eg the teaching, the lab work, the technology etc – a sense of purpose.

  • Working with others (work environment) – colleagues, status, organisation – a sense of belonging.

Are you psychologically ready for retirement? 

It is worth reflecting on the following questions:

·         How important is your job when it comes to a sense of life satisfaction?

·         How many non-work activities do you have that give you a sense of purpose?

·         How do you imagine your life being once you stop working?

·         How do you think your relationships with your family and friends will be when you retire?

·         How much energy do you have for work these days?



We have asked a lot of questions so far.  Don’t worry if you don’t have all the answers.  It’s a process not an event.

“A life well lived requires careful planning in order to balance the financial and the non-financial, the economic and the psychological, the rational and the emotional.”

(100 year life-  Gratton & Scott )

The key to a successful retirement is to think about it long before it happens.  To mull over it, to reflect on the questions above, to dream about what might be, and to talk to others.

Finally at some point, it’s time to make the move.

This is the focus of the next blog: Ready, steady retire – Part 2 – Making the Move.

In this piece we will look at:

  1. Surfing the curve. Retirement, like many life events, is about managing transition.  We look at the theory of the change curve and how it can help us manage the roller coaster of emotions involved in making the move.

  2. We look again at the psychological bank account for moving to retirement and practical things we can do to keep the balance healthy.

  3. We remind ourselves that this can be an exciting and wonderful new phase of our lives.


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Until next time, thanks for reading.




Retirement : The Psychology of Reinvention: A Practical Guide to Planning and Enjoying the Retirement You've Earned: DK, Shultz, Kenneth S.:


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