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Ready, steady, retire? - Part 2

Making the Move.

Welcome back.

This is part 2 of a two-part blog on retirement.  You can check out part 1 here  Ready Steady Retire? - Part 1, where we looked at the question of ‘should I stay, or should I go?’. The things to think about if you are thinking about retiring.

So now, you are ready to make the move.  This blog is about helping you manage that transition.

We look at three things:

·         It’s a process, not an end point.

·         Tactics to help us manage the transition.

·         It can be a great time of our lives.

A process, not an end point - managing the transition.

The Change Curve is one of the most popular models for explaining what happens during major changes in our lives, and how to navigate them.  There is more detail on this on an earlier blog All Change.

Change impacts on how we see the world and readjusting to this can take longer than we think.    It involves a period of inner crisis (the dip on the curve) which we need to move through to successfully adapt to the change and to our new reality. 

The change curve helps us understand that:

1.    Essentially, we go through a roller coaster of emotions as we navigate change – both good and bad. 

2.    While the main stages of the curve are pretty consistent, how people move through it is very individual (two people can experience the same change in different ways).

3.    Understanding this can help us navigate and deal with the change in an effective way.

The sociologist Robert Atchley has written about the various phases of retirement, which can be useful to map onto the change curve.

The Honeymoon phase.

This is a great phase.  You don’t have to go into work, get up early or please your colleagues.  You have lots of time and can do what you want with your day. 

This is the period immediately after retirement.  Here, you might be one of three types:

(i) The active honeymooner’ (off doing all the lovely leisure activities planned).

(ii)     The ‘immediate routine’ retiree (adjusting to the new planned normal routine life).

(iii)    The ‘rest and relaxation retiree (having a rest from the day job but not as busy as the honeymooner).

Phase 2 and 3 – Uncertainty and Disenchantment.

Retirement is not what you thought it was going to be.  It’s important to realise that even if we welcome retirement, we all go through this dip, however briefly.  There will always be a point at which the initial ‘high’ of stopping work loses its shine.  For many this point is more severe if we felt we were pushed into retirement or have made no plans for what our new way of life looks like.

Phase 4 – Readjustment

The good news is that phase 3 disenchantment allows us to move onto a new phase of taking stock, experimenting and finding a new ‘normal’ that works for us in this new phase of our life.  The more we plan for retirement in advance, the more smoothly this phase of transition will be. It can be a time of great experimentation, and you can take it at whatever pace you like.

Phase 5 – Integration.

This is all about finding and embracing the ‘new normal’.  Some people get here quicker than other.  But we all get there and it provides a stable base on which to grow and benefit from all the great things that post-retirement life can offer.

In his work on the subject, Atchley sums it up well when he says:

 “The ultimate goal of retirement is not to ‘stop work’ but to establish a new structure that’s rewarding in the long term.  You may already have one planned or there may be some experimentation ahead of you, but if you can view retirement as a period of working towards a chosen structure rather than one imposed by work, you’re well on your way.”


Tactics to surf the curve and manage the transition.


There are three sets of tactics that help us to help ourselves move successfully to and through retirement:  I have taken these from some excellent thoughts in the book The 100 Year Life.

1.    Self-Awareness.  Successful transformation happens when we have a good understanding of ourselves, both as we are now and how we might be in the future.  To this end we need to be self-aware and build self-knowledge.

2.    Reach out to others. Build a community of likeminded people, talk to others.

3.    Take action. Transition is not a passive experience.  We don’t ‘think’ our way into change, we need to take action.  We need to ask our-self - what can I do? What useful action can I take?

 Here it is important to track progress and celebrate small wins. 


Let’s look at each of these in turn.


Perhaps the most important thing that you can do for yourself to ensure a happy retirement is to think about what it might look like.  Just because you stop working, doesn’t mean that you stop being you.  The things that made you feel good about yourself, brought you joy, and helped you contribute to the world, don’t go away.  But you need to figure out what that looks like in your new ‘normal’.  There are many ways to do this.  For the purpose on this blog, let’s focus on three powerful questions which deserve good answers:

How would you like this new phase of your life to look like?

What do you stand to gain and loose from retirement?

What’s next? A new you, or more of your same great self?


Let’s start with the first question.

How would you like this new phase of your life to look like?


It is important to take some time to think about how, in an ideal world, you would like your retirement life to look like.  Here are two exercises that can help:

Big picture thinking.

Take a piece of paper and write down what comes immediately into your head in answer to these three goal questions:


  • What are your ‘realistic goals’ for retirement? These are the things that you want to and believe that you can do when you retire.

  • What are your ‘aspirational goals’ for retirement? These are the things that you would really love to do or achieve within the first 5 years of retiring.

  • What are your ‘dream goals’ for retirement?  These are the fabulous things that you would do and achieve within 10 years of retiring if you had the time and resources to do them.


Details of your ‘future history’ day.

Take a piece of paper and write one page on ‘A day in my life’ – 5 years into retirement. There are three rules to follow:

-       It must be in the first tense and present tense – ie ‘I walk the dog by the beach, not, I will walk the dog by the beach).

-       It must be positive (only positive emotions and activities).

-       It should include as much detail and be as descriptive as possible.

E.g. “I rise at 0730 after a good night’s sleep.  I sit with my first cup of tea for the day and read the newspaper on my iPad.  Alex and I breakfast about 0900 and then I usually take the dog for a walk in the park.  This is my favourite part of the day. It is so lovely to have time outdoors, irrespective of the weather, and have the time to do it etc…."

”– continue the script for the rest of your day until you go to bed.

A wise person once said that how we spend our day is how we spend our life.  Pay attention to what you pay attention to.  The nice thing about this exercise is that, for some people, they realise that retirement life is just a slower, less manic version of their working life, and they are happy with that.  For others, they realise that they have no idea how they will fill their days.  There is no ‘right’ answer, but awareness is key.

Question 2….

What do you stand to gain and to loose? - The psychological bank account.

We touched on this in previous blog. 

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.

E.g. less money – you could work part time/ set up a small business/ sell stuff or reduce spending.

E.g. no break from domestic routine – make a new routine for getting out of the house.

E.g. opportunity to do more things – make a list of activities you want to take up.

E.g. missing work relationships and colleagues – build new networks with like minded people.

And the final question….

What’s next?  A new you, or more of your same great self?

Retirement is a fabulous time to re-invent yourself or simply do more of what you like and what you are great at.  But you need to know what that is.

One of the very first blogs that I wrote was 6 Signposts to New Career Ideas . It focused on helping people who were a bit stuck in their careers and were looking for inspiration for their next move.  The questions that were posed in that article are equally valid for this stage of our lives. In particular, the need to have clarity around:

Your strengths – the things that you do well.

Your values – the things that matters most to you.

Your interests – the things that makes you tick.

Work provides a very fertile ground for nourishing these aspects of ourselves.  When we stop work, we need to find alternative environments where these can flourish.

Take an example.  Jo has worked for 30 years in the health sector.  The first part of her career was in the private sector working in research for a pharmaceutical company.  After several years she moved into the public health sector, working firstly in the labs and then progressively moved up the management ladder.  She ended her career as a departmental head managing a team of 25.  Jo has always loved her work.  In particular, she valued the collaborative nature of team working in a big busy department.  She is proud of what she and her team has achieved over the years.  To be honest, she is ready for retirement because she feels a bit burnt out and ready for a rest.

So the good news is that Jo is happy for her retirement, and can look back on her career with pride and a sense of fulfilment.  The challenge lies in working to ensure that Jo doesn’t fall straight into a deep ‘dip’ in the curve after the honeymoon period of retirement has worn off.  Fortunately, Jo has thought about this.  She recognises that:

Her strengths lie in collaborative working, leadership and getting things done.

Her values lie in a sense of achievement and improving situations for others.

Her interests are hiking, theatre and travel.

In thinking about how these manifest themselves in her post work world, Jo knows that spending more time hiking and travelling won’t be enough.  She needs to feel a sense of achievement in getting things done and helping others. So, she plans to look at volunteering opportunities or part time jobs that benefit from her collaborative and leadership skills. 

If you are struggling to work out what your key strengths, values and interests might be, here are the links to previous blogs that might help : (Discover your Career Strength   Career Interests   Personal Qualities).

Reach out to others. Don’t do it alone. 


Even though many of us may enjoy a good 20 years or more in this phase of our lives, we are remarkably coy about it. 

You wouldn’t go to a far-flung destination on your holidays without the research – yet we walk ‘sleepily’ into a whole new chunk of our life without much thought.

As a subject that interests me, I have read lots of books and articles on the topic.  But I have learnt so much more from simply talking to people who are moving to and through retirement or have been there for a while.  Every single person has added some gem or insight that has been most useful.

The psychologist Derek Milne wrote about four types of interpersonal support that can help us through any change:

Emotional support.  These are the people who will listen and care and provide a shoulder to cry on.

Practical support.  These are the people who help us work things out and get things done.

Informational support. These are the people who are good at helping us to figure out what we need to know.

Companionship support.  These are the people who are good to be with and often the ones that lighten the load and provide fun.

It may well be that some of the people in your life fulfil more than one support role.  But more often than not, we rely too heavily on the same key people in our lives to provide all our support.  When moving to retirement it can be useful to expand the network to ensure that you are surrounded by people that can support you (and you support them) for both empathy and action.

Talk to others who have already retired.  Ask honest questions of them.  Seek insights to:

What are three goods things about retiring?

What are three downsides of retiring?

What would you like to have known before you retired?


Take action and do something.

From Thinking to Doing

Sometimes we do well to stop figuring it out and start acting it out.  Whether it is a big move or small step, this phase of your life is a great time for experimenting with different things.  A time to work out what works for you.  Some stuff will stick, and other stuff won’t. Time is your ‘super resource’ at this stage, so enjoy indulging in new ventures without any expectation of whether or not they will work out. 

There are so many ideas out there that I could write a book on it (maybe one day I will!). 

They include, but are not limited to:

Go back to study. Volunteer. Teach.  Write a book.  Start blogging.  Get into gardening. Travel.  Get into Music. Revamp your home. Get into exercise. Buy a sports season ticket or membership of a cultural club. Get creative. Learn a language.  Learn to dance. Upcycle. Become a tour guide.  Start a small business.


There is more information on these in this great article: 21 Retirement Ideas at any age

Another great resource for ideas on what you might do in your new retirement life is the website Next Up. They have some really interesting interviews with people who have made their post-retirement life a great one.  

And finally

Watch out for the retirement pitfalls!

This is a useful piece from Dr Kenneth Shultz (Retirement: the psychology of reinvention) where he warns us to be aware of some of the psychological and practical pitfalls of retirement.  These include:

·         Imagining that your first months of retirement will feel liberating and happy.

·         Believing that inactive leisure time is rewarding.

·         Thinking that work colleagues will automatically stay in touch.

·         Believing that a new project will be rewarding from the beginning.

·         Having too many interests.

In conclusion

I ran a very informal, unscientific survey amongst friends and colleagues that had retired in the last two years and asked the very simple, but important question of:


‘What DO you do all day?’


I got some great responses – roughly divided into three categories:


Anything that I want’.

Everything that I had planned’.

‘Everything that I did before, but slower’.


Take your pick!  Everyone’s retirement is different.  The best one for you, is the one that works for you.  But you need to work it out.  Put a little time and thought into what it might look like for you and be patient.  Back to the change curve, a change of this size can often take between 6 months and up to 3 years to transition through. 


It can be a great new phase of life – so embrace it!


Thanks for reading.




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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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