So, if the retirement decision is a process, heavy with emotions that can range from outright sadness to exhilaration and proceeding through a number of stages (pease refer to my previous posts), how do we reach that point of ‘action’?
In my personal journey, when I stepped aside from my emotions, I could see all of the change and grief theories work themselves through. After over 40 (very thankful) years with the same government department – bringing about much routine, validation, self-esteem, predictability, and security - retirement would bring about a seismic earth quake of change.
The retirement decision was playing out in my mind for a couple of years, but not with any degree of decisiveness or urgency. Then, the emotions hit like a wave and lasted for months.
There was a massive feeling of being unsettled in March 2021 – unsettled about where I was in life and how the work routine was affecting things that I wanted to do. I kept saying, "I have to get something going for myself" and "If I wasn't working, I could be doing . . . . . " I knew my time was up, so to speak, and this brought on the tsunami of other emotions – sadness over the loss of workplace and employment position and even more intense sadness over the loss of THAT phase of life and of simply aging. There was intense fear of the future – would I be able to find myself away from the routines and definition of the workplace? Who would I be? How would I fill my time? Would people like me outside of work? I lacked energy and productivity. I felt that leaving was akin to jumping off the cliff into the unknown. There were tears. I met with managers. I tried to bargain myself into a different role that might motivate and energize me for a while longer but, in hindsight, that was avoidance of the issue. The truth was that my time was up. So, I resigned - and pulled it back. I resigned again and pulled it back. (I was very thankful for an understanding manager!)
My sister in law sent a poignant picture of me being locked in a cage, succinctly explaining how I was feeling (Well, this picture was taken at a Halloween event, but it certainly symbolized my emotion!):
She then sent me a picture sharing her hope that I was not going to be carted out of my office like this:
Every person is going to have a formula that works best for them to work around this emotional chaos. I strongly recommend some degree of reflection, and there are many articles and books available about retirement preparation - your finances, your dreams, how you see yourself, what a retirement day is going to look like. However, I became obsessed in my ‘research,’ to the point of hitting up everyone I encountered, even totally unknown persons, about their retirement journey.
I ‘consulted’ at least 10 retired persons to learn their perspectives and get their advice (“don’t wait – life is short – you’ll be fine”). I engaged in 'free for service' (!) counselling sessions with two professionals I knew – one holding a Masters in Social Work and one a Doctorate in Psychology. I drew up a survival list of what to do when the going got rough (my personal support people, my professional support people, volunteer opportunities, spiritual options, physical health, travel goals, intelligence activities, hobbies, etc.). I read article after article on retirement. I became obsessed with my search for an answer. In short, I created ‘too much drama’.
But. . . . clarity started to happen. I came to realize that I had to change my thinking - yes, right out of Cognitive Behaviour Therapy. (Again, this is a counselling technique widely used in the social service field; I referred to verywellmind.com for a refresher.) Our thoughts affect our emotions which affect our choice of behaviour. When you think of it, the only thing we can really control is our thinking – we can choose to put a positive (more helpful) interpretation or a negative (unhelpful) interpretation onto anything that is happening in our lives. A positive interpretation will lead to more healthy emotions and more healthy choices in behaviour while a negative outlook will result in more unhelpful emotions and more unhelpful choice of action. The consequences naturally follow, good or bad, depending on your thinking My entire viewpoint, my entire consideration, of retirement was negative – I was choosing to see only failure and hard times which was bringing up emotional turmoil which was resulting in anxiety and inactivity.
I had to rid myself of the fear and the sadness and the grief.
In this process, several comments or conversations stood out:
From the Masters of Social Work:
Her: “When was the last time you felt such fear?”
Me: “When I was 18 years old, my car was packed, and I was heading out of my parents’ driveway down the highway into the big world and being scared stiff , and I had NO IDEA what came next.”
Her: “So, what did you do?”
Me: (pause) “Well, I just kept going.”
From the Doctorate in Psychology:
Him. “Sometimes you just have to jump in, and the water is cold at first but you can swim and it warms up.”
From a random encounter (on a Wednesday that I had taken off work in order to cycle) that occurred in a beautiful natural area on the banks of a river after I hit up a complete stranger about my dilemma:
Random guy: “It’s Wednesday, everyone else is working, you are riding your bike, and you are standing on the banks of the Bow River. You know what you’ll do.”
And finally, a comment from an unknown person responding to an article on retirement: “Stop looking for the black rabbit in the dark room.”
Hmmmmm. I had to change my thinking.
Again, it seemed like a sudden change in thinking but, again, it is a process. My new thinking evolved, rather quickly, to this:
“I’ve had a great career. It IS time for younger people to take over. I have contributed a lot. How fortunate I am to be able to retire comfortably. I have been given a gift, so I had better take it and enjoy it. I have been quite capable of overcoming obstacles in the past. I can handle what is thrown at me. I have lots of support. I have nothing to prove. It is time to enjoy a different life. Being ‘successful’ and contributing does not have to occur only in the workplace. I will have more time to pursue more adventures with my husband. I can rebuild old friendships and build new ones. I can develop new skills. People retire every day quite successfully. Time flies by fast., Etc. etc."
The words of the song Dust In the Wind by Kansas played through my mind:
"Now, don't hang on
Nothin' lasts forever but the earth and sky
It slips away
And all your money won't another minute buy."
So, there I was.
I had always told people that I wanted to leave the workplace on a white horse, not a second beyond my 'best before' date.
Did I stay or did I go?