Anyone who is originally from another state and who has lived in the Washington, DC area for ninety days or more immediately noticed that residents of the DMV (DC, Maryland and Virginia) are consumed by the allusion of power, an inflated sense of self worth and are totally immersed in what they do for a living. In fact, people are so consumed that upon meeting you for the first time and learning your name the next question is, “so what do you do for a living?” This interesting cycle of personal and professional entrapment either continues until the day a person decides to relocate outside of the Beltway or retires from their position.
All too often people retire without having properly prepared mentally, physically and financially for the change. There are a whole range of emotions that take place once the euphoria of setting themselves free from employment wears off. Initially there is a loss of identity and social support because their identity was synonymous with their job title. Life without work suddenly becomes empty being replaced with feelings of restlessness, depression, and quite possibly self-depreciation. They never stopped to ask themselves, “what is my next move” before they actually retired. However, for those who have planned, retirement does not have to be winter of your discontent but rather the summer of your self-discovery. With this in mind, begin the emotional, financial and physical transition in your 50s by focusing on four major steps.
First and most important is making sure that you are financially stable in your retirement. If you are lucky enough to participate in one of the few remaining retirement plans that guarantee a lifetime benefit consider yourself fortunate. However, there is a caveat. Unless the plan is very, very generous you will probably receive 50% to 70% of your final average salary; this number is before taxes and health insurance premiums are deducted from your retirement benefit. In all likelihood, you are going to have to make some major changes in your spending habits. It is better to start reducing your financial obligations now as opposed to waiting a couple of years before you retire.
Second, make time to strengthen close friendships. This does not mean sending the occasional text message or hitting the like button on Facebook. It really means that you should take a good look at the individuals you interact with on a daily basis. In most cases, your primary social network is comprised of people who you either work with or are associated with you in some professional manner. When you retire, it is a strong probability that most of these associations will evaporate soon after your retirement. Rather than the prospect of having 7 cats, 6 dogs and 2 birds as your closest and dearest friends, begin to cultivate and nurture meaningful relationships outside of your work environment. Take a class, become active in your community, or enroll in cultural activities that pique your curiosity. Did you know that the Smithsonian Resident Associates program offers 100s of programs that are entertaining and educational? Chances are if you attend a few events you will meet like-minded people. Experts believe it takes roughly 5 years for casual acquaintances to become full friendships, so I would suggest that you start now.
Third and most difficult is letting go of your ties to office trappings because this is a direct encroachment on your ego. You do not have to be the primary spokesperson for your department, division or unit. It is okay to allow someone else to take the lead on a major project while you graciously and humbly provide guidance only when asked. Unburden yourself so that you can begin to embrace the freedom that comes with retirement. Let your coworkers who crave public attention deliver the speech in your place. It will be okay because as you continue to unburden yourself from your current trappings you are opening up much needed space to allow new and interesting things to come into your life.
Finally, forgive and let go of all grudges be it in the workplace or your personal life. The Mayo Clinic staff points out “letting go of grudges and bitterness can make way for compassion, kindness and peace. Forgiveness can lead to lower blood pressure, fewer symptoms of depression, lower risk of alcohol and substance abuse and leads to a generally happy lifestyle”. Think about it this way, you are the one who is retiring and moving into a state of freedom while everyone else has to continue on the 9 to 5 treadmill; no need to hold a grudge because you are the lucky one.
As you consider transitioning into retirement remember to take the time to assess your next move, analyze your financial stability, develop meaningful friendships, ease your way into retirement and leave the baggage of old grudges in the past.