The first morning I woke up after leaving my job, I felt elated. Yay! The day was mine. There were no emails to check, no reports to write, no check-ins to worry about. Life was great!
But, after a few weeks, this elation started to wane. Sure, I still woke up feeling refreshed and happy, but there were some inklings of discontent scurrying around the edges of my soul. These were strange inklings, things I had not felt before. Had I made a mistake leaving my job? Was I bored? Was I lacking purpose?
Enter the stages of retirement—yes that is a thing. Remember, we live in a society that has a penchant for categorizing everything. We need to find a label or category, a level, a stage for every emotion we feel, every task we undertake. The urge to compare is a strong one indeed. But I digress. The idiosyncrasies of society are a subject for another time, not today. But the stages of retirement? How interesting! Now that there is a name for the diverse emotions experienced upon retirement it is much easier to deal with them.
“Retirement is a blank sheet of paper. It is a chance to redesign your life into something new and different.”—Patrick Foley, Winning at Retirement
In 1975, American (it’s always the Americans!) gerontologist and sociologist Robert C. Atchley made it official and coined seven stages of retirement. They have since been shortened to six. (Side note: having worked in the settlement sector for 20 some years, I am quite familiar with the stages of settlement that newcomers go through upon arriving in a new country/home. It is interesting how similar the stages are in retirement and settlement. Of course, both are new stages of life and involve some transition. It is no surprise that the stages would be similar.) So what are those stages? According to Atchley’s theory, they are:
- retirement routine
- termination of retirement (death)
Pre-retirement can start 10 to 15 years before actual retirement. This is the time when you are thinking about retirement and perhaps doing some planning. I thought about retirement for several years, although I sure didn’t do any planning. It just happened!
The next stage is when retirement actually starts and is usually marked by a party or some type of gathering. Since I “retired’ or “redirected” during a pandemic, my event was a small family gathering…and lots of margaritas! No complaints here!
Next comes the honeymoon stage. This is a wonderful time. During the honeymoon, the recently retired will feel relaxed, carefree, and grateful. Sadly, it will probably only last a few months or if you are lucky, a year.
Next comes disenchantment. Ha! A working person may wonder how someone who is retired could feel disenchanted. Well, especially if you didn’t want to retire, disenchantment is a real thing. It can rear its ugly head at any time, even during the honeymoon. For some, retirement may not meet their expectations. Or perhaps they had an unrealistic view of what retired life would be like. They may experience boredom, a sense of loss, depression, and a lack of energy.
After slogging through disenchantment, the reorientation stage kicks into gear. I have heard that you shouldn’t make any major decisions until year two and that now makes perfect sense. By now the novelty of being retired will have worn off and any feelings of discontent should have faded away. This is time to figure out what to do with your time. Now, if a person was really into planning and had mapped out their retirement before actually retiring, this may not be an issue, but I suspect many have to at least revisit their plans because of various unexpected challenges they face. We have all found out the last two years that planning for the future sure doesn’t mean those plans are going to go through.
Next comes the formidable retirement routine stage. Retirees will settle into a routine, adapting to new strategies and living a comfortable and satisfying life. This may happen shortly after retirement, or it may take longer. It will hopefully last for years although there may be a few adjustments along the way depending on interests, lifestyle, and of course health.
To be honest, I’m not sure why the second and last are actual stages, but I’m not going to argue with Mr. Atchley (1939-2018). I’m also not going to get into the very last stage, which is termination. We all know what that means.
I came across an article written by Jim Yih, Jan., 2020 . In this article, he details only three stages of retirement. I loved the names: The Go-Go phase, The Slow-Go Phase, and The No-Go Phase. (I don’t love the latter very much.) He is basically merging Atchley’s points into three stages. In the Go-Go Phase, the retiree is doing a lot. They may find another job, volunteer, get involved in different groups and lead an active social life. When the Slow-Go phase hits, the retiree will start to lead a quieter life. They may not have the same energy and choose quieter or few pursuits. And when the No-Go phase comes along, the retiree may need some support from external sources and no longer participates in the same activities they once did.
By process of elimination, I am in the honeymoon stage. I like it here. It is all about finding contentment, relaxing, trying new things, and meeting new people. . .while social distancing. Since I decided to take the plunge and redirect my energy during a pandemic and in the winter (winter on the Canadian prairies is a great time to do things online!), I was able to take advantage of the zoom boom. I re-kindled my love of qi gong that I first started under the guidance of Katherine Dempsey of Amethyst Therapies. For those of you who don’t know, Qi Gong is a mind-body-spirit practice that improves mental and physical health. It works with posture, movement, breathing, sound, and intent. There are many types of qi gong and many online resources but I often turn to Lee Holden, of Holden Qi Gong, and thoroughly love the online experience, especially his 7- minute practices.
There are a wealth of fitness opportunities out there, and speaking as someone who has never enjoyed aerobics or any kind of exercise, that means something. I’m talking particularly about activities for older adults (55+), so the Saskatoon Council on Aging has been a great spot for ideas. Their Globe Walk was a blast and a great way to get motivated, and Senior Hubs such as those at Mayfair and Silverwood provided interesting learning experiences. And of course, the Confederation Park 55+ Activity Centre has some great online sessions . . . one of my favorites is Walk and Groove with Paula Bickford!
Zoom also opened doors to travel experiences, new hobbies, music, cultural celebrations, and so many other interesting topics. Of course, when the snow cleared and the temperatures warmed up, it was time to start enjoying the outdoors with activities such as pickle ball, walking, exploring areas close to home, gardening, and taking indoor activities such as reading and playing mahjong outdoors. Hopefully, in the near future, there will be more volunteer opportunities available, but for now, it has to be enough just learning about the community and agencies that do rely on volunteer support.
Fall is on its way, perhaps sooner than expected, and I’m excited about the new opportunities that will come with the changing seasons. If you have retired recently, I hope you are feeling satisfied with life and letting go of the things you no longer need. Live each day fully and playfully! I don’t know how long the honeymoon stage will last, but I intend to make the most of it while I can!