Who am I? Redefining Yourself in Retirement

Hi, my name is Julie and I am . . . wow! How do I identify myself? What defines me? What defines you? Our identity is a crucial part of our soul and how we relate to everything around us. Did you think you resolved your identity crisis in adolescence or middle age? Nope. Think again.  

In my Dec. 1st blog about finding your passion, Kathie said that she experienced a hiatus in her sense of identity after retiring. And she’s right. After all, for the last few decades, we have identified as someone related to a work environment. It is how we introduced ourselves, it is how we thought, how we spent a lot of our waking hours, and in some cases, how we socialized. It is natural that when that identity is no longer a part of you, there will be some challenges to fill the void. Of course, this will depend on the individual and how many hours a week you worked, the job, and the connection you had to that job.

For most of us, the job provided a purpose, a structure, and shaped our way of looking at things. It created a daily routine, relationships, and habits. For some of us, the work experience may have turned toxic bringing forth a negative perspective. Then, finding a new identity and a new, positive perspective is a double whammy! (And another story altogether!) Having a purpose in life fills some biological needs and maintains brain and immune system health. Check out this article for more on that.

We work all our lives so we can retire so we can do what we want with our time and the way we define or spend our time defines who we are and what we value.
—-Bruce Linton, Canadian entrepreneur

Let’s face it. We are our “titles”. When we retire, that title is gone. Ironically, retirement is a time when we meet new people and without the workplace as a common denominator, we must search for something to make a connection with. That’s why it is important to get involved in an activity when you retire for socialization and maybe even new friendships. If nothing else, you can keep up your conversation skills…it sure is easy to forget how to talk to other adults! After years of supervising people much younger than me, I am discovering the joy of “hanging out” with people my age. They get it. They get the references, the humor. And of course, they like the same music!

When I re-directed, I didn’t realize I was struggling with my identity. So, when a new opportunity came up, I was torn. The thought of it occupied my thoughts full time. I went back and forth, comparing the pros and cons, going from excitement to anxiety. I lost a few nights’ sleep and I hadn’t even submitted my resume, let alone been offered the position! I called my friend Mary Beth, who retired a few years ago and asked for some advice. She said I shouldn’t make any big decisions for at least a year after retiring. She asked a few poignant questions: Did I want to work? Did I need the money? Why did I feel the need to work? The latter was the key. I felt the need to work so I could “work”. I would have a purpose. In the end, I decided to listen to Mary Beth’s advice, and I packed up my resume. I’m so glad I made that decision. I am happier than I have been in years and although I still struggle with that loss of identity, I accept that it is a normal part of the transition and I have learned to just go with it. I was fortunate in that I already had a “side project”, Wanderings Art. In retirement, I have been able to put more time into building that part of my life and identity, and I have several ideas (hopes and dreams) of where I want to go with it. A friend introduced me to some new people the other day and she identified me as an artist. That still takes me by surprise, and I still look over my shoulder to see if another Julie is standing behind me. It will take some getting used to but that’s ok! I also took the plunge and picked up writing again and here we are Blog 12. Don’t get me wrong, there are still days when I feel a bit lost and wonder what my purpose is.

All this talk about the loss of identity sure puts a damper on the joy one is supposed to feel upon retiring. Don’t fret, it won’t last. Retirement permits you to feel that joy, to explore, and to try new things. It is a time to communicate with yourself. If you are uncomfortable doing this, pretend you are visiting a friend. Re-examine that friend’s goals. What would you tell them to do? Which goals would you tell them to re-evaluate? Retirement is just another phase and doesn’t have to be met with trepidation. It should be met head-on with courage and excitement. Like any life transition, there will be ups and downs. The easiest thing to do, and yes, easier said than done, is to let them be. In the early days, acknowledge that you will experience times when you question yourself and your decision to retire. When that happens, you can make a list (remember, I am a list person!) of why you chose to stop working. Then make a list of the things you’d like to do. Talk to your “friend”. How can they create a sense of fulfillment?

Creating a new identity is probably the most challenging part of retirement and it takes time and patience. At this stage of the game, most of us don’t want to spend a lot of time overthinking things. If I am going to partially re-invent myself, I just want it to happen. No patience here.

 “When you are newly retired, it can seem like you are riding on a roller coaster,” says Kimberly Howard, CFP®, founder of KJH Financial Services, Newton, Mass. “Peaks and valleys require attention and patience to manage. In time, the new norm will be your new reality.”

Once we have started to settle in, find a comfortable routine and begin to make new connections, some of those inward-looking questions will start to answer themselves. “Who am I now?”, “What is my purpose in life”, “Am I useful?” will melt away into the sunset to be replaced by “I am myself.”, “My purpose is to create.”, (or whatever else is important to you at this point) and “I am useful. I am enough.”

Retirement is a blank sheet of paper. It is a chance to redesign your life into something new and different.
—Patrick Foley, Irish Professor & Priest

While we wait to discover our new self, what can we do to enhance the process? There is a wealth of information on this site, including how to know if you are going through an identity crisis, and suggestions for things to fill that gap. A lot of those suggestions are the same as those identified in previous blogs. . .ramping up your exercise routine, playing a sport, joining a common interest group, faith community, community group, etc. The secret is to get out of your shell, find new interests and in time, a new identity will blossom.

Leaving behind that old pre-retirement identity opens the door to a new identity. How exciting! What do you want to be?

Check out these short articles on DailyOm:

DailyOM – Ready For Change interesting short article on declaring your intentions to the universe

DailyOM – The Four Spiritual Laws of Prosperity by Edwene Gaines interesting article on fulfilling your life’s purpose

DailyOM – Waiting for Someday


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