You know the drill. You arrive at a cocktail party and get introduced to a few new people. They ask you what you do. You take a sip of Chardonnay and tell them you are retired. An awkward silence ensues. You know what has happened. You’ve lost your identity.
Many retirees struggle with the loss of their work identities. Retirement can feel like the end: The end of a career, the end of productivity, and the end of a big part of your social life. But retirement isn’t the end. It’s the beginning of a whole new life that you get to design. No longer constrained by who your employer needs you to be, you get to be anyone you want to be in this next phase of life.
Be adventurous. Maybe your work identity determined where you chose to live during your career. Maybe you chose a suburb with great schools for your children. Maybe you chose a town with an easy commute to the city where your job was. Perhaps the new you wants to move to Belize.
Study history, art, or philosophy. I spent my college career studying to be an accountant. Beyond some basic general education classes, my course load was very business-specific. After retiring from a 22-year career in finance I started taking writing classes and discovered a passion I never even knew I had.
Be athletic. Maybe you didn’t have time to join the local adult soccer league when you were working, but loved playing when you were in high school. In retirement you have time to train for a marathon, learn to play tennis, or teach yoga. Now is the time to discover your hidden athletic talent.
Become an entrepreneur. Have you always wanted to start a doggy daycare, a gallery to sell your crafts, or a little local wine bar? You are not alone. Americans approaching retirement age are starting businesses at record rates. Why not join the growing ranks of self-employed retirees?
Become a social butterfly. When you were working 50 or 60 hour workweeks, all you had the energy to do was eat dinner, park yourself on the couch, and watch old episodes of Friends. Now you have time to spend with your actual friends and even make some new ones. Perhaps you want to start a book club.
Letting go of your old work identity may be a bit of an adjustment. But let’s face it, that old work identity may not have been the real you to begin with. Retirement is the beginning of discovering who it is you really want to be. Can you just picture the conversation that takes place at that cocktail party after you tell your new acquaintance that you are just in from Belize, where you live and study philosophy, because you are running in a marathon that you and some other members of your book club have been training for? Raise that wine glass and toast the new you.
Sydney Lagier is a former certified public accountant. Since retiring in 2008 at the age of 44, she has been writing about the transition from productive member of society to gal of leisure at her blog, Retirement: A Full-Time Job.