Midlife is sneaking up on the baby boomers. Some of them will look back on successful careers filled with accolades and awards, while others will proudly reflect upon raising self-sufficient children poised to become the adults of tomorrow. Still others will look back with gratitude that they survived all that life has thrown their way, and now they are finally ready to retire.
However, these aspiring, energetic, and perpetually in motion individuals face a common dilemma as retirement age approaches: What comes next?
Over the course of long and successful careers, many baby boomers have come to define themselves by the job they do and the person they are at work. A separate identity outside of their career is often missing. Imagine you are no longer employed. What would be your response if someone asked you, “What do you do?” How do you define yourself outside of your job? Describing an exciting career is much more interesting than saying you are retired, which for busy boomers can signify a resignation, rather than a validation of a meaningful life.
In his book Boundless Potential, Mark Walton describes a common challenge faced by knowledge workers contemplating retirement. Many employees now work with their brain and are typically not finished or physically worn out when they reach age 65. For many people, a retirement life of golf, travel, and relaxation is boring, and lacks opportunities for future growth and development. Instead of living each day with excitement and anticipation, these retirees may find themselves bored and unchallenged.
There is something to be said for taking time away from the hustle and bustle of the working world for a period of time. But when you think back on your most memorable and exciting life moments, how many of them reflect down time? It’s more likely that those high times occurred when you were running full speed ahead, striving to achieve a worthy goal, happily caught up in the moment, and doing what you loved.
Many people are happiest when absorbed in an activity they enjoy. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, a professor of psychology and management at Claremont Graduate University, calls this experience flow. He found that the best moments in our lives are not passive or relaxing times, but high-skill and high-challenge moments. The greatest moments usually occur when a person is striving to accomplish something difficult or worthwhile.
No one should feel they must retire from life because of their age. Creativity continues, challenges persist, and there are many opportunities to pursue new avenues. Senior citizens have a lot to add to the world around them that will also enhance their individual life experience.
Dave Bernard is not yet retired but has begun his due diligence to plan for a satisfying retirement. With a focus on the non-financial aspects of retiring, he shares his discoveries and insights on his blog Retirement–Only the Beginning.