How to leave your work and enjoy retirement

Have you truly left your work and career behind?

Have you moved past who you were during your career?

Do you find yourself beginning too many sentences with words like ” When I ……” and then recounting achievements from career days?

Do you struggle with answering the question “what do you do?” at social gatherings?

Is it difficult to say, “I’m retired” when you know people are attempting to put you into a niche?

Self-worth and ‘who you are’

Many people who retire find that much of their self-worth is linked to the role and status they had during their career. The previous job title held a big chunk of their self-identity and the feelings of self worth that came through accomplishments at work.

The new label, ‘retired’ doesn’t have the same panache as CEO, entrepreneur, VP, nurse, professor, director, mechanic, lawyer, teacher, doctor, therapist, supervisor or whatever job title you previously held.

No matter how much you looked forward to retirement, feelings of contribution and appreciation from work are gone.

It’s time to move on if you want a happy and successful retirement.

Here are some ways to create a retirement life that’s exciting and challenging.

1. Make peace with the past

The past is the past — work is over.

You need to find new ways to replace that sense of satisfaction previously attained from workplace accomplishments.

The friendships you had during your career may or may not continue during retirement.  In fact, most ‘work’ friendships will decline in importance or disappear entirely.

The people who were in your professional networks are no longer part of your daily experience and, you are no longer part of their experience.

These people helped you during your career. The shared experiences shaped your work life. These experiences will always be part of you but this stage of life has ended. Trying to make it continue makes no sense and will bring disappointment.

It’s important to think about career times — the good times, the friends, the experiences, the professional networks — but it’s also time to pack up these memories.

Recognize your accomplishments; reflect on your failures; and establish a new direction for your life in retirement.

This is an important phase of retirement and will take some time — months or even years.  Give yourself that time and let go.

2. Identify the skills you developed during your career.

To make a life in retirement you will use the skills you developed during your career.  Regardless of the work you did, you learned how to engage people, how to use conversation to find common ground, how to form relationships, how to negotiate, and how to build a network.

These ‘soft’ skills will help you to build a retirement lifestyle and to develop a new network of friends.

Engaging people you meet in conversation, perhaps casually or with an invitation for a cup of coffee of a quick lunch is an easy way to begin.  It means taking a risk but most people happily accept and invitation to talk.

One of the people who has become a great friend in retirement made such an overture to me after a book club meeting.  We found many common interests and have since enjoyed countless lunches, outings and bridge games together.

3. Develop your retirement network

As you leave your former network behind, you will need to develop a new network of friends.  These are the people who have similar interests to you — perhaps they are your neighbours, people you know in your church, people you meet when travelling, people who share hobbies with you or people you meet in recreational pursuits.

Practise your social skills with every new encounter, making conversation, and exploring common interests.

Developing a new network takes some time but yields a wonderful diversity of friendships.  A culinary instructor who taught me techniques of Indian cooking has become a blogging friend — something I never dreamed of as I chopped coriander and peppers in the first class.

The retirement network is different from the network you had during your career.  It is more equal and level as people are ‘qualified’ because of similar interests — not because of position or title. Whether you were a car mechanic or the owner of a car dealership matters less than the passion you share from new found interests and hobbies.

4. Keep Structure in your life 

When you went to work, the days had a structure and a rhythm punctuated by routines of getting ready for the office, commuting, greeting coworkers, negotiating with team members and accomplishing certain tasks.

In retirement, it’s important to develop new routines that are equally satisfying.  For me, it’s morning coffee in bed, some time spent catching up on the daily news and emails, then a trip to the gym.  Afternoons are times for writing blog posts, doing household or gardening jobs, or meeting Evenings are reserved for hobbies — reading, knitting, piano and occasional social events.

There’s stability that comes from consistent routines. It might feel boring sometimes just like some days at the office were more mundane than others.  On those days I remember that retirement brings the freedom to change the routine with travel, excursions, visits with friends in other cities,   and, best of all, the freedom to goof off!

5. Make time to give back

Many organizations can benefit from the repertoire of skills that you developed during your professional life.  Some people give back by volunteering in their religious organizations; others look to service clubs such as rotary clubs; others give time to hospitals, animal shelters, or youth organizations.

I know one former CEO who spends many hours volunteering — with one qualification — she won’t attend meetings as she spent so much time in meetings during her career.  Her volunteer time means serving lunches at her church, volunteering as a patient advocate in a nursing home and fund raising for a political party — all activities that keep her away from boardrooms!

The payoff with volunteer activities includes forming new relationships and developing new friendships based on common experiences.  The personal payoff is that once again, your talents and skills are appreciated and your contribution is valued.

postworksavvy life after retirement means that your career is left behind and you have graduated into a new way of living.  You assume a new identity unrelated to a previous title.  You are free to enjoy your retirement.



8 Replies to “How to leave your work and enjoy retirement”

  1. I agree with the other posts about volunteering. Even if you have great skills and are a very cooperative volunteer,organizations may change directions and decide to minimize or devalue the the roll of the volunteers. I agree that if you are not being appreciated then leaving is a good option. Sometimes it seems that leaders prefer more control over employees and volunteers do no fit into their mode of management. Several people I know have left organizations they supported for many years. I wonder if the world of volunteerism is changing.

    1. Your observations are astute.
      Volunteering certainly has its pros and cons. I’ve served on several volunteer boards for not-for-profit organizations with mixed experiences. Sometimes the leaders seemed to regard board members as window dressing. In other organizations, governance was a priority and the boards worked well. I’ve also served on various church committees where only a few people seemed to do all the work! Today I heard of a volunteer who could not help an organization because of union objections! Perhaps all of us need to ask ourselves and those groups we serve some difficult questions.
      Thanks for adding to the conversation on volunteering.
      Be well,

  2. You reiterated and validated my thoughts, Jeanette. Many thanks for your article and for sharing your inspirational words. All the best.

    1. Hi Gayle, I’m happy to know that you share my viewpoint about leaving work behind. There’s so much living to do during retirement.
      Be well,

  3. Very good post and excellent advice. A note about volunteer work: I believe you need to feel appreciated for your effors. It’s too easy for many volunteers to be taken for granted and ignored. If this happens, I say speak up or move on to another option. It’s nice to give back and do good work for altruistic reasons, but unless you’re getting something positive from the experience, it can truly drain your energies. It’s a two way street in my view.

    1. Hi Pat,
      Your warning about volunteer work is astute. Just this week, I had an experience with one organization abruptly changing a regularly scheduled meeting and assuming that all volunteers could/would change their schedules. I felt that some of us were ignored or that our schedules didn’t count as much as the schedules of the paid staffers. The experience was a repeat of something that happened just as couple of months ago so I’m re-evaluating just how available I will be in future!
      Be well,

  4. I love your blog. Thanks for taking time to write it. I had a friend who went to France for two years, worked over there, married over there and then she and hubby came “home to her home in America”. She told me the work ethic is so strong in America that Americans define themselves by their work, but French people do not define themselves by their work. So, she said, in France if you have a bad job, you have a bad job. But in America, if you have a bad job, you have a bad LIFE!! Naturally retirement can eat on us in special ways!!!

    1. We should all take a lesson from France! It’s too bad that our identity and self worth are shaped by ‘what’ we do rather than ‘who’ we are as people. Some where along the way our lives have become too interconnected with work. It’s it wonderful that retirement is a more level playing field with less attention paid to what we accomplished in a previous time?
      I’m happy to know that you enjoy the blog — please keep the comments coming as I enjoy hearing your perceptions about the posts!
      Be well,

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