Ever since I began the R Word project, I have been searching for a word to replace retirement and frankly, so far, I have failed.
This could be due in large part to the fact that the more I thought about it, the more it became apparent that it was the concept, rather than the word, which should be done away with.
Viewing life beyond full-time employment as the end of productivity was what I found most problematic. Clearly doing nothing now and again is a welcome break from the hectic pace of working life, but sitting down and watching day time television is no way to have a fulfilling future.
As a result, rather than ‘retire’ from any productive activity, we should consider finishing one career as more of a new life stage, an opportunity to embrace a new lifestyle, or even seek new challenges.
One word which comes close is ‘transition’.
In 1984, American psychologist Dr. Nancy Schlossberg developed “Transition Theory”. She identifies four major factors that influence a person’s ability to cope with transition: situation, self, support and strategies.
Strategies is a key term here. If you arrive at a change in life such as reaching the normal retirement age from your job without any sort of plan, you are essentially basing your future happiness on luck.
This planning is easier said than done. Even Schlossberg herself fell victim to the all-too-often accepted assumption that retirement would simply ‘work out’ when she first left her role as a Professor at The University of Maryland. In fact, she struggled to adjust so much that her eventual solution was to go back to work.
Even with a psychology doctorate, when planning for retirement, it can be hard to know where to start. So, how do we go about it?
The standard responses tend to be to take up a hobby or travel. While this may be fulfilling for a while, it rarely provides a sense of purpose and meaning, two things which are essential to our happiness. In order to meet these two criteria, we need to carefully consider what matters most to us, as well as reflecting on our abilities and desires. After a short period of introspection, we can understand how to meet our own long-term needs, and formulate a plan.
Whether we care to admit it to ourselves or not, life is time-limited. There will come a time in life when we are unable to do many of the things we like to do now, and taking on a new challenge becomes less and less achievable. If we take the opportunity that retirement presents, and move into the later stages of life with a goal and a plan, I truly believe our twilight years can become the best of our lives.