I’ve had a month now to properly muse on my life and what’s happening to me as I approach my 60th year. It’s big, I’ve decided, it’s very big. This year as I leave the relative oppression of the world of work and move to the theoretical freedom of retirement, I’m making a massive transition.
From as early as I can remember my life has been structured around routine, first with school and then for most of the last 40 years the necessity of working for a living.
My three years at University in the late early eighties was the nearest to what I’m experiencing now. Ridiculously, now I look back, there were only about five hours a week of lectures and tutorials to attend and the rest of the time was mine to spend how I chose.
Driven largely by a fear of failure, I eventually left behind the nights of drinking and socialising and established just enough routine to get a reasonable degree.
I guess I have that experience to build on. I’m also lucky that I’ve spent my last 30 years running my own business which has brought with it a certain amount of choice and self-discipline.
Now though feels very different, university was just three years and my work life pattern was very much defined by customers and staff. Now I’m really free and it’s taking some adjusting to. It’s also forever, the final frontier, what I’m shaping here and now is for the rest of my life. It’s a challenge, a good challenge, yes, but not to be underestimated.
Life-changing stages of emotional adjustment
I’ve read many things over the years about how we cope with life-changing events such as marriage, divorce, bereavements, new jobs, moving home etc and there is a process of emotional adjustment we all go through. That’s what’s happening to me now.
The best of the relatively few articles about the transition into retirement say there are six key stages we go through.
- Pre-retirement: Planning time
- The Big Day: Smiles, handshakes and farewells
- Honeymoon phase: I’m free!
- Disenchantment: So this is it?
- Reorientation: Building a new identity
- Routine: Moving on
It’s interesting how we as humans like to structure things and break things down like this. The truth, for me, is that all these stages are happening at once. Like many people the transition to retirement has been gradual. Over the last couple of years I’ve been working fewer and fewer hours. Now, I’m not working, more than I am working and very few things need tackling at a fixed time.
That means rather than planning for it, I’ve just got used to it, thought about it yes but not formally planned anything. It also means there’s been no big day, no end to work, no retirement party which I can imagine brings a certain closure but also big problems with adjustment.
Then all the other stages have merged. I’m reorienting, building my new identity as it were, and establishing a routine. Emotionally I’m neither particularly up – there’s no ‘Yay, I’m free’ feeling but neither am I disenchanted.
Maybe it’s all too soon on my retirement journey but I’ve travelled enough to realise I’m going through a very big life event.