Until now, you thought panic attacks were reserved for fathers-to-be in the OBGYN room or for prima donnas at their stage debut. Sudden breakouts of sweat were the domain of diving Olympians as they viewed their ominous 1,000-foot cliff drop, or tween boys confronting their first date’s dad. Sinking stomach sensations were felt in the terrifying moments when those dreaded sirens screeched and swirling blue lights flashed, directly targeting you on a late Friday afternoon as you drove home from work.
But now you know otherwise. The long-awaited Wednesday afternoon arrives for the retirement party in your honor. And you enter what is supposed to be the best first day of the rest of your life. Thursday morning you bask in a late breakfast in bed, then savor a two-martini lunch and take advantage of one of those 4 PM discounted early-bird-special senior-citizen dinners. You channel surf from one late night talk show to another, without a thought about a bedtime curfew to prepare for the jolt of your dreaded 6 AM alarm.
But then, much to your chagrin and surprise, it’s only the next Monday morning, and you’re already experiencing a trifecta of panic attack, sweats, and sinking stomach. What’s going on? Then a month or more has gone by since that fateful “retirement day” and it’s still not happening-whatever “it” is! By now, the honeymoon has ended, and you’re feeling increasingly rudderless, redundant, non-essential, inconsequential, irrelevant. You seem to have lost your balance. Your equilibrium has gone south. Even your voice seems to have become less imposing!
Don’t imagine for a minute that you are unique in all the world. Thousands of colleagues (in fact, over 10,000 daily) are joining your ranks, experiencing your anxiety, and grappling with the ups and downs of retirement life. Let’s examine the sources of their (and your) apprehension.
First, whether you ever realized it or not, for more than 30 years, your professional persona has been inextricably tied to your job, your career, your work. Perhaps even more than your family structure, your work defined who you were, gave meaning and purpose to your daily life, provided you with a modicum of power and prestige. Whether you were forced to relinquish that role or chose freely to walk away, you could not, in any way, have anticipated the psychological jolt prompted by your nudge or decision to retire.
Second, unless you are independently wealthy, you suddenly realize that what has been a fairly lucrative reliable bi-weekly auto-deposited salary check is no more! The tap has been tapped out, only to be replaced, in many instances, by a less substantial monthly retirement subsidy. Right now you are too rattled with panic to calmly step back and realistically assess other supplementary income streams such as your 401K, social security benefits, investments, or real estate.
Then there’s the whole social thing – the daily chatter and gossip and comradery that fostered life-long, or at least passing, friendships. You never anticipated the loneliness and lack of daily companionship as by-products of your decision to retire. With whom can you now compete for fashion supremacy, for supervisor approval, for position advancement? It never dawned on you until now that you would no longer be included in the office lottery, the late Friday afternoon gathering at the local favorite café or bar, or the Saturday morning golf game.
It’s time to put down the breathalyzer, the tranquillizers, the hot and cold towels, the Tums. The thousands of colleagues and peers who have gone before you, and who are presently experiencing your own ambivalence and anxiety, can assure you that help is on the way. If you are willing to expend the time, effort, and energy, you will discover multiple resources that describe the strategies and successes these others have deployed and experienced as they transition into what we truly believe will be the best, most productive and unabashedly enjoyable phase of your life.
Three keys are:
- Take as much time to design and prepare for your retirement life and work as you did to select your primary career. Explore the seven retirement pathways, individually and in combination:
- Life of leisure
- Life as a volunteer
- Life of travel
- Life of engaging new work
- Life as an entrepreneur
- Life as a “Creative”
- Life as a student
- Recognize and uncover your unique self, and give this self precedence in what you chose and do not chose to take on.
- Understand that you have years of value left to contribute… but your way.