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Retirement Planning For The Psyche

Many times throughout the years, I have observed anecdotally that people have a higher risk of mortality shortly after retirement.

And there’s even some empirical evidence of this.  For example, in a study of past employees of Shell Oil, the mortality rate was significantly higher for subjects in the first 10 years after retirement at age 55 compared with those who didn’t retire until later (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1273451/). Of course, it’s possible that these statistics might be somewhat skewed by the fact that people with preexisting health issues may tend to retire earlier. Nevertheless, I have seen several people in my clinical practice “crash” psychologically after retirement; and the reasons are clear.

When you’ve been looking forward to retirement for many years, financially and emotionally, there is probably a lot of anticipation.  Perhaps, you’ve been happily looking forward to a newfound freedom to pursue the things you did not have time to do while you were working.  It’s likely that the first few weeks will be exactly what you expected they’d be.  But after a month or two, you might find yourself feeling bored, unfulfilled, and most commonly—without a purpose and in need of a new challenge.  After all, you’ve spent the better part of your life creating an identity around your career and when that is no longer part of who you are, you may be surprised to feel a very unexpected and difficult void.

Retirement, indeed, is the time to do the things that you didn’t have time to do when you had to spend your day making a living, but it’s not that simple.

Sure, you can take the golf lessons you never got around to or go on a vacation or two you’ve planned, but retirement could— and for many needs to— be a time for more than that.  It can be about elevating your life from a place where you were busy juggling your roles as a working person to one where you can tap into to your true passions. This might be in the form of taking courses to learn something new, volunteering to do something you love to do for a cause you believe in, starting a new career or business doing something you really enjoy (many people do happily this when they retire), teaching or mentoring someone.  If you’re able to give back as you pursue your passions, this can add an even greater dimension of fulfillment to your life as a retiree. I identify contributions you make to something larger than yourself as your ticket to the highest level of fulfillment (I call them the target stages) in my book Stage Climbing: The Shortest Path to Your Highest Potential

When the high expectations of life after retirement fall short, it can lead to a myriad of difficult feelings you may never even think to associate with retirement, not to mention difficulty in maintaining a positive outlook about the future.  So with these thoughts in mind, what could you do to have your life completely and absolutely on track for the fulfillment you expect after you retire? Make a list of whatever comes to mind. There may be some items you have listed that will be above your means. So when your list is complete, choose those things that you could actually do with your present resources. Chances are there is a passion or two waiting to be fulfilled.  And as many have discovered, that’s the secret to a long and satisfying retirement.

Once you identify your true calling in retirement, it can truly be a fresh start for you.

You may even be surprised at how much life has to offer when you are doing what you’re passionate about.  You will feel motivated, challenged and best of all, find a renewed zest and purpose in life. And this is a great window into life at your highest potential!

Read more posts by Michael S. Broder, Ph.D, a renowned psychologist, executive coach, bestselling author, continuing education seminar leader and popular speaker.  Dr. Broder blogs for JenningsWire.