Finding Purpose After Retirement: Who Do You Think You Are?  

finding purpose after retirement

When one is a stranger to oneself, then one is estranged from others, too.  -Anne Morrow Lindberg

Who are you?

This may sound like a simple question, yet when one transitions from a life filled with an active career it’s important to have a strong sense of who you are to fully ensure you will continue to enjoy life. Your answer to this question will serve as a starting point to take an honest look at just how well you actually know yourself. It will begin to provide an understanding for you as you adjust to your new life, or it will help to determine how well you are able to cope with an initial period of uncertainly as you are finding purpose after retirement.

Do this Simple 5 Minute Exercise

Here’s a simple process to help find out how you see yourself. Take a blank sheet of paper and write down as many words or phrases as you can to complete the phrase:  I am __________________.

There are no right or wrong answers. There are no magical numbers, so you may make a short or long list, although a minimum of five is suggested. Your list may contain many single words or it may be made up of several descriptive phrases. There is no significant order in which you may list things, simply write quickly and without labored thought as descriptions come to your mind. Time is a factor. It is best to take no more than five minutes to complete this exercise. How you choose to describe who you are, is less important than getting your thoughts down in black and white so you can refer to them later. Please complete your list before reading on. Once your list is complete, continue reading.

One Woman’s Example

Debbie, a participant in a group workshop, listed the following responses to the question, “Who am I?”

She wrote: I am…

Wonderful, A Christian believer, Happy, Hurting, Content, Blessed with a loving family, Giving, Patient, Busy, Stressed, Friendly, Warm, Five foot seven, A former vice president, A wife, An American, A Mother, A perfectionist

Alice, a retired entrepreneur in the group, wrote: I am…

A CEO, A founder of my company, Capable of making good decisions, Well-paid, A good provider, A wife, A good investor, Bright, A leader, A mother, A community volunteer, A board member

Some of the words and phrases used by Debbie and Alice relate to “who” they are. Other words relate more to “what” they are. Debbie, for example, used emotional and behavioral traits such as, “giving, friendly, content, hurting, patient.” These elements make her the unique individual she thinks about as herself. They are behaviors or values that make up “who” she is. Alice listed several words such as “A former vice president, a mother, a wife, a Christian;” each of which denote a title, a comparison, a thing, or an externally judged quality, and relate more to “what” she is.

Overall, Debbie’s list is quite balanced with “who” and “what.” As a result, Debbie will be more likely to comfortably transition into life without a career and a title. Her strong sense of self will help her in finding purpose after retirement. She realzies she is valued for who she is, not because of a role or position she holds. Debbie will be quite able to take control of her life and continue to feel worthy and fulfilled as she transitions to a new lifestyle and finds new outlets for her time and talents.

Alice, on the other hand, has a less balanced list. Nearly everything on her list deals with “what” she is. As a result, as Alice transitions from her entrepreneurial status, she will be more likely to feel a loss of purpose, thus it may take longer to find comfort and fulfillment as she transitions to retirement. She has been more tied to “what” she is than “who” she is.

In years past, men were more likely to rely heavily on “what” they were, thus they were more vulnerable to having an imbalance than their female counterparts. But in recent years, as women have gained higher positions in the corporate world or become successful entrepreneurs, this imbalance has begun to impact more women as well.

Statistics indicate that people who retire at 55 are 89% more likely to die in the 10 years after retirement than those who retire at 65. While there is no one reason for this, a significant contributor is considered to be a sudden lack of purpose. It doesn’t have to be that way.

If one believes their life will continue to have purpose and they will still be valued, they are less likely to become negatively impacted. The more you know “who” you are, the more chance you have at finding purpose after retirement that fills your life with enjoyable new experiences, great joy and a keen sense of satisfaction. After all, as you transition to your prime years, isn’t being adventurous, happy and fulfilled who you really want to be?


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