Few people think of Webster’s definition when they decide to retire. For that matter, research indicates that few people do much thinking at all before retiring. Bad strategy. Webster’s definition of “retire” reads:

“To go away, retreat, or withdraw to a private, sheltered or secluded place.”

Larry Jacobson, award-winning author of Sail Into Retirement, says, “When I dig deeper with clients who have been retired a year or more, I often discover a life that’s void of true fulfillment and purpose.” Interestingly, it seems that initially people enjoy their newfound freedom but it’s what happens, or doesn’t, after that first year of retirement when boredom sets in and problems occur.

Almost unanimously, experts agree that regardless of one’s professional status, critical to transitioning from an active career to one’s next life venture requires finding your purpose – your passion. This may sound trite and some hard driving executives may have a tendency to scoff at it.  Yet perhaps more than anyone, those whose business lives have involved perpetual motion often find this more important than they once thought. To point out the significance of boredom and problems after retiring, look at these realities:

  • A study by the UK’s Institute of Economics Affairs found that 40% of retirees suffer from clinical depression while 6 out of 10 report decline in health.
  • Martin Seligman, expert on the psychological origins of depressions, detailed in his book Helplessness: On Depression, Development and Death, that studies show that men who retired from corporate jobs, donned their gold watches and lazed about at a resort lived measurably shorter lives than those who sought productive work.
  • The Archives of Internal Medicine report in a loneliness study among older adults that 30% said loneliness was sometimes an issue while 13% said they were often lonely. They also reported that lonely older adults were 45% more likely to die than seniors who felt meaningfully connected with others.
  • A National Health Survey found that a higher percentage of men and women over 60 are binge drinking and that regular drinking in older women is increasing more rapidly than in older men.

When most people decide to retire, they envision a more enjoyable, less stressful time of life. But the truth is, humans need challenges to feel valuable; it’s important to fulfill their sense of self-esteem. The more demanding the job they once had, the more one needs to feel they have contributed and are appreciated. There’s satisfaction in solving problems and learning new things and there’s also the importance of feeling connected with the relationships formed with fellow workers.

And while it may not be appreciated at the time, there is value to having a daily routine – ala purpose. Once all of these things are gone, if they are not somehow replaced, individuals quite literally begin to die inside a little every day.

So, before retiring, ask yourself this question…what is your passion? What will make you happy when you no longer have the achievements of your job to fulfill you? The answer is different for everyone, but there is one thing to help you find your answer to happiness. Susan David, a psychologist at Harvard Medical School says that to allow happiness to bubble up naturally it’s important to pursue activities that dovetail with your values.

I personally found this very interesting because I myself have been what I would have called semi-retired for a few years now; still working some, but certainly not to the degree I did during the 25 years I ran my own consulting company. I never really considered myself retired; I felt it was more like transitioning to another phase, but always with the quest for projects that provided an accumulation of knowledge. Thus, I’ve maintained knowledge of current business shifts by continuing to serve one of my longtime clients.

I’ve also broadened my knowledge by falling back on my journalistic skills, having worked with eight individuals over the past few years, helping them to write their books – some business-oriented and some in the memoire category – but all quite informative and interesting. As a result, I’ve never become bored, I’m constantly engaged and it gives me meaningful purpose.

Interestingly, this is all aligned with my values. Before retiring, I gave myself a values assessment that I’ve used with clients for years, I realized that the things I’ve done since cutting back are all aligned with my top four values, which are: A quest for continual knowledge; a desire to create results; a need for independence and control of my own destiny, and to have an outlet for my creativity.

So, if you’re thinking of winding down anytime in the near future, before retiring, start thinking about your next phase now. Think about aligning whatever you do with your most important values, pursue a dream that you’ve had but never acted on, or maybe it’s time to spend more time on a hobby you never had time for before. Most of all, as you phase out of your current career to transition to what you may have thought of as retirement, be sure you don’t simply go away, retreat or withdraw to a private, sheltered or secluded place. 

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About The Author

Bette Price

Bette Price is a former television and newspaper journalist. She was a columnist and feature writer for The Kansas City Star and was part of the team that covered the Hyatt hotel skywalk collapse, which earned the newspaper a Pulitzer Prize. She is the author of four books and her True Leaders book is published in seven languages. She has ghost written eight books for business leaders, including an Amazon Best Seller. Bette has been quoted in such major publications as USA Today, Harvard Management Update, Investors Business Daily and The Wall Street Journal. Rather than retire she continues to serve select clients and ghost writes books for business leaders with unique philosophies or stories to tell. She can be reached at bette@PriceGroupLeadership.com.