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  • Larry Gard

Let’s Be Honest About Retirement

Empty desk with the word Retirement superimposed

I had coffee last week with an esteemed colleague who offers pre-retirement counseling like me. We were discussing how notions of retirement have changed over the past few decades, so much so that many people have tried to coin new terms to replace the word “retirement” itself. “Reengagement” and “Life 2.0” are two such contenders. While it may be the case that baby boomers have reinvented retirement, I’m a bit wary about giving retirement a new name. True, we have access to a greater range of active, compelling paths in retirement than our parents and grandparents did. Yet by giving retirement a new name, one that highlights the meaningful and rewarding activities that lie ahead, we run the risk of overlooking what makes retirement such a profoundly moving transition.

Jack Beauregard, founder of the Successful Transition Planning Institute, points out that unlike most life events, which flow from beginning to end, retirement starts with an ending. As much as we can (and should) plan for a fulfilling life once we leave our job, we also need to pay attention to the ending that comes before. We have to be honest about the magnitude of what people experience. If we give retirement a new name, updating its brand as some might say, we should be careful not to minimize the emotions surrounding this inflection point.

Consider the feelings associated with the loss of familiar roles and routines. These are incredibly powerful and real, and ought not be discounted. So too is the sense of accomplishment felt by those who look back on their career with pride. We can reimagine retirement all we want (and that’s not necessarily a bad thing), but we must not forget that as thrilling as the next chapter might be, ending a job carries psychological meaning that deserves attention too.

For those of us who offer pre-retirement planning, it’s natural to want to help our clients plan for a rich and satisfying future. We might even come up with a captivating new name for that transition. Yet we do our clients a disservice if we don’t allow them to talk about what they’re leaving behind. We must help them close the last chapter before they can take full advantage of the next one.

© 2022 Larry Gard, Ph.D.

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