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Retirement vs. Summer Vacation

The other evening, I ran into a friend Peter who I hadn’t seen in some time. He appeared relaxed and contented, and he informed me that he retired last year. We chatted about his various pursuits and initiatives. Peter related a story about a colleague at his old company who was apprehensive about his own retirement, fearing he would feel aimless and bored. Seeking reassurance he phoned frequently during Peter’s first few months of retirement to ask, “what are you doing?”

Many late career professionals I speak with describe the same uneasiness that Peter’s colleague had. They’re not confident that they’ll find truly meaningful, satisfying things to occupy their time. Many of them claim few if any hobbies or interests other than work. On further examination, this isn’t always true. Their work is particularly compelling because that’s where their focus is. They actually do have other interests, it’s just that they’re not spending any time engaged in them let alone enjoying them.

When working with these clients, I try to get a sense of what aspects of work are satisfying at their core and what they believe they would miss the most. Do they like having an established routine, leading a team, solving problems, etc.? We keep these things in mind as we brainstorm about alternate avocations and activities. We can also add in psychological assessments to identify potential interests and how those might mesh with their personality style.

I’ll sometimes ask these people to describe their best and worst summers off from school as a kid. The point of the exercise is to help them see that they managed to survive the worst ones, and they found pleasure in the best ones. They may be 45 or 50 years older now, but they haven’t lost the ability to adapt to extended down time. They’re simply not used to doing so. Some of you might say I’m comparing apples to oranges. It’s true that retirement might be exponentially longer than summer vacation, but to a 10-year-old facing months away from school, it feels like an eternity!

The thought of filling up all those months and years may feel daunting, but don’t underestimate your capacity to craft a fulfilling next chapter.

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