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  • Larry Gard

Identity and Meaning in Retirement – Who are you beyond your LinkedIn profile?



Some people struggle when contemplating retirement because so much of who they are is wrapped up in their job. Reverend William James Byron wrote about this dilemma succinctly, noting “if you are what you do, when you don’t, you aren’t”.


Is your identity as diversified as your portfolio?

Our personal identity can be threatened by the loss of our work role, particularly if we have not developed other facets of ourselves outside of work. It’s analogous to diversification in the financial world. You’re better able to handle a downturn in the market if your holdings are diversified. Similarly, you’ll be better positioned to deal with the loss of your work identity if you have developed other sides of yourself.


Many individuals have been fully immersed in their business or career, either by choice or necessity, leaving little opportunity to cultivate other interests that reflect their identity. But I find that with some time, thought, and focused inquiry, these people can discern an identity apart from work. It’s important to do so, because you’ve got to think about who you really are in order to sort out what you really want to do in the next stage of your life.


Here are four questions you can ask to get started:


1. What do I enjoy doing outside of work?

2. In addition to my work, what am I good at?

3. What am I really proud of about myself?

4. What good things have others said about me over the years?


Finding your identity and a sense of meaning outside of work isn’t always easy. Sometimes the trick is to use clues from work, and then widen your lens to see the whole person who shows up at the office each day. For example, a retiring property developer told me she was proud of the deals she had put together throughout her career. I asked, “what are the personal qualities that led to your success in that regard?” She noted that she liked engaging with others, uncovering their priorities, and negotiating mutually beneficial terms. As we discussed her identity, she thought more deeply and said, “among other things, I’m an inquisitive person who tries to overcome differences and find common ground.” She saw this as an essential aspect of her identity, beyond doing deals, and recognized that it would surely play a role in her next chapter.


If you’re thinking of stopping work in 2023, remember that you’re more than your job title. To make the retirement transition easier, give some advance thought to your identity and how it can be expressed.

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