Describe to someone who has never been in love, what it feels like when you have, at long last, found your soul mate. Describe to someone about to give birth, the first feelings that flood you when you become a parent for the first time. Describe to someone the pain of losing a loved one, when that moment is completely unexpected. Can someone accurately explain to another, what it will feel like to wake up one morning, and be retired from the full-time world of work? What will it feel like every day that first year, when just about everything familiar about your waking hours has changed?
Why is it so hard to imagine?
All humans are blessed with the gift of the imagination. We have the ability to explore ideas that are not in our present environment. These ideas are generated within, without the input from our senses. What might those imaginings look like for a newly retired woman? Most likely, they would be based on images from the media, experiences of real people in her life, and a hefty dose of fantasy. If you are feeling adrift, that is to be expected. It really is not possible to plan this stage of life on a micro level.
The ability to imagine one’s future self has been a long-term research topic for Dr. Daniel Gilbert, a Harvard University professor of psychology. Dr. Gilbert and his team have found that people just aren’t very good at predicting their future selves. They are quite facile at identifying how they’ve changed from one decade to the next, but, when asked, they predict very static tastes and goals moving forward. Depending on the age when one is asked to do the predicting, projections will be closely tied to the values of one’s current age. Dr. Gilbert suggests rather than going on a fruitless journey of staring into a crystal ball, it is better to identify real, living role models exhibiting admirable qualities in real time.
Dr. Hal Hershfield, a professor in the Anderson School of Management at UCLA is another researcher in this area of future self. His research focuses on “helping move people from who they are now to who they’ll be in the future in a way that maximizes well-being.” His famous research pairs computer rendered photos of subjects 40 years in the future with the opportunity to save for retirement. Such a visual reminder actually increases retirement savings for these folks 30%! Unfortunately, you probably didn’t have access to photo-shopped pictures years before your retirement.
There is so much more to retirement than money!
Although your exclusive and multifaceted retirement game plan is understandably not yet complete, hopefully your financial plans are more solid. It would be impossible to think of retiring without a well-articulated scenario years in the making. Googling retirement will yield countless posts on this subject. In today’s economy, it is still “a coup” to be able to retire with enough healthy years in the bank to enjoy the freedom. There are certainly abundant resources available many years before the “big event” which address money issues. However, a woman will find far fewer resources regarding the enormous transition into retirement: creating a new life and identity.
Retirement is a stage in life just like the others we’ve passed through!
It is helpful for women to see this new experience in the regular progression of the normal life stages: child, adolescent, young adult, career, and possible launch of adult children, and now the transition into an unfamiliar, but freer new stage of life. Previously, life might have felt like an ongoing productivity experiment: “How efficient can I possibly be? How can I use every waking minute for the good of others?” As each new responsibility was added through the years, it was difficult to notice the gradual cranking up of the speed of life. Technology added additional demands in the work and private realms. Current stringent business models that value peak efficiency and ignore human needs are rampant in every field and have impacted all workers significantly.
Taking the next step…..
You might want to consider making the first few months of retirement, your personal retreat. Whether you feel positively or negatively about retirement will have a lot to do with how you left your job. Was it your choice? Was it planned? Was it sudden? Did you accomplish all you wanted? Are there any loose ends that need your attention? In the first few months, it is a good idea to spend some time reflecting about your work. It did take up most of your waking hours. Some form of closure may or may not happen quickly, but if one is lucky, this process will come together over time. If you find yourself dwelling on the subject, perhaps devoting a specific daily time slot could be helpful for healing.
Grant yourself permission to recover the pieces of yourself which have been covered over by years of responsibility by having a much lighter schedule. You now have the luxury of time to merge your true self with your unfolding, new identity. Alexei Ratmansky,choreographer and Artist in Residence at the American Ballet Theater, has recently said “The pandemic is a dress rehearsal for retirement and I’m not ready.” He may not be ready for retirement, but virtually the whole world had a taste of the great turning away from the modern, frenzied world. Hopefully, a year spent with physical and social limitations might ease your transition to retirement, when one has more opportunity for reflection and a stunning reduction of required activity.