Are You in Retirement Jail?

Are You in Retirement Jail?

Okay, you’ve been retired for long enough that you’ve done all the things you “didn’t have time for” plus a few.  None of it is as exciting as it used to be.  The “good life” seems like it’s outside a window with bars, and all you get in your own day is weak gruel and the tantalizing but unreachable view of that beyond.  What happened?

Retirement was supposed to be this glorious never-ending vacation.  You could do whatever you wanted.  Go when you wanted.  Sleep in.  Hang out.  Let up.  It’s all about you you you, and it was going to be soooo lovely.  What happened?

Relax.  This is normal.  The traditional version of retirement works at first, for most of us anyway.  Then, for a lot of us, it doesn’t anymore.  All those versions of play get stale and depressing, bereft of meaning and woefully short on a sense of connection.  Why?  Because humans are wired for more than that.  We need to be productive members of a tribe–working together to solve problems that have an impact beyond our own day-to-day needs.  All this “go off and play by yourselves” can be toxic in high doses–sometimes within a year of retirement.


Well…  First, realize that “retirement” is not this homogenous string of days stretching to the end of your life with the same fun the same way with the same people.  The counterpoint to that is also not true.  You aren’t meant to spend all day every day doing work other people need done–but without pay–because you “have time”.

Retirement is likely to be a big chunk of your life and has stages within the stage itself.  The initial years are usually about “doing all the things I didn’t have time for when I was working”.  That may be learning something you’ve always been intrigued by or traveling to places you’ve wanted to see or just sitting on the deck drinking coffee (or a glass of wine…) while your former coworkers slog through traffic.  It may be all of the above and more, including getting involved in some kind of volunteer work to “give back.”

Typically, this evolves to a second stage though.  Some of those interests don’t pan out.  Travel starts to become “same old same old,” and the volunteering gig goes sour for whatever reason (lack of stimulating work, difficult organizational dynamics, or a change in the direction of the entity with whom you are involved, for example).

No need to panic.  It’s just time to rework the plan. THIS is what an effective retirement strategy is best at–acknowledging when what you’ve planned is not what you need and doing the work to come up with something that is.

When we walk out the door of work for the last time, we don’t know where the health monsters lurk.  We don’t know what we’ll like of what we want to try.  We don’t know what’s ahead with our relationships.  (They aren’t static.   At some point, someone you’ve been with will either die or leave or someone you didn’t expect will walk in and take a place in your heart.) You don’t know who you might meet, if a best friend will move away, or whether you’ll decide you need to move yourself for whatever reason.  All these things are part of life.  Ignoring them is what puts you in that jail.

The standard assumption is that what’s outside the original plan is always negative.  Let’s take a better look at that.  If what you thought would satisfy you doesn’t (like playing golf three times a week when you really only need one round to scratch that itch), do something else.  You know more now that you’ve been living the plan.  It’s time to look at “What do I want to do now?” again.  And this time, the answer just might be quieter, more serene, and probably more focused on community, connection, and commitment, than the grand adventures of the first stretch of this stage of life.  Or you might decide you need to be more adventuresome.  The point is that you need to ask yourself and then listen for what you heart tells you.

Life changes on a dime at this point.  That’s not all bad.  To thrive, we need to keep growing to our very last breath.  Starting over (again….and again) is an excellent way to do that.

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