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Coping With the Loss of Identity After Retirement

Seniors who aren't looking forward to retirement usually have more on their minds than just a job. In my experience, reluctant retirees are often struggling with a loss of identity. They're asking themselves complicated personal questions like, What am I going to do all day? What is my purpose at this next stage of life? Who am I if I'm not an engineer, or a doctor, or an executive?

Reflecting on these issues and discussing them with friends, family, and your financial advisor ahead of retirement can help you approach this transition from a more positive place. Let's talk about some of the challenges around identity that retirees should be preparing for as well as some of the exciting opportunities you have to look forward to.

We are what we do ...

It's no wonder that our work is so deeply connected to our sense of self. Attaining a professional title like Engineer requires a substantial investment of time, money, stress, and effort. Once we've earned those credentials, we organize a huge portion of our lives around exercising and improving those skills to further our own careers and provide for our families. We spend upwards of 40 hours every week with colleagues who share many of our professional and personal goals. Many of those colleagues become friends. Together, you define a workplace culture with a distinct set of routines, connections, and values that are comfortable and familiar. And no matter how hard you try to achieve work-life balance, over the course of your career, you make countless sacrifices that affect your relationships, your other passions in life, and sometimes even your health.  

Until we're not anymore ...

And then, one day, that all just stops.

Even retirees who had been looking forward to retirement are often surprised by how strange those first few weeks without work can feel.

Now that you're done celebrating your career, you might just be sad that it's over.

Without the structure your job gave your days and weeks, you might feel aimless.

Without the pressures, challenges, and camaraderie that work provided, and with your kids grown and raising their own families, you might feel like you don't have any purpose.

If most of your friends and family members are still working or busy with their own families, you might feel like you don't have anyone to spend time with.

After a few extra rounds of golf or games of tennis, you might decide you're more of a casual weekend player.

After a few weeks of puttering around the house, you and your spouse might start to feel like the walls have shrunk in on you. And, worse, you might still be struggling to find reasons to leave the house and give each other space.

Add all these feelings up and the sense of identity loss can be profound. In fact, one recent study found that 28% of retirees experience depression, a rate significantly higher than in the general older adult population.

Discovering the new you. 

The tricky thing about all of these feelings I've described above is ... they're all valid!

As a retiree, so many aspects of your life have just experienced a major change. So it's true: you don't have as much to do. You aren't seeing the same people every day. You don't have the same kinds of responsibilities. And you and your spouse don't have the same natural buffer between you that your career created by default.

The challenge for retirees becomes: what are you going to do about it?

It's OK if you feel a little lost at the beginning of your retirement transition. But once you've acknowledged what you're feeling, there's a real danger of developing serious physical and mental health issues if you don't make a plan to get the life you deserve out of the retirement you've worked so hard to secure.

One of the easiest ways to start is to buy a new weekly calendar or just divide a sheet of paper into seven columns with three rows each. Label each column as a day of the week and each row as Morning, Afternoon, and Evening.

Now, start filling in the blocks! Instead of feeling overwhelmed by the blank space, try to envision a fresh canvas where you can practice the ART of retirement: the Activities you like doing, the Relationships that matter the most, and all the Time you could want to make your days more fulfilling.

Sometimes it's best to start small. Not every block of your day is going to be some big bucket list accomplishment. Maybe scheduling a walk through your neighborhood in three of your Morning blocks will start a new exercise routine. You could block off Friday nights for dates with your spouse. Talk to your regular foursome about setting a regular weekend tee time. Maybe set aside one block during the week to try something new: a new exercise, a new restaurant, a social hour at the local club, or a lecture at the local community college.

You could also use some of those weekday Afternoon blocks to remind yourself that while your career is over, your professional skills and expertise are still an important part of who you are and what you have to offer to the world. Volunteering, mentorship, and consulting can all help retirees maintain a connection to their professions and give a little something back in the process.

Let’s make a plan. 

At Keen Wealth, we often talk to folks about controlling the things we can control so that we’re prepared for what we can’t control. Your retirement is going to be full of surprises, some good, some challenging. But the need to rethink how and why you spend your time and money is a challenge we know is coming for all retirees. Set up an appointment to visit our sparkling new office and let’s start planning together.

About Bill

Bill Keen is a financial advisor with nearly 30 years of industry experience. As the founder and CEO of Keen Wealth Advisors, a registered investment advisory firm, he focuses on providing personalized retirement planning designed to help people thrive before and during their retirement years. With a passion for educating others, Bill regularly blogs about retirement planning, hosts the podcast Keen on Retirement, and has contributed to Forbes, U.S. News and World Report, Reuters, Wall Street Journal’s Market Watch, Yahoo Finance, and other publications. Based in Overland Park, Kansas, Bill and his team work with clients throughout the greater Kansas City area and across the nation. To learn more, connect with him on LinkedIn or visit www.keenwealthadvisors.com.

KWMG, LLC’s dba Keen Wealth Advisors (“company”) is an SEC Registered Investment Advisor located in Overland Park, KS. The company and its representatives may only conduct business in those states where registered or where excluded/exempt or from licensure. For registration information please contact the SEC or the state securities regulators for the states where the company is notice filed. A copy of the company ADV is available upon request. Advisory services are only offered to clients or prospective clients where the company and its representatives are properly licensed or exempt from licensure. No advice may be rendered by the company unless a client service agreement is in place. This information is not intended to be investment advice or construed as a recommendation or endorsement of any particular investment or investment strategy and is for illustrative purposes only. Clients and prospective clients must consider all relevant risk factors involved with each strategy, including costs or fees, and their own personal financial situations before trading.

The views outlined in the book, Keen on Retirement Engineering the Second Half of Your Life, are those of the author and should not be construed as individualized or personalized investment advice. Any economic and/or performance information cited is historical and not indicative of future results. Economic forecasts set forth may not develop as predicted.

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