Mostly we don’t think about life after work until it gets really near. Then there’s little time to adjust, and we might find the transition scary. But you can learn from the ideas I’ve grabbed here from others — and you may actually have done something similar before.
On the opening page of this website, I say that life after full-time work (Life Two) is like moving to a new land, the land of personal freedom, time and happiness. But you’ll probably be afraid of the move, as with any other major move in your life.
Like it or not, it’s a land that requires total immersion. You’re not a tourist. You’re not an ex-pat, who wants to live in the new land and expand your experiences and your mind, but with the comforting knowledge that you’ll go back. (Though, like many ex-pats, you may find you’d rather stay on. Perhaps that’s a good starting attitude!)
So, in this post, let’s examine what’s involved in the move, and what opportunities it offers for reinventing yourself, collecting ideas from earlier posts.
The best part of the move is what it doesn’t entail:
- You already know the language. You already know the culture; no culture shock for you.
- Your family and close friends are still with you. (Your workmates may not be. Some retirees find that their exclusion from work-related daily events means that they and their former workmates no longer have anything in common.) And your pets are still with you.
- You don’t need to make new housing or banking arrangements, or sign up for utilities or internet connections. You don’t have to worry afresh about personal safety in a new land.
- No logistical challenges, no bureaucracy and legal requirements to learn about, no need to search for where you buy groceries.
- No new currency.
You get the idea. This is so much easier than moving physically.
And yet it is a move, even if the move is mental rather than physical. And that’s why you’ll probably be scared and miss many aspects of your previous life, and (in a way) feel homesick.
That’s OK. It’s more than OK – it’s natural. The fact is that all change is loss, and all loss must be mourned. I experienced this myself, in my own transition to Life Two. (I’ll post something about the way I felt, soon.) It’s par for the course – the exception is to slide smoothly into giving up full-time work as if nothing has changed, because typically a lot changes.
Nevertheless, this transition is a teachable moment (https://donezra.com/13-teachable-moments-and-wake-up-calls/). It’s a time when we’re naturally willing to give the change some thought. And as it’s a major change, it’s also an opportunity – an opportunity to be proactive, in fact an opportunity to reinvent ourselves. That’s not necessary, of course – I’m just saying that it’s an occasion when this is more than usually possible. And even if we don’t want to reinvent ourselves, the way of thinking about the move is pretty much the same as the way to think about reinventing ourselves.
Did you move away from home when you went to university? Did you move in the course of work? On both occasions, you were forced to explore what the new place offered. Did you take the opportunity to change something about yourself? See – you’ve already done this before.
Here are some things to consider:
- Accept that it’s a new place. Even though you’ll feel homesick, get over hating everything unfamiliar. Get support. Search for helpful websites and publications. I plan a future post about possibly getting a life coach.
- Dr Laura Carstensen (Founding Director of the Stanford Center on Longevity), in a book called A Long Bright Future, confirms the notion of this being a turning point in your life. This may be the autumn of your life, but you can make it the autumn crescendo (in her beautiful phrase) rather than a fade-away.
o An encore career? But this time it would probably be a deeply personal one, more focused on satisfying yourself than on making money. Satisfying community needs? Mentoring young people?
o How about education for the pure pleasure of learning? Linked to travel, perhaps?
o Is this the time to focus on your health, the way you never had time to, before?
- Remember the non-financial parts in Dr Ed Jacobson’s “life abundance portfolio” (https://donezra.com/lifes-abundance-is-not-just-about-money/): family and friends; work and play; physical health and mental (including spiritual) health. How would you rate your satisfaction under each of those six headings? Do your self-assessments suggest areas where it would be productive (meaning, where it would increase your happiness) if you did something differently?
- If one of the possibilities is actually a physical move to a new place, what about a dry run? Try out the new place on vacation before making the commitment. Make the dry run not just financial but also psychological, imagining that you have actually made a permanent move, to get the best chance of seeing if you can adapt happily.
- Perhaps you need a mentor, a friend, a companion, to share the journey? And when you do undertake the journey, you could use social media to share your plans and experiences, and learn from the experiences of others.
- Remember to focus on shared experiences, and on many small things rather than on one big thing – more happiness comes that way.
If you already have a passion for someone or something, that’s likely to be a focal point and a way of feeling a sense of fulfillment. What if you don’t? Is there a way to get to fulfillment regardless? Yes there is. It’s a sense of purpose, of achievement, that gets you there. And typically the purpose (even if you don’t realize it) is to live on in the minds of others, to be remembered happily after you’re gone. It’s answering the question “Who do you want to be?” rather than “What do you want to do?”
In turn, that suggests two possible paths:
- Your family. The closest thing you’ll ever have to physical immortality on this earth is your children. If succeeding generations have something to remember you for, and to remember you by, you’ll live on in their minds after you’ve departed. This is one reason why grandchildren are so important to us.
- Volunteering or mentoring. When you help others, you not only get enormous satisfaction from it, you also live on in their minds.
And finally, a reminder of some psychological angles to support you when things don’t go the way you hoped or anticipated:
- Don’t be scared when you fail, or when something takes an unexpected turn. Expect the occasional setback. You’ll learn from it, not only about the thing itself, but about yourself.
- Remember that the details of the proposed plan will inevitably give way to new ideas as you put the details into practice. That’s not failure in your plan, that’s the triumph of experience over your imperfect imagination.
- It takes time to adjust, to get used to the new land, to see which aspects you like. This isn’t a rush job – it’s building up to the autumn crescendo. Give it time to build.
- It’s also OK not to have a passion for anything. Again, it’s not a failure, it’s a success if you find contentment in a lifestyle that doesn’t have a dominant, driving force. How often have you heard that life is a journey rather than a destination? Enjoy the journey.
As you can guess, I intend to suggest more in future posts, with specific steps you can take. Meanwhile, I hope this helps. And ultimately it’s only your verdict that counts, as far as your happiness is concerned, nobody else’s.
When you leave full-time work behind, it’s both scary and an opportunity. But this is a transition you may have made before, and there are many ideas from the experience of others.
I have written about retirement planning before and some of that material also relates to topics or issues that are being discussed here. Where relevant I draw on material from three sources: The Retirement Plan Solution (co-authored with Bob Collie and Matt Smith, published by John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2009), my foreword to Someday Rich (by Timothy Noonan and Matt Smith, also published by Wiley, 2012), and my occasional column The Art of Investment in the FT Money supplement of The Financial Times, published in the UK. I am grateful to the other authors and to The Financial Times for permission to use the material here.