When we are working, we rarely question what things hold meaning in our lives.
That’s not just because we’re too busy or refuse to think about such things. It’s more a result of having found our identity. Work, family, friends, hobbies – all of these help define who and what we are.
But we find, time and again, that people start getting philosophical when they near retirement. Both men and women get a large part of their identity from what they do, so when that changes, it starts a series of questions. As I have discussed in previous columns, retirement can affect family, friends and hobbies too. This can create a bigger shift in one’s identity.
In setting goals for retirement, set aside a little time to look at what roles you currently play and what roles you will want to play as you embark on your “second life.” What activities seem important? How do you see yourself? What roles will fall away, which will stay and which will change with time?
You will likely find that many things about your life will change. But despite those changes, we tend to remain largely the same. Psychologists call it “continuity theory,” which is just a formal label for the fact that, over time, we tend to be very consistent in our habits, attitudes, beliefs and expectations. So even though our roles may change, we don’t.
Continuity theory should make us pause as we reflect on our plans for a second life. For example, one colleague mentioned that he planned on taking up painting in retirement since he would have the time to take lessons and paint. He may well do that. But whether he does or not will depend on how frequently he has done new things in the past! The more likely you are to pick up new things before retirement, the more likely you are to do so after.
This does not mean you shouldn’t bother trying new things. It simply means that knowing who you are will help you be happier in your second life.
These might seem like polar opposites in terms of advice: Think about all of these changes, and remember that you are not changing much at all. What kind of advice is that? But they are really not opposites at all. Continuity and change are present in every life transition.
Indeed, the contrasting forces of continuity and change play large roles in religion, art and spirituality. I won’t pretend to be an expert on those topics. Still, they all seem to be zeroing in on a basic truth: that both continuity and change are part of the human experience through all our stages of life.
What all of this means, in part, is that planning for retirement should not be all about hitting a number. It will be an opportunity to find further meaning in your life and rediscover who you are. Plan accordingly.
Read this article on Small Business Monthly here.