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The Big Retirement Question: What Now?

Retirement can be a strange thing. Many of us eagerly look forward to it, expecting that it will be a time of freedom and new possibilities. But many recently retired women find themselves yearning, on some level, for what they've left behind.

Now, they may not want all their old responsibilities back, mind you. But in stepping away from a career, many women find that they've lost more than a job.They've lost a community of colleagues. They've left the structure of the workday, work week, work year. More broadly, they've left behind an identity—the professional role that they had filled for years. And they typically have left behind an income, which cannot help but trigger conscious or unconscious financial anxiety.

The depth of and breadth of the retirement transition very often takes women by surprise. A huge and intimidating question begins to loom: "What now?"

Understandably, many retired women seek to escape feelings of disorientation and discomfort by busying themselves. For a time, this can keep our more unpleasant feelings and fears at bay. But the true way forward requires less movement and more stillness.

Acknowledging our loss and our fears, allowing ourselves to feel them, allows us to transition in a healthy way. Having the support of friends and professionals can be a great help as we make this necessary passage.

The idea of becoming a new you—replacing the purpose and structure that our careers once provided—can seem like an overwhelming challenge. Where on earth does one start? Through helping clients with their retirement transitions over the years, I've learned that the path forward is usually already there, inside us. Finding it is just a matter of being still and listening.

One way that retired women can identify their path forward is to turn their attention toward identifying their passions. At some point in each of our lives, maybe as a child or maybe even right now, we've all discovered something we're passionate about, something that energizes us, a place where we can be our truest selves.

Too often, outside influences—or more often, our internal censor—has steered us away from these passions. They're impractical or silly, we may have told ourselves. Well guess what? In retirement, the way forward lies in sending your inner critic into retirement! Giving yourself permission to explore possibilities openly can itself be a liberating and rewarding experience. And it can be the first step to a new life of joy and fulfillment.

Do you have to identify and create the new you all at once? The answer is that you shouldn't and you can't. It's not realistic. In truth, "What now?" is not really a fair question: It's too big. The authentic path forward unfolds one step at a time, and as I've learned, the journey is often better than you could have imagined.

Questions about the retirement transition? I invite you to reach out to me at anytime.

Written by Robin Young, CFP.

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