Retirement — 16 April 2006
Is retirement a blessing or a curse?

The idea of retirement brings smiles to some people and frowns to others. What are the factors involved in the joyful anticipation or the dread of retirement?

Those who yearn to retire often cite different reasons for their anticipated freedom: unsuitable employment, job dissatisfaction, stagnation, burnout, or the opportunity to explore their passions.

Some people spend years in jobs that are unsuitable to their interests or talents. They may dislike the nature of the work, the structure, the supervisor, the process or the details of their day-to-day activities. Others find their work to be physically or emotionally draining as they age. For other people their work has become routine, uninteresting or boring. Once the challenge and stimulation have waned, the idea of leaving becomes most enticing.

Many people did not select their jobs as their ideal life’s work. They may have ended up in a well-paid position that affords them a lifestyle, but does not nourish their souls. These individuals live for the weekends and struggle through their weekdays. They perceive their work as a necessary evil to provide for their families, and their weekends as a period of parole from their daily drudgery.

There are those who love their work, have enjoyed their careers but reached a point of burnout. Saturation, fatigue, apathy and lack of energy inhibit them from revitalizing their skills for greater job satisfaction.

For many people retirement is not viewed as the escape from unhappiness, but as the opportunity to live the life of their choosing. They yearn to pursue their passions, which have been held at bay while they toiled to earn a living. They dream of exploring hobbies, traveling, practicing art, music, or delving into their spiritual, educational or cultural enhancement. Retirement is seen as the time of rejuvenated youth with freedom to do whatever one desires.

Those who dread the thought of retirement often cite their own reasons:
Love of work and job satisfaction, concerns about a change, self-esteem and identity issues, social connection losses, or fear of the future.

People who enjoy what they do and feel gratified by their careers often fail to conceive of other pursuits that will reward them equally. They may be identified with their occupation, title, routine, and derive great intellectual and emotional fulfillment from their work.

Many people cherish the familiar and fear the unknown. Retirement poses a new challenge of time structure, interest and pleasure, which eludes some retirement planners. They focus on the losses they will suffer in absence of their life’s work and feel inept at filling the void with new worthwhile visions.

Those who define themselves primarily by their careers, titles and work status may fear losing their identity. “If I am not the ‘Computer Expert’ or the ‘Fire Captain’ anymore, who am I?” they ask.

The social affiliation and emotional connection people develop with their peers is another compelling reason for some to stay employed. The work team serves as a very satisfying bonded group in which every person is uniquely valued and irreplaceable. Leaving the group feels like an inconceivable individual and team loss.

Dedicating oneself to work is for some people an all-consuming task to the exclusion of other pursuits. Fearing the unstructured time often causes these people to view retirement only as a prelude to physical deterioration and death. For them avoiding the rocking chair is a great incentive to continue their employment.

Whether one cherishes or dreads the idea of retirement is a very personal perception. It is also impacted by one’s individual nature. Certain personality styles fair better after retirement than do others. To get clearer about your choice, ask yourself:

• Am I a structured or adventurous person?
• Do I have dreams or yet unexplored passions?
• Is work my main source of self-esteem and could I change it?

• Is retirement or work a choice or a response to fears?
• Am I a person who can feel entertained and happy by myself, or do I need others for it?
• Would I be happy in changing work for pay and self-enhancement for being more helpful to others?
• Do I have social, spiritual or emotional convictions that have not yet been fully actualized?
• What gives meaning to my life now and what will do so in the future?
• When I tell myself the story of my life is it pleasing or incomplete?
• How would I like to be remembered?

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About Author

Offra Gerstein, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in clinical practice in Santa Cruz, California for over 25 years, and specializes in relationship issues for couples and individuals for improved quality of life. Her work includes: mate selection, marriage, long term relationships, gay and lesbian couples, work relationships, parenting issues, family interactions, friendships, and conflict resolutions. Offra has lectured extensively to various groups, conducted support groups for several organizations, and has been writing a weekly column "Relationship Matters" for the Santa Cruz Sentinel since 2001.

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