“What do you do?” After your name, it’s often one of the first questions you’re asked when meeting someone new.
Whether the question comes at work or at a friend’s BBQ, you can usually rest assured you’re being asked what you do for work, rather than whether you fashion yourself a batsman, bowler, or more of an all-rounder.
Given how tied our work can become to our identities over time, it’s important to think about what life might look like in retirement when that tie to work and all it entails is no longer there.
According to Harvard Business School Professor Teresa Amabile, who has been conducting a study on how people transition into retirement, the question of identity in retirement is a big one.
She told the Harvard Business School’s Working Knowledge that many retirees say they have to figure out who they are “in terms of always having been a really productive person”.
“They are achievement-oriented, and they enjoyed the sense of progress in their work, so they’re searching for something to replace that work identity,” she explained.
Finding that something, however, can prove difficult. In interviewing retirees, Professor Amabile found that while most feel a “blissful release” from the pressure of work after first retiring, the glow starts to wear off after a few weeks or months.
“Although most welcomed the freedom and flexibility, many retirees described unexpected feelings of being at loose ends, and it typically took from six months to two years (or more) for them to sort through their thoughts and feelings,” she explained,
“People varied considerably in whether they saw the open space of time before them as a blank canvas they were excited to paint—or a dark, scary void.”
This could be because, even though we dream of it for years, most of us don’t spend all that much time thinking about what the day to day of retirement is actually going to look like.
Sure, we may worry about how much money we need to save for it, but how we’re going to spend all that new-found free time is often an afterthought.
So how can you prepare?
There are a few ways.
Talk to your family about your plans – and theirs
One of the most important factors to consider about retirement is simply what life is going to look like when you now have the opportunity to spend all your time at home. While life at home may not be a complete mystery – it’s your home, after all – aspects of it will be.
For example, if you have family members who are usually at home while you’re at work, do you know what their routine is like? What kind of impact might your new-found 24/7 presence have on their day?
Take some time to think about how you’ll slot into the routines of those around you, and what it will be like for you to be at home around each other at times when you’re not used to. You may discover opportunities to take on new activities with your family or around the home that you haven’t been able to take on before because of your work schedule.
Invest in relationships
Given how long we spend at work, it’s no wonder colleagues can become close friends. In fact, studies have shown that having friends at work can help boost satisfaction and productivity; a 2016 survey found 75 percent of employees who have a best friend at work say they’re able to take anything on, compared to 58 percent of those who don’t.
But while work friends can help make life easier at the office and make us more productive, have you given any thought to what it will be like when you are no longer seeing them all day, every day?
If these friendships haven’t made it outside the office yet, consider how you might be able to expand them beyond the work environment so that, when retirement comes, you don’t lose the tie just because you’re not at work anymore. Perhaps you could start by setting up after-work drinks or a weekend BBQ, or find a movie that everyone’s keen to see.
Of course, you can also make new friends outside of work.
It might seem daunting at first, but you may find there are lots of ways to meet new people. Volunteering or taking up a group-based hobby or activity is a great way to meet new people, and these opportunities can be easy to find – local libraries often run a variety of activities, while councils also run events and activities for residents of all ages.
You could also look at opportunities closer to home. For example, have you ever properly introduced yourself to your neighbours, or stopped to chat to others at the dog park?
Find structure – and purpose
For some of us, work gives us a sense of purpose. For others, work is simply what we need to do to earn enough to pay the bills. But no matter which side of the spectrum you fall onto, work is, at the very least, something to do after waking up each day; it gives us structure and routine.
So it’s important to think about how you will structure your days in retirement – put simply, what are you going to spend your time doing? Of course, you may still have years of staff travel up your sleeve to enjoy, but do you have a plan for what you want to do when you’re at home?
As Professor Amabile’s study found, the “blissful release” many feel at the start of retirement wears off after a while, so it’s important to find things to do.
Whether it’s volunteering, starting a vegetable garden, or finally sitting down to write that memoir about all your travels during your Qantas career, take some time to explore different opportunities.