The Work of Retirement

Recently I’ve heard a number of folks talking (both live and on blogs) about “failing at retirement” and returning to work fulltime. While in some cases, these individuals discovered that they get a lot of personal satisfaction from their work, others in fact failed to replace full-time work with anything, and therefore defaulted to go back to work. And in some cases, that work is not fulfilling but just something to fill the days.

On the cover of my retirement journal was the Thoreau quote: “Go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Live the life you’ve imagined.”   A big part of my retirement journey has been to dream and figure out what I wanted my future to be.   Beyond having the finances in place, I had done very little envisioning of the future when I retired.   I don’t think I am alone!


Most folks will agree that a successful, fulfilling retirement is “doing what I want, when I want, and with whom I want”. What many fail to realize is, figuring out what makes a fulfilling retirement for you takes work.  Understanding your core values, strengths and interests take intense self-knowledge.   Knowing what you want to do versus what you should do takes self -reflection. Working through your grief (things lost from working life), fears, and bad habits takes effort. Knowing whom you want to spend time with and where you want to spend that time takes contemplation and conversation.

No one else can figure this out for you. Nobody else’s plan will be right for you. There is no perfect list of 5 Things To Do for a happy, satisfied retirement. You have to do the work – the self-reflection, the identification of your future dream path, the sorting of choices, the activation of your dream.

So my recommendation for anyone approaching retirement or recently entered into retirement: Take the time for introspection. Do the soul searching.   Create the life vision.   DO THE WORK!   You have to take the responsibility to do the work because your retirement path will be uniquely yours.


Tools that helped me:

  • Thinking through the 7 Life Domains (Work/Career, Relationship/Connections; Leisure/Hobby; Location/Lifestyle; Health & Wellbeing; Self-development/Volunteerism; Finances/Prosperity) and what I wanted each to look like.
  • Looking back at my whole life (in 5 year increments!) and remembering my accomplishments, my goals & dreams, things that made me happy.
  • Spending self-reflection time to understand which “benefits” of fulltime work I personally needed to replace – structure & time management; affinity & connectedness; identity & status; financial compensation; accomplishment & purpose?
  • Imaging five different futures via writing stories (creative writing class!).
  • Brainstorming a Life Possibilities List.
  • Creating a vision statement and then an action plan based on my values & interests.


Moving from a being workaholic to a living more relaxed way of life has been a big learning curve for me.   I am a beginner at living. I was an expert at working! I had mastery in knowing how to manage the work.   Yes, many days it was challenging and I needed to learn about new technical things or develop new skills. But I knew how to do it – the momentum of the day was familiar, if intense. In many ways it was second nature. Not anymore.   Day-to-day life is no longer routine; there is not yet a comfortable pattern. I’ve been at this for 2 years and I feel like I should have gotten the hang of it by now! But I am getting OK with being a beginner.

I am still experimenting with life strategies. Creating a fulfilling life for me means finding activities and interests that simulate the mind, connect me with others, and get me active.   Yes, there are days that I feel irrelevant, disconnected, restless, worthless.  Not everything works out. Not everyday is filled with mind-opening, soul-touching, physically-active activities/events.

So, I am continuing to work at retirement!  (Yes, I am a “work in progress.”) Someday I hope to become an expert at it!


Picture Credit: Pixabay

9 thoughts on “The Work of Retirement

  1. Your posts always give great food for thought, Pat. You’ve touched upon a big topic. Like Janis (at retirementallychallenged) has previously stated, the difficulty with the emotional side of retirement is that there is no rulebook and no secret handshake. This is one of the greatest things about the blogging community. We can all learn from each other.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ah, but wouldn’t a secret handshake be so cool? Seriously, I do learn from you… and Janis and Kathy and Lynn and too many others to mention! Sometimes you and others state my feelings better than I can myself. Thank you for continuing to share your own thoughts.


  2. Although I didn’t go through all the processes that you did (I’m definitely not a workaholic, and that looks like a lot of work 🙂 ), I did put together a vision statement before I retired and it is pinned to my bulletin board next to my computer. Your post prompted me to look at it again and I’m pleased that I am still growing in the direction I set for myself. I’ll never be an expert, and that’s OK.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I am so glad you’re growing in the direction of your vision statement. What an awesome feeling that must be! I read today that expertise is “innately having the knowledge to do things because you’ve become an experienced practitioner”. You innately had the knowledge to have a vision statement before you retired. It took me months (yeah, of working at it) to craft a vision statement.

      I think I was trying to talk more to the ones who feel like their retirement is not “working for them” to show that there is a way to “work through that”. Would’t it be better if I could figure out another word than “work”! Hah… the writer in me is about to go find her Thesaurus!


  3. Pat – be gentle with yourself for goodness sake! There no more imperatives other than those you create for yourself. There is just a list of someday/maybes that you can pursue as you see fit….or not. Unless you are constantly unhappy and discomfited, I don’t think you should even remotely feel that you are “failing” at retirement. If something no longer fits or no longer energizes you, kiss it goodbye and move on. There will be days when you are at loose ends, but they will be few. Good luck in becoming an expert at retirement!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. As I said to Janis above, I just saw a great definition of expertise. I like the term experienced practitioner. I’m gonna keep practicing until I get it right! Just signed up for 2 cooking classes…one of my someday things to pursue. And zip lining this weekend. Practicing adventure! Yes, there are days I feel at loose ends, but practicing on dealing with those as well.


  4. Brilliant read, thank you.
    We took early retirement and decided to travel. It is amazing but sometime we do miss the challenge and reward of work, the interaction with people, the motivation from others etc, so I can understand why people do go back go work. We spend at least 40 years of our life working, its a hard habit to break!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Old work habits are amazingly hard to break. Some I’ve learned I need to keep – they comfort me. I’m a list maker, a goal setter, and a planner. Without those “scheduling habits” I feel anxious and adrift. Others I continue to push to break – like delayed gratification. “All work, no play” was my habit, so breaking the some-day mentality and the frugality of not paying for the playful or frivolous things are two habits I am working on breaking. But like you, I can understand why people go back to work. But I’d hope it was by design (knowing why) and not by default (return to old habits just because).

      Liked by 1 person

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