Since publishing my book, Retirement Transition: An Innovation Approach (available on line at Amazon), I’ve gotten into a few conversations about working and retirement. Some have questioned, “If you’re working at all, are you really retired?” (Yes, you can be.) Others have stated, “Of course you should work at least part time, otherwise you’re not contributing (to society)”. (Oh dear, living up to other’s expectations!) One person told me he went back to work, in his same field with fewer projects, because he was bored. This work questioning/conversation leads me to revisit a topic I’ve written about before – working or not working in retirement.
For many, working in retirement can be a choice! For some people, working in retirement is a financial necessity, to supplement income. But for those who do not need the financial compensation, I think it’s important to understand why you feel you “need” to work. What needs will be met by continuing to work at this stage of your life?
Work provides 4 key benefits beyond financial compensation. Before assuming you need to work in retirement, first understand if you personally need these benefits as part of your retirement lifestyle. Then, determine if working, at a second career or any job, will provide those benefits or if they can be achieved via other activities. Working in retirement is a choice, not an expectation!
- Structure. Work provides structure in a number of ways, from defining daily routines (what time do you get up, when do you run errands), to understanding hierarchy, and defined roles. Often while working, we have ready-made calendars (“Tuesday is the budget meeting”, “Monday is my non-client day.”) and are handed our projects/tasks (they come with the job description). Retirement creates unstructured days; new routines will need to be formed and new projects/tasks need to be chosen. Some people need structure (an empty calendar makes them antsy) while others love unstructured days and deciding, “what will I do today?” Is a return to working the only/best way to achieve structure all its forms, if that is a strong need for you? Structure is a huge need for me but I have been able to address that need in other ways.
- Identity. Whether we like it or not, in our culture, identity equals your job. When asking, “What do you do?” upon meeting someone, you learn about his or her job – manager, teacher, engineer – or where they work. Hardly anyone will answer, at first, “I’m a runner” or “I’m a grandma” or “I take daily beach walks”. For many, it’s “I work, therefore I am” and “Without work, what am I“? When your job is gone, can a new identity emerge from your new interests? Maybe a hyphenated identity ala the millennial culture (I’m a blogger – foodie – mini-adventurer) will provide you a current sense of identity, or do you need the job “title”?
- Achievement. When we worked, we were productive. At least we felt that way! We put in our eight (or more) hours of the day; we checked off the meetings, hit the sales quotas, dealt with the checklist of patients/students, or hit project milestones. We had a sense of purpose or a sense of being useful. Work is what we understand for achievement/utility, what defines success, what is habitual; doing and being busy is our cultural norm. When work stops, there is often an unsettled feeling of needing to just do something. Is work the only way to feel a sense of accomplishment, productivity, or utility? How do you define success if not through work? Is there a way to be comfortable with being, and not doing?
- Connections. Since I was a workaholic, the bulk of my daily relationships and conversations where with my work colleagues. Overnight, they were gone. Yes, many will say, “we’ll keep in touch”, but in reality few of those relationships will survive your change of proximity and common ground. There are no longer daily connections for accountability partnering, devil’s advocating, mentoring, or cheerleading. Over time, the office politics will be about people and projects you don’t know. I know of many people who return to work part-time simply for restoring connectivity to others and having those casual conversations.
When considering working in retirement (and it is not about the need for monetary compensation), it’s important to understand what work at this stage will provide so you can choose the second career or part-time work that’s appropriate for you. If it’s about connections, then gig-consulting work at home is not the right fit. If it’s about achievement/utility, then a part-time job at the local Home Depot could be a fit.
Working might or might not be in your retirement lifestyle vision. Many things can deliver against these four needs – fitness programs with regular gym or class attendance, new hobbies that create new friendships, or personal goal setting strategies. But if working feels like the best thing for you, then work. Just don’t make the assumption that it’s the right choice for everyone!
Have you been challenged on your choice to work or not to work?
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