The key to a happy retirement? Finding yourself

How discovering a deeper, more authentic you could make a significant difference during your retirement years.

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Retirement is a significant milestone that can bring a mix of emotions. For some, it's a long-awaited freedom to pursue passions and dreams. However, for others, it can be a daunting transition marked by uncertainty and a loss of identity tied to a career. In this article, we’ll explore the importance of identity, particularly during the retirement phase, and how discovering a deeper, more authentic you could make a significant difference during your retirement years.

Retirement is not just a change in routine; it’s a transition in identity. Many individuals have built their sense of self around their careers, job titles and achievements. Some folks delay their retirement date for fear of not knowing who they are or what they’ll do.

Therefore, when the time comes to bid farewell to the workplace, they’re left questioning who they are beyond their professional roles. It’s crucial to recognize that retirement is a journey of self-discovery, where individuals are forced to confront the question: what makes me me?

While certain behaviours may feel like part of one's identity, they can be limiting and prevent people from fully embracing the opportunities and joys of retirement. Let's explore some examples:

The workaholic

People who define themselves solely by their work can become stagnant if they don’t find a purpose for their energy. One challenge is that some of them may have used work to escape their relationships at home.

The caregiver

If all you’re doing is taking care of others, you can neglect yourself and burn out. Giving to others should start with having personal boundaries and learning how and when to say no.

The control freak

If all you know is telling people what to do and when to do it, you’ll struggle with meaningful friendships and fail to experience an abundance during retirement. Learn to listen and be present.

The perfectionist

This is a miserable way to live because you can’t let go. Practise the 80% rule: get things done that are 80% good enough. After that, it’s diminishing returns.

The pessimist

You’re not a realist; you’re creating negative energy without solutions. Eliminate the glass-is-half-empty-or-half-full approach. Practise the neutral approach: that glass is at 50%.

The martyr

This is self-medicating because you’re not connecting in a healthy manner. Look to surround yourself with friends instead of people who will feel indebted to you.

The busy bee

Practise being productive instead of busy. Learn to prioritize your time instead of filling it.

The lone wolf

Radical independence is the other end of codependency. It’s a different way to medicate your pain from not connecting and having a lack of trust.

The materialist

Keeping up with the Joneses or being the richest person in the graveyard does not create happiness, just a lack of fulfillment with more toys and possessions.

The gossip

You don’t have friends; you have empty souls hanging around you who have neither an identity nor a purpose in life, and all of you feel empty, medicating a lack of connection.

At its core, identity is the essence of who we are, comprising traits, beliefs, values and experiences that shape our uniqueness based on universal principles. Our identities are often shaped by external factors, such as our jobs and societal expectations. However, true authenticity lies in being true to ourselves and shaping our lives based on a deep internal understanding.

As we transition into retirement, our identity determines our purpose. The fulfillment we experience stems from living out our purpose. These are the five core drivers of identity and purpose:

  • Connecting is our innate need to feel attached to our community.
  • Learning is our constant goal to educate ourselves, grow and change.
  • Authenticity is discovering our true and best selves.
  • Purpose is living in a way that supports our authentic self.
  • Happiness, joy and well-being are the ultimate goals we pursue, and when we don’t experience them it hurts, and when it hurts, we medicate with harmful behaviour.

Retirement can bring about new challenges and potential feelings of failure. It’s essential to prepare for this phase by discovering our true selves and beginning the healing process. We can find happiness and joy in retirement by replacing misapplied or dysfunctional behaviours with those that align with our authentic selves.

Here are three actionable steps you can employ now:

  • Develop a new skill that you’ve always wanted (such as learning to play guitar, to paint or a foreign language).
  • Repair or develop a relationship with a loved one.
  • Join a social, running or exercise club or group to meet new people.

Retirement is not just a time to stop working; it is an opportunity for self-discovery and embracing a new sense of identity and purpose. Retirees can develop a more authentic and fulfilling sense of self by recognizing and addressing dysfunctional patterns and behaviours. Embracing our true identity and purpose in retirement allows us to find happiness, joy and well-being in this new chapter of our lives.

This article was written by Richard P. Himmer, Ph.D. from Kiplinger and was legally licensed through the DiveMarketplace by Industry Dive. Please direct all licensing questions to

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