Five Key Ideas to Overcome Anxiety About Retirement

Napkin with a circle around comfort zone and an arrow illustrating getting out of your comfort zone

Welcome back to my two-part post about overcoming anxiety about retirement. If you missed Part One of this series, be sure to go back and read it to learn more about what retirement anxiety is. In this discussion, I will share some of our most powerful ideas about overcoming retirement anxiety. While most of us have been told to simply plan for our financial well-being in retirement, money alone does not make for a satisfying life experience, nor does it fully neutralize anxiety about retirement. Following are five key ideas (none of which are about money) to overcome retirement anxiety.

1: Think of Retirement as a Turning Point, Not an Outcome

While most thinking on the topic of retirement treats it like a final destination or a static condition, I can assure you that retirement is merely a turning point that leads you into a new world of opportunity. The word “retirement” itself is part of the problem (calling up synonyms like withdrawal, contraction and decline) but for motivated people, this inflection point is instead an opportunity for growth, expansion and new purpose. And here is where the concept of retirement feels wholly insufficient, as it fails to capture the richness of what can come next.

2: You Will Have to Leave Your Comfort Zone

At any given time, we all occupy a comfort zone, which is a context where we feel effective, confident, or even masterful. By the time retirement is on the horizon, we likely feel mighty comfortable in our professional roles. The idea of leaving that comfortable space and stepping into the unknown can be daunting indeed.

However, there is good news. Many studies confirm that moving out of our comfort zones can promote learning and growth, provided that we manage change in a manner that does not produce paralysis or panic. Because retirement affects nearly every aspect of life and requires leaving your comfort zone, planning in advance of this monumental change helps to leverage the positive aspects of change while avoiding the risks associated with the fear responses of “freeze, fight, or flight.”

In our experience, most people benefit from a gradual or tapered approach to winding down their career in parallel with building toward their future, preferably according to an intentional but flexible plan.

3: You Will Need to Reshape Aspects of Your Identity

Examine the question, “Who are you?” Notice that we all tend to define ourselves by the roles that we play in our lives, including the work or career roles that we play.

Humanist psychologists tell us that our self-concept is composed of our self-image (how we see ourselves), or self-esteem (how we feel about ourselves), and our self-ideal (the version of ourselves we’d most like to be). Because working life has provided a primary engine for productivity, accomplishment, and recognition, it has usually heavily shaped these core aspects of identity. Intense career professionals tend to conflate who they are with what they do and what they have achieved.

But even as these roles change or disappear with retirement, there is still an enduring “self” beneath those roles. As we consider moving beyond our professional roles, it is helpful to connect with the more enduring aspects of our identity – those that will continue on as we bridge into the future. Look for themes relating to purpose, process and aspiration. Often, these elements of identity can be traced back to our earlier experiences and can be leveraged to put shape around our future, but yet unknown, endeavors.

4: You Will Need to Reshape Your Relationship to Time

One of the most common concerns about leaving an intense career is “I’ll have too much time on my hands.” For nearly every day of working life, you have had too little time—you are always in a race against time, and there is never enough of it. Time scarcity has translated to time management, and as a result, you usually feel rushed (with too little time) or bored (with too much time).

Rather than experiencing time as an external force that happens to us, we can shift our perspective and engage with time as something we control. By emphasizing our presence, connection and attention to any given moment or activity, we can influence the way we experience time, shifting away from the feeling of time scarcity and into a condition of time sovereignty. With time sovereignty as your friend, it becomes possible to consider new ways to structure your days by considering what would be truly ideal. Without the structural assumptions imposed by working life, it becomes possible to design your perfect day, establishing rhythms around physical activity, social engagement, mental focus and reflection.

5: You Will Need to Embrace New Mindsets

A mindset is a belief system that guides the way people handle situations. Your mindset determines how you choose to be with the content of your life. For many, the mindsets that have made them successful professionals are not the most conducive to supporting change and growth.

As a successful professional, you are likely used to the long-standing practice of being a capable “reactor” to a steady flow of content. Problems, challenges and issues are generated nonstop at work. When that steady stream of content is no longer coming at you, you must leave the mindset of “reactor” and step into the mindset of “creator.” You will be the one creating your own life experience. You will determine how to structure your day and what content goes into it. While this can feel daunting at first, with practice, it becomes both enjoyable and energizing.

We also counsel our clients to embrace the mindset of “student” or “beginner” as they consider retirement. Usually accustomed to inhabiting the “expert” mindset, it can be uncomfortable to even consider trying something new that makes you feel incompetent. But instead of needing to feel competent out of the gate, instead see yourself as a “student” of this new endeavour. Now you are in learning mode, and a world of possibility opens up.

Overcome Anxiety About Retirement with Encoraco

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