Dr. Val Farmer
Rural Mental Health & Family Relationships

Retirement: An Ending And A New Beginning

October 18, 2004

"You only grow by coming to the end of something and by beginning something else," - John Irving in "'The World According to Garp."

There are many distinct transitions in life where we depart from the familiar and embark on a new course. Some of these transitions are of our own choosing and others are imposed upon us. Regardless of the cause and with hindsight, we can usually agree with Irving's statement - new beginnings do bring growth.

Among life's transitions, retirement stands out as a radical departure, a major opportunity to shift goals and priorities away from the sustaining obligations of the past to the self-selected obligations of the future. Unfortunately, many people see this transition as moving from a life of work to a life of leisure.

Retirement means work. Pleasure is sought in exotic places and warm climates. Retirement is seen as freedom from responsibility and duty. In courting boredom and chasing sunshine, many people fail to realize that pleasure is a by-product of doing what is worth doing. Even sunshine burns if we get too much.

Voltaire observed, "Not to be occupied and not to exist amount to the same thing. The further I advance in age, the more I find work necessary."

Retirement can be viewed as moving from one type of work to another, the

end of one career and the beginning of a new one. What is work? It is sustained effort toward a worthwhile goal. Work is not just paid employment. It describes efforts we make in order to accomplish a desired result.

The problem with failure to plan for retirement is that people haven’t thought through what else would be interesting and exciting to do beyond their profession or occupation they are retiring from. Again, retirement is moving from one form of work to another.

New dreams are necessary. The most compelling reason for retirement is the opportunity to act on new dreams or to dust off some old ones.

There is a wise saying, "We only grow old when we outlive our dreams." Likewise, "When old dreams, new ones take their place. God pity the one dream person."

New beginnings take courage, the courage to set meaningful goals and to sustain activity towards their accomplishment. Goals present us with problems and obstacles. Problems force us into a greater vision for our lives, cultivate our creative potential and develop new strengths. Some of our greatest growth can take place when we have the greatest freedom and the most experience - retirement.

The time to prepare is now. If we find ourselves resisting retirement, it is likely we haven’t imagined what else we would like to do with our lives. A full and rich retirement doesn't happen by accident. Preparation for retirement should involve a broad and balanced lifestyle with many interests.

It happens because people understand the value of using their leisure time well, cultivating their talents and interests, and by finding ways to serve others. When people cultivate new hobbies, interests and talents, they become excited about what they can do with their time. Otherwise, retirement is seen as merely a relief but not a challenge or opportunity. The shock of going from something to nothing takes the life out of living.

People who do well in retirement live a balanced lifestyle and have a full agenda of things they want to do. The noblest of goals is service to others. The daily routine of former employment may have limited the opportunities for service to others. Retirement is a wonderful time when people can experiment with love - to care for neighbors, grandchildren, and for community service. There’s time for a noble cause - any noble cause.

Retirement is also a time to play. The capacity to play is an important ingredient in preparing us for the day when, in retirement, our life's work is a mixture of work and play. When work is something you love, it is play.

Retirement can be a carefree time. By picking and choosing our own goals, we manage our stress. Daily duties have been set aside. There is more freedom to try new things, to travel, to attend events, to visit family and friends. It is a time to play with the grandchildren. It is a time when a couple can be more playful with each other and find exciting things to do.

By incorporating play and leisure in your lives now, you will know how to play later.

Couples need to prepare together. If one partner has a vision of retirement that is full of new activities and goals and the other one hasn’t prepared for a new life, then there will be conflict and frustration.

My wife and I have started to talk about retirement in a few years. She is preparing herself. I am the one who needs to focus. We are discussing future goals and figuring out how to mesh our lives and anticipate our needs. Retirement plans have to meet both our needs so that the rest of the journey of our life together can be as joyful as it can be.