Retirement Stages

Unfortunately, for many of us disillusionment with retirement and therefore, life, can last years before we decide to take inventory of our situation and decide what we’re going to do when we grow up. For a sad few, the disillusionment stage can last the rest of our lives. That’s a real downer, folks. People who think their “golden years” aren’t golden have no one but themselves to blame. So, take stock! The willingness to take stock of our situation, options, wants and needs is the first step to recovering our retirement dream. Like the guy in the waiting room who was thinking of getting a part-time job, acknowledging that something’s gotta give moves you toward action. Back in 1935 when the retirement age was set by the government at age 65, it was a rarity, indeed, for most people to even live to that age. With longevity comes opportunity. Today, with more and more people living to be 100, the idea of sitting out 30 years of retirement in a rocker on the front porch should be enough to get you motivated to find a new hobby, career, volunteer activity or whatever floats your boat.

So, whether you’re already retired and wondering where your retirement dream went or you’re looking at retiring someday in the future, keep the Disillusionment Stage in mind. It may only last a day or two or it could be years. That’s up to you. Know that for most of us, it probably will come. But, also know, it is an opportunity to take stock, to reinvent yourself, to learn, to be, to give, to reach your potential in areas you may not have ever envisioned for yourself. But what happens before and after disillusionment? Well, in the past year Martin and I have experienced all the before and some of the after.

Pre-retirement, Stage 1, was filled with euphoria. We planned what we would do in retirement. Martin gave his notice at work. His employer threw a catered retirement bash. Bucket lists were made. Lists included all kinds of things we always wanted to do but never seemed to have the time for. Travel made it onto the list, an activity we never liked much before, so whatever made us think we’d like it in retirement, is anybody’s guess. After a work life of travel, travel, travel for both of us, we decided travel was, in reality, one of the last things we wanted to do. Little did we know, this was just the beginning of adjusting our retirement goals and outlook.

Initially, Stage 2, Retirement, aka the “honeymoon” took on a feeling of perpetual vacation as we motorcycled, hiked, gardened, bicycled, engaged in some artwork, sat on the screened porch reading in the warmth of sunny fall days. Winter arrived to a long trip to visit family for Christmas, a luxury we never enjoyed while we worked. That was followed by lazy mornings sipping lattes by the fire and staying in my jammies ’til noon as I took on the new hobby of knitting. Martin focused on training for a big bicycle race in late spring.

But disillusionment was seeping in. Spring arrived to six months of perpetual vacation giving way to a feeling of restlessness. A feeling of missing the challenge, the mind stimulation, the purpose afforded by the everyday grind of work. What!?! Miss the rat race? No. Not possible. And worse of all, we were getting on each others very last nerve. Our marriage, made in heaven, was being tested at every turn or so it seemed. We arrived at Stage 3, Disillusionment, not even realizing what it was or that it happened to most retirees. But, we did know, something had to give. So, once again, I trawled the web for answers. I’m here to tell you, there’s not a lot out there, not even on the so-called “senior” (I hate that word but that’s what we have) websites. However, in one Google search, I stumbled across Robert Atchley’s research into the stages or phases of retirement and voila!, a lot of things fell into place. For starters, we made a conscious decision to aim for Stage 4, Reorientation.

To me, Reorientation is a couple of things. First of all, you put on your designer cap and pull up all the creative muscle you can find on the right side of your brain and start designing a retirement lifestyle to put you smack in the middle of your happy place. Secondly, kiss the rat race goodbye. Let it go. Sever old ties, if necessary. You still need people in retirement. You still need human connection. You still need to network. But, staying in touch with the old gang still tethered to the work place can keep you tethered there as well. Keep the real friends. Let the rest go. And, give them permission to let you go.

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  1. Kathy – this is a terrific article. it is so well written and describes so perfectly the stages that most people go through. i think you may also have a calling as a writer! Good luck with whatever and wherever your retirement reorientation takes you.


  2. Glad I found this blog. Spent years planning the finance side of retirement. Never really gave much thought to the what do I do now side.
    Funny how they never mention that on the financial pages.
    So I’m 55, had to retire due to medical issues. Just qualified for SSDI.
    Money set, now what?? I’m working on the list of things around my house, but after a year, that will be done. Have 6 rental properties that fill up 10-20 hours a week. Have a 6 year old son!! Have 6 dogs. Going to have to have my neck fused soon.. with a possible six month recovery. I guess what I’m feeling is this uneasiness of not working. I’ve been working since I was 14. So I’m busy, have money, but still have this weird feeling going on inside of me. Anybody else feel like this?

  3. I am a 60 year old small business owner. Like Laurie I worked from an early age and my most recent week of work put in an excess 90 hrs for a 7 day period. My wife and I recently went to a trade conference. We stayed a few days extra expecting to relax. After the first day I was totally bored. The idea of spending my retirement watching tv struck fear in me.

    After a career of building businesses it is hard to think of doing anything else. I probably will continue to work until I can figure out what I want to retire to. Financially I could have retired at age 50, emotionally not sure if I will ever be able to. Be financially secure is a real benefit, I work because I enjoy it, not because I have to,

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