The Emotional Cost of Retirement

Retirement identityNeedless to say how you deal with closing that door from your work life actually defines you in a different way.  Every retirement book I had ever read was right . . . During our journey through life work shores up our identity, anchors our private and social life, defining us to the world.

All those years of our lives revolve around structure.  Structure we create or structure imposed because of job responsibilities and we had a place to go, people that reported to us.

For most of our working life we made our careers the primary focus. It is how we measured ourselves against others and obviously reflected individual self-image. When I retired I deeply felt less valued because I was no longer bringing in a paycheck.  A friend who retired 5 years before I did warned me about those feelings.  She said it was unnerving when she realized she was no longer” important” in the scope of things.

What I discovered is the best kept secret with today’s retirees: “Retirement is a huge challenge to those of us who have had years of validation through significant recognition and power”. After you close that work life door society no longer sees you as the person you were and all you have accomplished, an emotional challenge I had not ever considered.

Retirement also marks the loss of many clients and others in our everyday business life that we thought of as friends. Although some of the friendships grew to be more social outside the office activities, they were still based on my underlying business connections.  So when that business connection is no longer there, the friendships I had in essence taken for granted started to fade away.  It became more and more apparent and extremely difficult for me to face the fact that many had not been friends at all.  After so many years of having this extended support group it was painful but I understood that it was important for me to let go.

One of the issues I did not anticipate moving 1,600 miles from my friends, family, and business associates, was I had to set up a whole new social network. I thought it would be easy by joining groups around the Tucson area and getting involved in not-for-profit activities, and I have met some wonderful people. What I have not found, however, is that special connection that I miss so much in St. Louis. Barbara, my best friend of 25 years and I still talk several times a week, and she and her husband visit us in Tucson at least once a year. But she is still working, and her life is busy and very different from mine. That daily connection we had when I was still working and the ability to meet for a quick lunch or dink is something I took for granted. I miss the spontaneity of our relationship and everything we had in common.

Just as you I am not the same person I was last year. I feel as if I am growing and becoming the person I want to be. In our work life we have to endure constant change. So as we retire one would think that change would be a no brainer but it is usually not the case. Now, if I am not happy with yesterday, I try to focus on tomorrow, and how I have the ability to make the change that will make me happy.

W. Somerset Maugham wrote, “We are not the same persons this years as last; nor are those we love. It is a happy chance if we, changing, continue to love a changed person.” I am a changed person. I watch my husband very intently looking up golf scores on his cell phone, and I think, “He is a changed person too.” We both have changed, and are trying to embrace each other’s differences. It is a work in progress, but I also know that this is the key, making sure that the changes you make take you to the next step of happiness you so richly deserve.


  1. Yes, I am a changed person since retiring eleven years ago. so now I write. I introduce myself as ‘the almost-famous author.’ People ALWAYS laugh when I say this, so this brings me joy as well. My husband has to keep busy so we bought a motor home 4 years ago and have traveled to over 25 states. We just moved on a lake so he bought a boat. I embrace his whims because I enjoy them as much as he does. We’re quite a team. I have to say that I’ve enjoyed every moment of retirement, but I too am still a work in progress. Thank you for your interesting blog.

  2. I have been dragging my feet on committing to a retirement date–keep postponing it because of commitments to customers, but also because I am dreading being a retired worker since my identity has been so wrapped up in it for so many years. How do I make the leap??

    • Linda I so apologize for not seeing your questions to me back in March for goodness sake. It is a good question and one I get asked a great deal. It is wonderful that you have recognized that you are your position. As I write in my books I had not a clue who I was as a person and that I really needed to find a new purpose before I retired. I believe that you can begin easing yourself out that work life door in baby steps. I am an endless list maker and always have been. I wish, with all the lists I did make before I retired, I would have made a list about what to do about finding my new identity and purpose. I actually remember looking in the mirror 6 months after I retired and did not even recognize myself. I was still trying to be the “corporate me” when actually, she did not really exist anymore. Perhaps making a list of what may please you after you retire. Who you want to stay in touch with from your current social network and set up times and dates to do so? How do you build a new social network of other retirees who have like interests? Do you want to work part time at something else or even learn something new you can do? Not at all simple but I had not even thought of those things. Please feel free to reach out to me and stay in touch. I would love to hear how you are doing!

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