Retirement: Identity Loss or Gain?

Retirement: Identity Loss or Gain?

You’ve had a successful career, professional accomplishments, recognition.  Perhaps your identity is your work.  How do you move from career success to retirement success?  How can you manage the loss of your work identity?


“What do You Do?”

In our culture, the first thing a person typically asks when you are introduced, is “what do you do?”.  We are identified, categorized, and valued by the type of work we do.  Got a professional designation?  Own your business? Another label.   It is easy to let our work take over our identity.  We’ve spent most of our lives working and developing our work skills.  As Dr. Wayne Dyer wisely said…

“We become what we think about all day long.”


Reframe or Regress

Retirement is an opportunity to reframe our identity from what we do, to who we are.  Dr. Johnson calls this work reorientation, his first of 15 factors for a successful retirement shared in this blog post.

“A self-definition built almost entirely on our work can hinder our growth in retirement.”

Those unable to redefine their identity are at great risk of falling into a lackluster retirement of withdrawal, apathy and non-involvement, states Dr. Johnson, founder of Retirement Options and leading expert on adult development and gerontology.


Turning Loss into Gain

Yep, I was one of ‘those’.  I self-identified through my work.  I was an engineer, had an Masters in Business, successful businesswoman – and all that went away the day we sold our business.  It felt liberating!  Society’s shackles were off.  I also felt the loss.

You can feel unimportant very quickly.  You are no longer of interest to the working set – you don’t “do” anything according to the narrow view of our work culture.  It can be a rude awakening, but it is an awakening.

Let go to grow.  When you let go of your old work identity, you are free to create your new identity, an identity that is truer to you.  This is fun!  It may take some time.  It’s a self-reflective exercise and you will likely begin to rekindle the kid in you.

The New You

Retirement gives you the time to reflect on the new you.  Likely, you’ve taken personality assessments in the past and perhaps there’s some insight in these.  A life or retirement coaching program may also help you uncover the true you.  Or simply think back to your youth and what sparked your interests before society’s opinions mattered.  Here is a good Ted Talk with tips on how to be a ‘self-expert’.

Get started!  Stir up those childhood dreams, and let the true you shine.  When you know who you really are, you will be able create a retirement that is unique to, and just right for you.  Stop calling yourself a retired ‘such and such’ and start the new you!  Isn’t it more interesting to ask “what are you thinking about” instead of “what do you do”?

Need some inspiration?  Find out how Dave, a former engineer, became a triathlete coach in this blog post.

Care to share?

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