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Retirement PlanningFive Ways to Rediscover Your Identity During Retirement

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This article was reviewed by Jay Brecknell, CFP®.

Here’s the truth.

Transitioning to retirement—no matter how much you’ve been looking forward to it—is not easy. For most people, swapping suits for sweats is exciting for a couple of weeks, but when the novelty wears off and the “retirement honeymoon” is over, you’re left with a life that is completely unknown to you. The “Now what?” feeling takes over and uncertainty creeps in, replacing the thrill of freedom—but it doesn’t have to.

Studies have shown that retirement is hardest for people who work eight to twelve hours a day, are accustomed to a familiar schedule and rhythm, and interact with people daily. In other words, people who have had a routine for, in most cases, decades. Routines are proven to help manage stress, lead to better sleep, improve mental health, and positively affect mental sharpness—all things you’re going to want in retirement.

You might be thinking, “I’ve been dreaming about retirement for years! That’s not going to be me!” but the thing is, every major life change comes with unforeseen obstacles. One in three retirees report feelings of depression in the first year alone and 40% of people report feeling more stressed than they did before they retired. Why? Most commonly, a loss of identity and routine. The solution? Rediscovering yourself and building a full life in your golden years.

Transitioning to retirement will take time to figure out, but like we always say, retirement is a journey and to make the most of this exciting adventure, you need a plan. The timeline is up to you, but here are some ideas to get your retirement plan in motion. Have fun with it! It’s probably been a while since you’ve had this much time to tap into who you are, separate from what you do/did for a living.

Tip #1: Find Purpose

Want to thrive during retirement? You need to find a new purpose for your new phase of life. Thousands of studies have proven the health benefits, both cognitive and physical, of having a strong sense of purpose. From living a longer life and having a healthier heart to psychological resilience and increased life satisfaction, the benefits are both numerous and impactful. Many people find purpose through their careers, and in order to keep all the positive benefits having purpose brings as you transition into retirement, you need to find purpose anew.

When you open the door to retirement, time is waiting and available. 40+ hours have been returned to you – not to mention the extra hours you’re no longer thinking about work. That’s a lot of time available to find out exactly what makes you happy and how you can use your skills to contribute to the community in a way that matters to you.

IDEAS

  • Set goals that challenge and excite you, and commit to seeing them through
  • Donate your time or a skill you have
  • Explore the interests you’ve kept on the backburner
  • Take classes, online or in person
  • Build deeper relationships with grandchildren, family members, friends, or pets

Tip #2: Find Purpose

During your career, your brain was challenged on a daily basis. So, as you transition to retirement, it’s important to find things you love doing that also challenge your brain. It can be anything from learning new skills to participating in thoughtful conversation. Every new activity brings a benefit, it’s just important to put yourself out there and discover activities you enjoy doing that also make you think.

IDEAS

  • Learn to play an instrument
  • Join a senior’s sports team
  • Attend or audit a university class, online or in-person
  • Join a book club or library group

Tip #3: Make a Schedule

While you’re rediscovering yourself and adjusting to retired life, having a routine will help you manage the transition without stress. It can be as simple as having a standing coffee date each week, to something much more structured like a daily fitness class. The important thing is to provide meaning to your days so they don’t all feel the same. As we mentioned before, people thrive with routines and there are proven health benefits to having a schedule. To capitalize on this, you’re going to want to treat retirement less like a vacation and more like a staycation with a to-do list. 

IDEAS

  • Plan an activity for each day
  • Create a to-do list with DIY projects
  • Drop in on family and friends
  • Go to the gym or join group sessions
  • Join clubs or coffee groups

Tip #4: Volunteer

Whether it’s passing on skills honed in your professional life or volunteering for pure enjoyment, those who volunteer have larger social circles, report higher levels of happiness, and have a clear sense of purpose. Typically, when you retire, you engage in less social activity, but that doesn’t have to be the case. When you volunteer, you’re often exposed to many people with common interests which can strengthen your support network, increase self-confidence, and bring you and others a lot of joy.

IDEAS

  • Consider your interests and look for opportunities that match
  • Look for fun and fulfilling opportunities 
  • Determine how much time you want to commit
  • There are remote and on-site opportunities, figure out what works best for you
  • Think about your volunteering goals
  • Consider new possibilities and activities you’ve never done before: community theatres, museums, libraries, community centres, animal shelters, wildlife centres, sports organizations, conservation efforts, the list goes on!

Tip #5: Nurture Your Physical Health

When polled, people between 45 and 65 report varying degrees of concern regarding physical health during retirement, and studies show a 5-16% increase in difficulties associated with mobility and daily activities six years after complete retirement. Everything from what you eat and the supplements you take, to your activity levels and how much you sleep, impacts your overall health and day-to-day life. To get the most out of your retirement, it is key to avoid sedentary activities and to maintain a balanced diet so the days of taking trips and travelling, playing with your family, and seeing friends are many.

IDEAS

  • Regular exercise 
  • Time outside
  • Relaxation practices and meditation
  • Fitness classes
  • Walking
  • Cold plunging 
  • Take cooking classes
  • Meet with a dietician to learn about supplements

In Conclusion

Transitioning to retirement can be a challenging journey, especially for those accustomed to a structured routine and who have a defined identity through work. However, by embracing change and actively rediscovering your purpose and passions, retirement can become a fulfilling and enriching phase of life. By following these five tips—finding purpose, challenging your brain, making a schedule, volunteering, and nurturing your physical health—you can navigate the uncertainties of retirement with confidence and build a vibrant new chapter filled with meaning, connection, and personal growth. Embrace the opportunity to tap into your interests (new and old), contribute to your community, and prioritize your well-being, and you’ll discover that retirement can be a time of renewal and fulfillment.

Interested in Retirement Resources?

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