Tell me about yourself?
Stop for a minute, and think about how you respond.
What’s the first thing that comes to mind? Do you discuss your job title, career path, or professional goals? Or do your answers gravitate more towards hobbies, interests, family, or other personal attributes?
If you find yourself answering this question with information about your job, employer, and day-to-day responsibilities in the workplace, then you likely have a strong identity tied to your work. You are a professional go-getter and whether or not you love every minute of your 9-5 daily grind, freeway commute, and banter around the water cooler, it provides you with a sense of meaning and purpose.
You’ve developed a routine. Every morning your alarm clock goes off, you drive the same familiar commute, you stop at the same coffee shop, you go to your workplace and interact with colleagues who you have strong relationships with, and you use the skills you’ve worked for years professionally developing. Your company, boss, colleagues, and clients depend on you.
But what happens when you retire? Overnight, the work relationships and responsibilities – both the positive and negative ones – disappear. For some, when this happens they lose their sense of identity. They find their lives filled with higher stress, depression, and anxiety and lower self-esteem. This isn’t true for everyone, but if you find yourself with a strong self-identity tied to your career, you might be at risk. How can you avoid this and ensure you truly enjoy your retirement? After all, you’ve worked hard for the past 30-40 years and deserve to be fully satisfied during your golden years. Here’s help!
The first step is to simply have an awareness that you have a strong self-identity tied to your work. If when asked about yourself, all of your answers relate to your career, then now is prime time to start cultivating other aspects of your identity outside of work. Develop hobbies, interests, and participate in regular activities outside of your career, because at some point, you will retire. You won’t have that job anymore, but just because you retire doesn’t mean you have to lose your sense of self. Now is the time to start building other aspects of your identity apart from your work.
Ensure you have a strong support network with relationships outside of work – and yes, this one takes time and energy on your part. Friendships don’t happen overnight. When you retire, you stop seeing the same people in the office and colleagues you’re surrounded with every day, and this might have a bigger impact than you’re aware of. Humans are social creatures by nature, so ensure you’ve developed strong friendships that extend beyond the 9-5. Your social identity impacts your personal identity, potentially providing you with more confidence and a better sense of self.
Make a gradual tradition to retirement, slowly working less hours so that you can acclimate to your new lifestyle. Rather than a 40-hour workweek, will your employer allow you to come in part time? Can you quit your job and consult on the side, still maintaining relationships with clients and working towards professional goals, while at the same time cutting your hours and controlling your own schedule? In the hours you free up by working less, spend more time building your personal identity and enjoying your favorite hobbies and activities.
Replace your daily work schedule with a regular volunteer schedule. Pick a cause or charity that you believe strongly about and aligns with your sense of self, and dedicate a few hours a week helping out. When you volunteer, suddenly people are counting on you, you have a purpose, goals, and a community you can connect with – much like while you were working. The added bonus is that you’re making a positive difference.
Retirement shouldn’t come as a shock, and once you have a stronger sense of self you can start to enjoy all of the free time you have.
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