Rebuilding Your Identity After Retirement

Who are you?  It is a simple question but the answers can be complex .  Yet often when you are working you just use your job title as a proxy of an answer.  So for me the answer was: I’m an engineer.

Of course it is more complicated than that and when you look at all the roles you have in your life you start to get an idea of what your identity is.  For example, yes I’m an engineer but I’m also a father, a husband, an uncle, a son, a brother, a bibliophile, a brewer of wine and beer, a gamer (video, board and role playing games), an author, a blogger,  a friend, a life long learner, a cook, a volunteer and so on.  All of these things combined are your identity and each of them contribute to it.

Yet for a person entering retirement there is a big shift that occurs with your identity.  You have likely made your work-related identity one of your key roles that defines you and after you retire that role becomes less relevant.  And here is the trick of having a successful retirement: you need to build a new role of retiree and let your previous work role diminish.

In short this is why many retirees, men specifically, have issues with retirement.  We are more often heavily identified by our work role and when we lose that role we feel adrift without another role to help support us as we slowly build up the retiree role.  And when you are feeling a lose of identity you can feel worthless, be irritable, wonder about what you values and question who you are.  If you stay in this state for a period of time it is entirely possible to slide into feeling depressed.

I didn’t personally suffer too much with my identity when I retired as I have been slowly letting my role related to work diminish leading up to retirement for close to a year.   I even started introducing my self differently by saying I work as an engineer but I’m passionate about writing. That way when I left work for the last time I was already started on the process of letting go of my old work role and could then focus more on building up my other roles.

Related to that is why I often point out the need for a focus or passion hobby or interest in retirement.  You need to know what matters to you and do something that will make you feel needed.  That will help you build up that role into a more dominate part of your identify and contribute to you building out your retiree identity.  You should also consider leaning more on your other roles in your life as you make this transition for work role to retiree role.  So yes, spend more time with friends and your family (if you like them), help out in your community, and get more into your existing hobbies.  For example, find a club about one of your hobbies and join it (or at the very least try it out).

A note of caution.  This process can take a LONG time to complete and if you don’t know what you want to focus on in your retirement you might have a prolonged period of trying out various interests.  It can be easy to say to yourself: what’s the point?  After trying idea number five but don’t give in and keep trying as you will find something in the long run.  The answer might not be just one big thing but rather several smaller things together that works for you.  So perhaps your build your retiree identity with parts of being a brewer, writer and friend rather than just one dominate item.

So have you ever had issues with your identity for example during a career change or after a move?  If so, how did you get pass it?  Please share any other tips you have found that worked for you.

The New Groove

It’s been almost a year and a half since I left my job and just now I feel like I’m finally hitting my new groove to my life.

That might come as a bit of surprise to some people, but I would say honestly it really does take some time for you to adjust to your new retired life.  The reason is you tend to go through a series of phases when you retire.

The first is the most obviously: the initial high of being retired.  Let’s face it when you finally leave work after all that planning it feels fantastic.  Your walking on air and the world seems to be brighter and happier.  That phase can last anywhere from days to months or if your really lucky up to a year or so.  Then it wears off and while nothing has really changed you start to  think:is this all retirement is?

Ah welcome to being disillusioned.  The next phase of your retirement.  Here is where things start to go wrong and you often don’t know why.  I personally hit this phase in six months (as you can see here). It was a crappy place to be. You can feel unhappy,  anxious, lonely, and even in more severe cases outright depressed.  I personally never got that bad but yes I did hit a low spot there where I was seriously doubting my decision to retire early.  And yet oddly enough this phase of doubt doesn’t really get talked about all that much.  What causes it?  Basically you are missing things from your work life and you didn’t really understand how important they were for you life such as:  a structure to your days, work friends, a sense of contributing to something bigger than you, and even goals with feedback on how well you did on your goals.

Yet after that low point you have a choice.  You can give up and get a job again and return to something like your old life.  Or you can push forward to building your new retired life.  Here is where you start to make adjustments to your new life.  You can add new activities, more social interactions, and even more structure to your life.  You can search to do something you find meaningful and gives you a sense of progress on a goal.  And know this search might take some time but don’t give up on it.  Then finally after a time you will hit your new groove.

Which brings me back to where I started this post.  I finally have a bit of routine to my life that makes me happy.  I’m not bored or lonely.  I feel productive working on writing material for my book which matters to me.  I’ve finally built a new identity of the retiree not the worker without a job that I started at after I left work behind.

There is a long process to get to this point.  It doesn’t come easy and while it can take years to get to a new groove it is possible.  Just stay the course and give yourself some time.  After all, you are retired right?

So retirees, how long did it take you to find your new groove?

Jan 2019 – Net Worth

Welcome to my net worth posts where I try to prove to myself and you that I wasn’t crazy for leaving work in the fall of 2017 to start my early retirement.   A few important notes:  we are mortgage free and our goal is have our income/investment gains exceed our spending by 102% on a 12 month rolling average (the extra 2% is a buffer for inflation).

Investments

Accounts

RRSP $57,200
LIRA $17,290
TFSA $93,530
Pension $173,730
Wife’s RRSP $91,740
Wife’s TFSA $83,080
Wife’s Taxable $40,650
High Interest Savings Account $37,440

Investment Net Worth $594,650 ($20,480 increase over last month from investments)

Home Equity

Estimate $395,000

Income

To keep things simple I’m only going to track what income comes into our main ‘house’ chequing account.  I won’t be tracking my wife’s or my businesses income as those don’t really matter until the money moves over to the ‘house’ account.  Also I won’t track investment gains since that is covered above.

  • Wife’s Monthly Payment to House: $750
  • Child Tax: $340
  • Interest $28
  • Tim Insurance Rebate: $81
  • Total Income: $1199

Spending

Last Month $2008

My wife got a speeding ticket for $184. ;(  But otherwise this was a quiet month.

Results

Net Worth ~$989,650

This Month Investment Gains & Income/Spending Ratio = (20480+1199)/2008 = 10.7 (Target 1.02 or higher)

Feb 2018 to Jan 2019 Invest Gain & Income/Spending Ratio = (-28618+18310)/35286 =-0.29 (Target 1.02 or higher)

Commentary:

Well that was a nice rebound of a month for investments.  It nearly made up for the lose for Dec 2018, but not enough to turn my ratio back to positive but at least the numbers are a bit better.  Out of curiosity, I added up our total losses/gains since I left work and the overall total is only down just over $5000.  Which is fairly good for me not having a job since November 2017.

I’m just a bit tired of these big swings up and down in the stock markets.  I wouldn’t mind a few steady months of minor gains but I get the feeling as long as Trump is in office that won’t happen.  He opens his mouth and the markets flinch.  Sigh, oh well.

The good news is I’m coming up toward our traditionally quiet spending months of Feb and March so hopefully we can make some gains in our net worth regardless of external factors.

Any questions?

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A blog about early retirement and happiness