Retirement Transitions and Symbols

Perhaps it was odd, but never the less, the other day I was considering some of my major transitions in my life.  The reason was very simple in some respects I wanted to consider how things had changed and how well did I adapt to that change in order to prepare myself a bit better for when I actually quit my day job.

What I realized in a lot of cases in life we mark notable events and transitions with symbols and/or ceremonies.  When I finished my engineering degree I got a ring and attended a little ceremony.  So to this day, a lot of people know what I do for a living by looking at my right hand pinky finger.  Or when you get married you often have a ceremony with family and friends and you also get a ring.  Somewhat ironically I got both of my rings in the same year.  Thus the rings are reminders of part of my identity they tell me and often anyone who looks at my hands that I’m married and an engineer.

Another transition that can happen is when you become a parent, while I didn’t get a ring for that we did receive numerous cards saying congratulations and a fair number of gifts.  Some of the gifts were also more mementos rather than practical gifts which we can keep to again remind us of this fundamental change to our lives of becoming parents and forge another part of my identity.

Yet when it comes to retirement, there often isn’t much for a symbol or ceremony involved anymore.  In days past there used to be a bit of formally around leaving a workplace to enter retirement.  Often there was a gift (ironically it was often watch – when of course you no longer need to look at a clock so much) and a short little speech by your boss during a lunch with some co-workers.  It wasn’t much, but it did mark the end of one phase of your life and moving to another.

Today, while often there is still some kind of gift involved it may not be anything in particularly symbolic.  Some companies will even let you pick out something up to a set dollar value from a catalogue and you may or may not have any particular party at work.  Yet for the early retiree things get even more unclear as most corporate polices won’t even cover that situation and for those doing it on the stealth side of not telling anyone you won’t have anything goodbye gift or party at all.

But it’s just a watch or something, do you really need to get something or have a party to mark the occasion?  Logically speaking no you don’t need a gift or party.  Emotionally speaking, I HIGHLY recommend you do get yourself a gift and throw a little party for yourself.  Pardon, did a personal finance blogger just tell me spending money on a party was a good idea? Yes, freaky I know. 😉

You have to consider that there are really two parts to your mind at play here: the conscious and subconscious mind.  The conscious mind can be reasoned with, you can think about your plans and make the transition in a completely logically fashion and think you are fine with everything.  Until your subconscious hits you with all your repressed emotional content and you have nightmares for a month after you leave work and break out in tears for no good reason one day.  The good news about the subconscious is it responses well to symbols.  Thus it is entirely possible to help your subconscious process everything by having a nice little ceremony with symbols about your transition.  What those symbols should be will be a personal thing: you could burn something you took to work each day or toss it in the trash or bury it in the yard.  Or get something new to remind yourself of your big change to your life.

You have to recall that retirement is a major life transition.  Even for me moving to a semi-retired state is a bloody big shift in my lifestyle and I’m going to be going through a lot of emotions as I adjust to live without a full time job.  You may logically understand it, but you may not emotionally be ready for it.  So having a little reminder as a gift and ceremony can help you emotionally process what is happening and make the shift just a bit easier.

In my case, I’m not expecting anything from my workplace as a gift or even a going away lunch.  If it happens, well great, but I’m taking things into my own hands.  For my gift, I’ll be honest and state I’ve already been thinking about this for a while.  I’ve decide on getting a ring.  I certainly don’t need it but given the importance of some of the other rings in my life the idea just felt right.  Then I started looking online at various designs to get an idea of what I may want and by happenstance I found one on Amazon of all places.  I saw it and it instantly reminded me of a quote from Neil Gaiman

“Fairy tales are more than true: not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be beaten.”

Early retirement is like beating a dragon; it seems like an impossible task until you have done it. Getting there is worth celebrating and reminding yourself that just because 99% of people won’t do it doesn’t mean it is impossible.  Rather it is just an unusual feat.

My new retirement ring that I’ve already ordered and it arrived, it’s not very expensive, but it does have a sort of Celtic knot work dragon on it. See below for a picture (the middle one).  Also the ring which is made of tungsten  should go rather well with my current rings which are stainless steel (engineering on the right) and white gold (wedding on the left).  As to the ceremony bit, I’m not done planning that out yet, but I will let you know when I figure it out.


The Three Rings of Tim
The Three Rings of Tim

So would you get yourself a retirement gift and/or do a retirement ceremony or not bother?

10 thoughts on “Retirement Transitions and Symbols”

  1. As a married Canadian engineer myself – the obvious question now is – what FINGER will the new ring go on? And will you give up the engineering ring?

  2. @Jay – Oh good questions. The new ring will be going on my pointing finger on my left hand, which is why it is bigger than my other ones. I only plan to wear it after I leave work.

    I don’t plan to give up the engineering ring in the short term. I’m planning on keeping my professional status for the first few years as a hedge in the event I get things horribly wrong and need to go back to engineering work. Which by the way, isn’t plan B…more like plan M.

  3. The office gave me a small party with cake. I gave myself triple monitors and an expensive steering wheel for playing racing games on the computer. My wife gave me the freedom to enjoy the gifts.

  4. As a fellow canadian engineer, I also had the opportunity for the ring ceremony but decided to not go! I’ve never been into jewelry. I like the idea of upgrading the home office as a gift to myself. Triple monitors sounds cool!

  5. I actually rejected a luncheon my coworkers wanted to do for me on my last day of work back in 2008. I just about never attended the final-day luncheons for others so I had no interest in one for myself. Instead, my best friend/coworker took me out to lunch at our favorite diner. My coworkers did gather around my desk for a few minutes later that afternoon and gave me in cash the money they were going to spend for my luncheon (about $160).

    When it came time for me to leave at the end of the day, I left with no fanfare, which was fine. I turned in my ID card to the guard’s station downstairs in the lobby and went on my way.

    As for the transition I had to make, it was a bigger one when I switched from working FT to PT back in 2001. It changed my whole schedule, from being able to do my errands on weekdays to doing some volunteer work to doing some weekday evening stuff. Going from working PT to not at all really wasn’t a big change other than being able to slightly expand on what I had already been doing for 7 years.

  6. I’m a newly retired, married Canadian engineer, so I have the 2 rings as well. However I don’t want to wear a 3rd ring. My coworkers of 30 years had a retirement party for me. I asked that they a donation be made to the local hospital in lieu of a gift. The retirement party was great – there aren’t many times in your life where you’re the guest of honour at a party where people say nice (mainly 🙂 ) while your still alive.

    My wife and I are off to Italy for a few weeks to round out the retirement celebration.

  7. @John – See my reply in the more recent post. Sorry for the delay on getting back to your question.

    Everyone else – Nice, thanks for sharing what you did. I like some of the ideas myself.

  8. Hi Tim,
    I gave my employer notice on Feb 24th and decided to stay on until March 31st to complete outstanding projects and not leave my colleagues hanging. I am currently 48 and retiring financially independent. Like you, I’ve been thinking about doing/buying something special for myself to commemorate my early retirement. I currently have zero tattoos but something is telling me that a tattoo that constantly reminds me of the accomplishment I achieved while exciting me about the adventure ahead is the way to go. It’s still under consideration… 10 days and counting!


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