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.