So last week I started this mini-series to talk about how to retire well.
In that post, I talked about the first of three important truths I’ve come to embrace:
If we don’t want to suffer retirement “culture shock”, we must develop a retirement plan that “has legs” (do check out that post for what I mean).
Today I want to talk about the second important truth I’ve come to see as indispensable for a great swan song when we retire.
Self-worth and identity when you retire
Truth #2 is simply this: If we always tie our sense of self-worth and identity to our work, we’re in for a rude awakening when that work’s gone!
And you bet it will be.
When you retire.
But before I dive into that, let me just say right now that I totally get it. In this world we live in, it’s hard to divorce our sense of who we are from what we do. When you spend practically all of your waking hours grinding and toiling at your chosen craft to make a living, how could that not occupy your very essence and identity?
I mean, let’s face it. Every conversation struck up with a stranger will inevitably begin first with the question: “What’s your name?”, followed by “What do you do?”.
So we’re already pre-disposed from time immemorial to identify ourselves by our given name and our job.
All the more if that job is a highly prestigious one (think doctor, lawyer, CEO, etc — the usual suspects). And to top it off, you’ve been at it for like, well, forever!
Then obviously when you retire, voluntarily or otherwise, you’re still going to answer that question from that stranger in the same way; this time preceded maybe by words like “ex-” or “former.”
Of course if we clearly have more than our fair share of grey hair on our heads (assuming there’s still hair!), no one’s gonna bat an eyelid if we introduce ourselves as a retiree.
Still, I’ll bet my bottom dollar we wouldn’t willingly offer up that “retiree tag” as our identification badge without immediately following that up with what we did before the wrinkles set in!
But what does that say about us? Where do we place our identity?
Identity “misplaced” => No “viable” retirement plan
Can I be brutally honest?
We need to get over this because here’s the ultimate truth: We’re more than our job description!
Let me say that again: We’re more than our job description!!
One more time: We’re more than our job description!!!
There was a pivotal scene in the excellent film Good Will Hunting (1997), where Robin William’s psychiatrist character Sean confronts title character Will about his past, one tortured by memories of his abusive foster father. Will Hunting was played by a-then impossibly young Matt Damon (incidentally, we’re the same age!).
In that emotional dam-breaking moment, Sean repeated to Will the line “It’s not your fault” at least seven times before Will finally broke down.
So I’m kinda channeling Sean here.
Because I firmly believe many of us know this ultimate truth in our heads (we’re more than our job description). Like Will, we may even reply with the same: “I know“, maybe even adding an eye roll in derision at such an obvious truth.
Yet, were I to be as undeterred as Sean, repeating the above ultimate truth several more times, chances are we might be less certain about ourselves.
For I suspect this ultimate truth may be lodged in all our heads, but not really in all our hearts. We still live our lives as though our day jobs define us.
Consider this the next time you…
…check your office email on a Saturday night.
…linger over a work project 30 minutes pass knock-off time.
…respond to office messages on WhatsApp while dining out with your family.
…fill your weekly schedules with more client appointments than play dates with your kids.
And then look yourself in the mirror and tell yourself you’ve not misplaced your identity. And that you don’t need a major overhaul to your sense of worth and value.
Let’s own up and take steps. Now!
Cos you can call it whatever name you want, justify it however you wish.
But if that job, that work, that career occupies that much mind space and consciousness in your life, then take it from me, you are not going to have a “viable” plan to retire when the time comes. A plan that’s got nothing to do with your work, and everything to do with you.
And here’s me reminding you once again, retirement will come whether you like it or not!
So if you’re more convinced now this is one rude awakening you wish to avoid, please take steps right away to re-evaluate your life choices and who you see yourself to be well before it’s time to retire.
The time is now to start taking a long hard look at who you are, who you wanna be and how gracefully (or not) you wish to enter the twilight years ahead.
And the best way to do it is to gradually replace your focus on your work with your focus on yourself outside of it.
Start by asking yourself what you’ve always wanted to do if money wasn’t an issue? Then ask yourself if that thing has potential for perpetuity (again, do check out the first post I did on this mini-series); if it has just the right amount of variety and appeal to hold your interest for the long haul.
For me, as long as my eyes, ears and fingers are still in good condition, I hope to be…
…reading (all kinds of articles, blogs, books);
…watching (all genres of movies, documentaries and binge-able streaming series);
…listening (to all manner of podcasts, audiobooks); and
…writing/typing (commentaries, essays and of course blog posts)
for as long as I can.
And if they are good enough, I will bequeath my writings to my sons or even cyberspace. You know, for netizens to stumble upon and maybe find a shiny gem or two that catches their eyes (and maybe also their hearts).
I’m kinda doing that already, aren’t I?
This is me. Writing. In cyberspace.
Retirement plan in action.
So, what about you?