Nancy K. Schlossberg Nancy K. Schlossberg

As Sue considers retirement, she reported, "I know I will be a retirement failure. I've been struggling with the 'afterlife' for about five years; indeed, this is the most difficult 'transition' I have experienced, and it seems to be the case with many professional women of our ilk. We don't want to 'roll bandages.' What else is there?"

Sue lived through the death of an adult son and a grandson born with Cystic Fibrosis. So what makes retirement so challenging when she has met some of life's most difficult challenges? Sue reflects what many report. She has had a rich full life, working in a career she loves, raising two children, and being part of a forty-five year marriage. Missing from her life: no time for hobbies. Sue's fears revolve around losing her identity and having no purpose or mission in life.

Retirement Tips: Sue, and others like her, can be helped by listening to advice from those planning to retire and already retired.

Rename Retirement: The word retirement connotes retreating. We need a new word to reflect what actually occurs. Retirement is changing gears, leaving one major set of activities and moving toward new adventures and new paths.

Prepare for Surprise: Retirement is not one transition; it is a series of transitions. No matter how well you plan, there will be unexpected twists and turns. A newspaper writer was surprised at having to have emergency heart surgery a week after he retired; one woman, never married, met someone at the senior center and fell in love.

Identify Your Retirement Expectations: The contrast between some blue-collar workers living in a mobile home park and a retired CEO of a Fortune 100 company is instructive. Those living in the mobile park never expected to have two homes where the "girls can shop at the mall and the guys fish whenever they want." They were getting more than expected whereas the CEO's power began to diminish the moment he retired, to his dismay. He had expected to continue to be seen as a major player.

Discover Your Retirement Path: Are you, or do you want to be a:

  • Continuer: Doing more of the same, but different
  • Adventurer: Engaging in something new
  • Searcher: Looking for your niche
  • Easy Glider: Going with the flow
  • Involved Spectator: Caring and learning but no longer a key player
  • Retreater: Giving up


Think about what you always wanted to do, a suppressed passion, or a regret. Then try to make it happen. A car mechanic had always dreamed of playing the piano. He saved enough money so that when he retired he bought a piano, took lessons and is involved in what he now calls "the joy of his life." The activity itself is a matter of individual taste; getting into an activity is what counts.

Balance Your Psychological Portfolio: Look at your psychological assets before retirement and figure out ways to replace them or duplicate them. Your psychological portfolio has three major parts: your identity; your relationships with colleagues, partners, friends, neighbors; and your purpose or social capital gained from your work and community involvement.

Increase Your Retirement Coping Strategies: Handle retirement more creatively by practicing new coping strategies. If something about retirement is bothering you, ask yourself three questions: Can I change the problem? If not, can I change the way I see the problem? And, can I reduce my stress level through meditation, exercise, therapy? The bottom line: It's all about attitude, attitude, attitude.

Be Patient: Transitions are a process, not an event. Think of taking a trip: You prepare for the trip, you take the trip, and you remember the trip. During this period your reactions will change. Retirement is like that. You think about it, plan it, and then do it. And then comes the period of figuring out who you are and how to "get a life." It will take time, so, be patient, knowing that Today Is Not Forever.

Your Retirement Quiz: You will pass retirement if you can…

  1. Rename retirement as a positive
  2. Understand that it will be full of surprises, both good and bad
  3. Be realistic about your expectations
  4. Decide which path(s) to follow
  5. Get involved
  6. Strengthen your Psychological Portfolio, meaning your Identity, Relationships, & Purpose
  7. Use multiple coping strategies
  8. Give it time
  9. Remember, you can pass retirement

Blog reposted from Dr. Schlossberg’s Psychology Today blog series Transitions Through Life. Dr. Schlossberg also co-authored the Springer Publishing Company title: Counseling Adults in Transition, Fourth Edition: Linking Schlossberg’s Theory With Practice in a Diverse World.