Retirement is your final opportunity to discover who you really are

by | Jan 27, 2020

We are all here for a purpose – and our lives have meaning, not just for us but for those close to us – yet, surprisingly, many of us feel disconnected to this idea and for them it doesn’t resonate at all.

As I’ve discovered in my life (I even wrote a book about it), crises are opportunities – and sometimes they are an opportunity to discover that very purpose.

What does this have to do with retirement? Well, retirement is a crisis, a turning point, and because it is a turning point, it means your life – and its purpose – may change. And change is not something that all of us welcome.

I recently came across a research study, published in June 2019 – headed by Harvard Business School Professor Teresa Amabile, who is herself semi-retired – about understanding retirement from listening to people’s stories.

The fascinating study took four years, using in-depth interviews with 120 professionals from three companies across the US. From it, I extracted that:

– People think that retirement is just a financial exercise

– Work is the main source of a meaningful existence

– Retirement requires identity bridging

Let’s look at each of these in more detail…

Four retired people having a crazy time

1 People think that retirement is just a financial exercise

The whole idea of retirement is an industrial-era concept that has mushroomed into a significant subset of the financial services industry. When originally devised, retirement was a way to remove workers whose efforts became inefficient because of old age, and replace them with younger recruits. The older workers would be given a gold-plated watch and a weekly pension, which was a fraction of their pay and they lasted about two years before they died.

Fast forward to 2020. When someone retires today, they are likely to live for another 20 years or more – and whatever money they have saved will seem to them to be insufficient.

So, before a retiree even starts on this transformative journey, they are saddled with an inner conflict that their savings will not allow them to fulfil the desires they harbour in their imagination.

Retirement is much more than a financial exercise. It is an opportunity to address psychological, spiritual, and relationship issues.


2 Work is the main source of a meaningful existence

What’s worse is that for a large segment of retirees the three ideas of no work, no commute and no stress is so appealing that they ignore the reality that without purpose, without passion, and without potential, a person soon enters the fog of aimlessness.

This is what philosopher James Allen cautioned is “a vice and such drifting must discontinue for him that would steer clear of catastrophe”.

The dictionary defines retirement as a withdrawal from active life, and a withdrawal from active life is the first stepping-stone to dying.

Nature dictates that if you’re not growing, you’re dying, so, if you want to live and continue growing, go ahead and retire from your current work, go on trips and adventures, long thought about, but then on your return, embark on a new venture, a new adventure, a new world of work, where because you love what you do, you won’t have to work another day. That takes planning and you don’t have to do it alone.

Two baby boomers exercising

3 Retirement requires identity bridging

Professor Amabile’s findings show that many retirees described unexpected feelings of being at loose ends, and it typically took them from six months to two years or more, for them to sort through their thoughts and feelings. The researchers found that many people maintain continuity between pre-retirement and post-retirement selves, by using ‘identity bridging’ strategies

There are a number of strategies, but the three that resonate are:

– Activating a latent identity is about discovering a passion that had become dormant due to the demands of work;

– Enacting a previous identity in a new way, such as re-purposing valuable skills in a new and different environment;

– Finding a new source or organisation for valued affirmation.

I would go even further and say that as you embark on retirement, this is an opportunity to break old habits, to renew the old you, so that you can allow new habits, the new you, to emerge. In so doing, you can create fresh energy and find a new lease of life.

Those of us who are retired or semi-retired are called to look again at what our purpose is in life. If we haven’t managed to do that yet, isn’t now the perfect opportunity? Isn’t it a wonderful chance we all now have to discover who we really are and ask ourselves: what new adventures do I wish to embark on?


Thank you for taking the time to read this article. If you’d like to learn more about my retirement coaching and consultant programs, visit my site at or contact me at [email protected].


George Jerjian
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