Chuck Petch: Retirement can be a shock |

Chuck Petch: Retirement can be a shock

Rear view at senior grey haired loving caring family couple embracing relaxing at home together enjoying peaceful morning breakfast looking at window view thinking of future feeling calm nostalgic
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Boat cruises down the Seine, skiing in the Alps, motorhome or train tours across the states — we all dream about retirement and all the great things we can do that we’ve never had time for. If our health is good and finances allow, retirement can be a wonderful time of life. However, the transition from working life to retirement may present unexpected emotional challenges that you may not see coming.

For example, Robert left work on his retirement day feeling honored by his peers and excited about the future. But within a few days, he felt sadness, emotional heart pain, and a sense that something was missing in his life, a sense of loss. Robert didn’t know it yet, but after seeing a professional, he realized he was grieving for his job.

As you plan your retirement, if you have any inkling that you may experience emotional challenges like Robert, take some time to plan ahead to get support for your transition. You could face a form of grief over your career stemming from a number of unexpected losses:

1. Loss of routine

2. Loss of relationships

3. Loss of the sense of accomplishment

As we look at each of these losses, we’ll consider possible solutions to help you move beyond these issues, and at the end, we’ll look at some possible sources of support to help you get through the overall transition and into a happy retirement.

Retirement Challenges

1. Loss of Routine

Most of us look forward to throwing the alarm clock out the window when we retire. After all, retirement means no longer answering to the boss, no required arrival time, not even having a schedule. Get up in the morning when you naturally wake up. Have breakfast, lunch, and dinner when you want. Schedule your activities when you want. Total freedom, right?

Surprise! The first day of retirement, you wake up at your usual rising time and can’t get back to sleep. So much for sleeping in. Then at your usual breakfast, lunch, and dinner times, you stop whatever you’re enjoying because you’re hungry right on schedule. Even worse, maybe you feel a little seasick, like you’re out to sea but haven’t got your sea legs. Give it a few days, you think, and you’ll slowly unwind, but it doesn’t happen. You keep following the old schedule. What happened?

You’ve worked for perhaps 40 or 50 years on a schedule and with a structure that is now built into your brain. Tossing all that aside may not come easily. To phase into the change, you may want to temporarily create your own new schedule of activities similar to your old schedule and follow it for awhile to keep yourself on your routine. As time goes on, you can adjust your schedule to your liking but at least for the time being, you can adapt gradually by creating your own new routine.

2. Loss of Relationships

You can plan the most exciting activities, from adventures in the Outback to scaling Everest and everything in between, but at some point you realize, your work friends aren’t there, and you miss them, even people you didn’t know were friends. Even if you’re having a great time, you may develop a feeling of loss, loneliness, and thoughts of missing your friends. It may also be delayed, striking soon after you get home from your fantastic vacation.

You can solve this problem by a little advance work. Before you retire, let your friends know how much you value their friendship, and ask if you can plan some regular activities with them. If you used to golf together on Wednesday, go to lunch on Friday, go running or take a walk every day, don’t stop! You may not be able to continue daily activities, but schedule the same activities with your friends as often as you and they are able. You may still feel some loss, but you’ll be in touch with the friends you left behind.

3. Loss of a Sense of Accomplishment

You’ve spent years working with a team and getting things done together every day. You look to your peers, your customers, your bosses for a sense of purpose and knowing you’re building a successful enterprise together. Suddenly that’s not part of your life, and your self-esteem takes a nosedive. You fill your days with enjoyable activities, but you still feel like you’re not accomplishing anything.

This may be the toughest challenge. You’ll need to find some accomplishments in retirement that help you feel good about what you’re doing. Look for volunteer work, hobbies, group activities, and family activities to give you some of the same pleasure of knowing you can still do something valuable. Of course, there is also the danger of overscheduling yourself, so take it a step at a time, but helping others and doing what you enjoy can give you some of the same feelings of making a worthwhile difference.

Add it all up, and you could experience significant grief and a strong sense of loss when you leave your career behind. Your life has been defined by a job you no longer have, so you have to develop new strategies to make retired life satisfying and meaningful.

In addition to the earlier suggestions, there are some bigger steps you can take both before and during the transition to help you navigate the retirement waters.

Planning Ahead

Just as you’ve been planning financially for retirement, it’s also a good idea to plan for the emotional transition a month or two before you retire. Here are some things you can do to ease your way into the retirement you’ve dreamed of:

Seek out a counselor ahead of time through your company’s benefit program or through community resources, such as your local hospital or mental health organization.

Meet your counselor ahead of retirement to discuss any worries about retirement, and leave the option open to come back after retirement if you need help. If you can’t afford counseling, enlist a sympathetic friend or look for sliding scale counseling services.

Make an appointment with your doctor for about two weeks after retirement. This will give you an opportunity to ask if medication might help you through your transition. You can always cancel if all is well.

Line up the volunteer, hobby, or group activities you want to do in advance and try to put together a schedule so you can go straight from work into new activities.

Make plans with work friends to meet regularly and then follow through.

Dealing with Grief

Many retirees encounter grief during the transition into retirement. It’s a very common experience. With help and support you will get through this big change and start to feel better over time. However, get help as soon as you need it so that you don’t suffer needlessly or become seriously depressed. Your counselor can explain to you the stages of grief and help you work through them. Additionally, your doctor may be able to prescribe medication, if you need it, to help you cope with any out-of-control feelings. Finally, trust your friends, family, and new activity groups. Their support can be vital to helping you get past the challenges and start loving your new life of freedom.


The following resources can help you learn more and locate the support you need:


Understanding Grief And Mourning The Loss Of Your Work Life In Retirement​: he-loss-of-your-work-life-in-retirement/#7c2407a2592d

Planning on Retiring Soon? Be Prepared: Why Retirement Causes Grief​: ed-why-retirement-causes-grief

Dealing with Grief and Loss​:

Find a counselor: Psychology Today Find a Therapist search page:

Chuck Petch lives in Nevada City.

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