Rethinking Retirement  

Creating a New Identity

One of the biggest challenges reported by early retirees and applicable to people at any point within the second half of life is how to create a new identity. Many of us identify who we are by what we do for a living. We describe ourselves as accountants, lawyers, managers, engineers or something similar that reflects what we do for a living. But what happens when you retire, leave a job, or embark on a career change so that you're no longer doing what you identify yourself as?

Mid-life and beyond is a time when many people find the identities they've created for themselves in the first half of life no longer fit with their thoughts, attitudes and values. Those who struggle with this often report a sense of feeling lost. They don't recognize that it's their very sense of identity that's no longer matching up with their changing values and beliefs. They sense something is wrong or misplaced, but often have no idea what it is.

Dr. Patrick Williams and Dr. Lloyd Thomas, in their book, Total Life Coaching, suggest that what you believe about yourself defines who you are. Therefore creating a new identity involves three basic steps.

Step one - Conduct a thorough self-assessment to understand who you currently believe yourself to be. Start by writing down the answers to the following questions:

What are my strengths?
What are my weaknesses?
What are my values?
What motivates me?
What do I enjoy doing?
Am I in control of my fate? Why or why not?
What are my five best non-work related traits?
What character or physical traits am I particularly proud of?
What character or physical traits do I need to eliminate or improve?
Do I like myself? Why or why not?

Spend some time with this. Often just a free-form writing out of your thoughts and allowing your stream of consciousness to flow out as you write will bring additional insights.

Step two - Define who it is you want to be. Again, start by writing down the answers to the following questions, but make sure your goals are reasonable. If you, like me, are a five-foot nine-inch 44-year old, then playing in the NBA is probably not a reasonable goal. But also don't sell yourself short. If you're schoolteacher and want to become a doctor - or a doctor and want to become a schoolteacher - those a very reasonable things to do. If you want to lose weight - that's reasonable. If you want to become a 56-year-old supermodel, well….you get the point. Look beyond what you do to include the character traits that you would like to have that will eventually make up who you are.

What strengths or character traits would I like to have?
What weaknesses would I like to improve?
What personal values am I neglecting that I would like to live out more fully?
What conduct would I like to be known for?
What kind of personal and social relationships would I like to have?
What kind of spiritual relationship would I like to have?
What control of my life would I like to have?
What leisure activities would I like to have more of in my life?
What purpose or cause would I like to pursue further?
What is my optimal physical health profile?
What is my ideal mental acuity?

Again, spend some time with this. The goal is to create an ideal personal profile of what you want to strive to be that is reasonable, attainable and not tied completely to what you do for a living.

Step three - Compare the two and create an action plan with specific activities to move toward your ideal identity. If you want to be more appreciative, you might keep an "appreciation journal" to jot down all the things you are thankful for. If you want to lose weight, you might consider joining a gym or working with a fitness trainer. Review your ideal profile several times a day to keep that profile in the front of your mind and then look for opportunities throughout the day to purposefully guide your thoughts and actions toward what you want them to be.

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"Are you, or do you plan on, working in retirement?"

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