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Live Life Fully: Make retirement your Self-Discovery Channel

By Linda Arnold

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- "To wake up every morning and decide for yourself what to do with the day." That's one definition I've heard of freedom. It's also been used to describe retirement.

Some of you may be experiencing this right now. Others may be contemplating it. And, for many, it may seem like a long way off.

The whole concept has certainly changed over the years. These days lots of folks are opting for an "Act Two," or a type of semiretirement, rather than taking the full plunge. There's the whole issue of timing, of course. And the economic landscape.

What I want to focus on, though, is the sense of purpose or mission in life, which is important at any age but more so during retirement, when there is more discretionary time. It can be a rewarding time when you're able to devote more energy to your passions -- a phase I've coined as the Self-Discovery Channel.

On the other hand, it can be a time of uncertainty. Consider the case of Sue, as described by author and professor Nancy Schlossberg. As Sue thinks about retirement, she reports, "I know I'll be a retirement failure. I've been struggling with the 'afterlife' for about five years."

Sue mirrors a number of Baby Boomers who have often found meaning in their work, as reflected in a Psychology Today article. She's had a full life, working in a career she loves, raising two children and being part of a 35-year marriage. Missing from her life -- until now -- is that she's had no time to devote to her passions. She doesn't even know what those are. So, her fears revolve around losing her identity and having no purpose for this well-deserved period in her life. Schlossberg offers some advice.

Retirement tips

Rename it: Retirement is shifting gears -- leaving one major set of activities and moving toward new adventures -- with a little more rest along the way! How about "re-engagement"?

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

Discover your retirement path: Are you or do you want to be a:

  • Continuer -- Doing more of the same, but differently?
  • 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?

Get involved, stay involved: Think about what you've always wanted to do -- a suppressed desire, a regret. Then make it happen. This may take some inner listening because we've become so attuned as "human doings," rather than "human beings." It's there, though, even if buried way beneath the surface. 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."

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

Refocus your lens: 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 exercise, therapy or meditation? It's all about attitude.

Be patient: Transitions are processes, like taking a trip. You think about it, plan it and do it. Re-engagement is like that.

And then comes the period of figuring out who you are and how to "get a life." This is the exciting part. And it can also be scary. I'm reminded of an equation I learned at a seminar: Scary = Aliveness.

Keys to the PALACE

Awhile back I learned five qualities for a long and successful life. A study was done on centenarians, and it found common traits among those who were thriving beyond 100 years. I made up an acronym, PALACE, around the qualities so I could remember them: Positive attitude, Ability to deal with Loss, Active, Committed and Engaged.

So, now that you have the keys to the PALACE, you can look at not only surviving, but thriving, during your Act Two period of re-engagement. I can already see your remote control -- permanently tuned to the Self-Discovery Channel!

• • •

Thanks to all of you who have sent emails and notes about my recent column anniversary. It helps to know what resonates with you, and I'll have more news soon about those compilations of six years of columns you've requested. Here's to many more!

Linda Arnold, M.A., MBA, is a certified wellness instructor, counselor and chairwoman/CEO of The Arnold Agency, a marketing communications firm with offices in West Virginia, Montana and Washington, D.C. Reader comments are welcome and may be directed to Linda Arnold, The Arnold Agency, 117 Summers St., Charleston, WV 25301, or emailed to livelifefully@arnoldagency.com.


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