Commitment and Courage: Why Retirement Is Like Learning to Fly on a Trapeze

girl trapeze

I have a vivid memory about learning how to fly on a trapeze. We took a family vacation when my oldest daughter, Maddy, was still very young. The resort had a variety of family activities including the trapeze. It looked scary and fun at the same time! Climbing up that tall ladder and reaching out for the trapeze looked incredibly dangerous, followed by the exhilaration of flying through space. My daughter was reluctant to try, so I made a commitment to fly on the trapeze to show her it could be done and help her to make the same courageous leap someday. The climb up the ladder was nerve-wracking, even with a full safety harness on, then I jumped into space hanging from the trapeze. It was a big accomplishment to be courageous while getting on the trapeze and the joy of flying through the air was amazing! I still remember the breathless rush of being back on the ground and looking up at the top of the ladder with a smile of success. Although I’m proud to have flown o n the trapeze, courage was the most important part of the experience because it empowers you to keep going in the face of adversity.

Back home and with my feet on the ground, I often work with people who struggle with the discomfort of being newly retired. They didn’t give enough thought to what their life would be like when they left their career and they now feel like they didn’t quite leap into retirement as gracefully as they were hoping. Everyone has different areas of retirement that can be a bigger struggle. The challenges might be associated with identity, relationships, finding new ways to fill time, or maintaining frequent social interaction. Whatever the struggle, we believe that, just like conquering the flying trapeze, commitment and courage are paramount to helping ease the discomfort of transitioning to retirement.

Who Am I Now?

Most people have spent much of their adult life identifying as two things: they identify with what they did for work and as a parent or spouse or both. By the time people reach retirement age, their children have flown the coop (hopefully) and they are about to leave what might be the strongest connection to their personal identity—their job.

In order to cope with this adjustment, people need to work to discover what a new identity might look like. Getting an “identity makeover” can be challenging, but start at the beginning and it can be an extremely valuable exercise. First, consider the other things in life that bring a sense of being useful and independent. For some it might be having a more active role as a grandparent, or being a more attentive partner, becoming a mentor, or participating more in your community or local government. Taking the time to think about a new “retirement identity” will help ease the adjustment process to the big changes and help them begin to enjoy time and freedom.

I Love You, but…

Retirement can bring challenges to any marriage or relationship due to increased time together, difference in activity preference, tendency to transfer work behavior to home behavior, and the emotional rollercoaster one or both of you might be going through because of this big change.

I recommend that couples communicate well in advance of the actual retirement date to set some ground rules and make some plans. We have many clients who are very happy in their marriages after retirement and most, if not all of them, are very clear about how they spend their time together as well as how and when they spend time apart.

If you are used to only spending nights and weekends together, then trying to spend every waking moment with each other will likely be taxing after a little while. Consider finding activities throughout the week that you enjoy doing separately and then make plans for what you’ll do together in the evening and on weekends. Try to plan a few trips or vacations or small getaways that work with your budget so that you don’t get too stuck in a routine that you might find becomes stale. Remember to talk to one another about how you’re feeling and your needs and wants. Where there is discussion there is solution. Where there is silence, well, there might be a rocky future.

An Active Life Is a Healthy Life

When you spend twenty, thirty or forty years filling the majority of your time with your career it can be challenging to figure out how exactly you are going to spend your time now that you’re retired.

According to a Georgia State University (GSU) study published in The Journals of Gerontology, those who worked part time, volunteered, or otherwise spent their time in active and socially engaged situations had a lower likelihood of developing age-related chronic health conditions.

Going back to discovering your retirement identity can play a beneficial role in helping you choose how to remain active and engaged in your day-to-day activities. If you have always enjoyed arranging flowers or gardening, perhaps getting a part-time job at a florist or volunteering at a local greenhouse might be something you’d enjoy. If you were in IT as your career and you still have passion in technology, perhaps you could freelance and assist local businesses with network setup or volunteer at a school or community organization to teach others who are interested in the IT field.

Are there activities that you really enjoy that you didn’t have much time to devote yourself to when you were still working full time? Now is the moment to seize the opportunity to explore old hobbies or develop new ones. Finding a balance between enjoying the relaxation of retirement without becoming sedentary should be given a lot of attention. Staying active is critical to your emotional and physical well-being.

If you are experiencing adjustment discomfort to your new-found time and independence, or if you are about to retire and you aren’t quite feeling motivated to start planning your next chapter, there are resources and professionals who can help guide you through your retirement transition with peace-of-mind. As a financial planner and advisor, I enjoy having discussions with my clients and potential clients about how they envision the next stage of their lives. Having an outside perspective to help get your emotions, thoughts, finances and goals aligned can make a world of difference in how your retirement “leap” evolves. The first step off the trapeze platform may not be graceful and there may be struggles along the way, but with a good plan, a strong commitment, and a healthy dose of courage, you will find your chance to fly sooner than later.

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