Exploring Retirement


Welcome to the November 2014 edition of Exploring Retirement.

This month we are looking at retirement as a process that starts for most people well before their last day at work and continues to develop for some time afterwards. We highlight the work of Professor Robert Atchley, who has carried out numerous studies on the retirement transition over many years. Professor Atchley has identified a number of distinct stages which most people go through when making the retirement transition.

Our retirement activity in November is to create a "retirement wish list". Such a list fulfils multiple purposes. "A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step" (Lao Tzu, Chinese philosopher). Just writing down all the things you have always hoped to have time for is a really positive first step to making your dreams come true. When you have completed your draft list you can start to think about which of your ambitions can be achieved in a realistic time frame. It doesn't have to be something major. The important thing is to make a start, maybe with something small, then go back and tick it off your list. That way you get a great feeling of satisfaction from taking control of your life.

This month Jeannette Lewis writes about her personal experience of the retirement process and describes how she coped when an unexpected heath problem caused her to rethink her plans. Michael meanwhile recounts his experiences exploring the cultural landscape of Holland.

Feedback from readers is always welcome. Please let us know your thoughts on retirement and whether you think the five stages suggested by Professor Achley describe your own experience. E-mail your comments to editor@exploringretirement.co.uk.

Stages of Retirement

Retirement is often viewed as an "event" when retirement is actually both a process (requiring planning and adjustment) and a life stage (lasting for multiple years). As a result of numerous research studies, Robert Atchley (2000) developed five descriptive phases of retirement that represent a transitional process individuals go through when they permanently exit the workforce. These phases do not apply to everyone, of course, because retirement is experienced on an individual basis; however, these phases do provide a guide for thinking about what some individuals may encounter when they transition into the retirement stage of life.

Phase 1: Pre-retirement

The phase prior to the actual retirement experience usually involves both disengagement from the workplace and planning for what retirement will entail. Pre-retirement has two phases: remote and near. In the remote phase, the individual sees retirement as far off, but as an expected part of the work cycle. However, few people see retirement as something to plan for - the exceptions being workers whose companies offer retirement planning.

The near phase of pre-retirement begins when retirement is looming. Although many people remain positive, attitudes toward retirement can become more negative during this phase. The public acknowledgement of this phase includes pre-retirement planning programs, retirement ceremonies, on-the-job-training for a replacement, and possibly moving into a less essential job.

Phase 2: Retirement

When a person "retires" and therefore, no longer participates in paid employment, they frequently take one of three possible paths.

  • The "honeymoon" path - characterised by feeling and acting as if one is on vacation indefinitely. Men and women become very busy doing many of the leisure activities they never had time for previously, especially travel.

  • The "retirement continuity" path - adopted by those who already had a full and active schedule in addition to their employment. These individuals easily establish comfortable, yet busy schedules soon after retirement.

  • "Time Out" - a period of very low activity, frequently chosen by those who have felt very stressed in their previous career. Quite often however, activity levels do increase after a few years of rest and relaxation.

  • Phase 3: Disenchantment

    For some people, adjusting to retirement is not an easy experience. Following the honeymoon period or a time of continued rest and relaxation, there may be a period of disappointment or uncertainty. A person may miss the feelings of productivity they experienced when working or the company of former colleagues. Disenchantment with retirement can also occur if there is a significant disruption in the retirement experience, such as the death of a spouse or an undesired move. Atchley considers that people are more likely to have difficulty if they:

  • have considered few alternatives
  • have little money
  • have poor health
  • were over-involved in their jobs
  • are unaccustomed to running their own lives
  • experience other role losses in addition to retirement
  • leave communities where they have lived for years
  • Phase 4: Reorientation

    After a period of rest and relaxation or feelings of disenchantment, it is common for people to "take inventory" of their retirement experience and look for ways that will improve their retirement role. Becoming more involved in community activities, taking up a new hobby or relocating to a more affordable setting may contribute to this "second chance" at retirement. A common goal of reorientation is to design a retirement lifestyle that is satisfying and enjoyable.

    Phase 5: Fulfilling Retirement

    Mastering a comfortable and rewarding retirement routine is the ultimate goal of retirement. Some adults are able to do this soon after they leave employment, while others take longer, only finding their way after years of extended leisure or a period of disenchantment. Once a fulfilling and comfortable retirement routine has been found, this phase of retirement can last for many years.

    Planning for Retirement

    When planning for retirement, it is important to remember that the retirement process requires more than attention to one's bank account. It is important to start thinking about how you intend to handle the loss of the worker role. For example, will you be one of the "honeymoon" phasers or do you intend to fall into an immediate retirement routine? Retirement is a stage of life that could last for 20 years or more. Take some time to think about your own retirement experience and how you plan to fill the retirement years you have earned! Do take a look at our past issues for some great retirement ideas!

    Featured activity - Make Your Own "Retirement Wish List"

    Excerpt from "The Summer Day" by Mary Oliver

    "Tell me, what is it you plan to do,

    With your one wild and precious life?"

    It is a really good idea to sit down and take a few minutes to jot down all the things you would like to do in your retirement. Do you want to travel more or is there a hobby or interest you wish to pursue? Are there courses you have always wanted to take or languages you have always wanted to learn? With a bit of luck you will have more ideas than you can possibly hope to achieve in one lifetime! Don't worry if you do, just prioritise your list and make a start.

    In my own experience a wish list is invaluable, especially if I think I have got stuck in a retirement rut. Just looking at all the things I had hoped to accomplish spurs me on to get out there and do something. In August of this year I finally managed to fulfil a lifetime dream and visit the Rocky Mountains in Canada. I can honestly say they were beyond my powers to imagine and the memory will stay with me forever.

    To help you get started, here are some headings I have taken from my own retirement wish list. These are only suggestions - you may not wish to use them all. Alternatively you may wish to add topics of your own. Write your ideas in the second column, beside the appropriate heading.

    This is not a once for all time exercise. As more ideas come to you, retrieve your list and add them in. I enjoy putting a tick beside the ones I have managed to accomplish. Looking back over the things I have managed to do since I retired gives me a real sense of achievement!

    TopicThings I want to do in my retirement
    Active living
    Arts and crafts
    Community activities
    Health and fitness
    Hobbies and interests
    Outdoor activities
    Personal Development
    Revisit old friends and places
    Social activities
    Spend time with family
    Support a cause

    Mark Twain famously said -

    "Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn't do than by the ones that you did.

    So throw off the bowlines

    Sail away from the safe harbour

    Catch the trade winds in your sails

    Explore. Dream. Discover."

    Here is an amusing video clip I received from Michael. It features some older people obviously having a lot of fun enjoying their "wild and precious life." Hope you like it as much as we do!


    Going Dutch - Michael McSorley

    This month both our guest contributors have been on a journey, although of very different natures. Michael visited the Netherlands, where the Dutch have spent enormous sums and gone to huge effort to refurbish two galleries of international significance. Michael paid a visit to two of Holland's biggest cities to see for himself. To learn what he discovered click here.

    Retirement Journey - Jeanette Lewis

    Jeanette's journey was of a more personal kind, when she was confronted with an unexpected health problem quite early on in her retirement. To find out how she coped, click here