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How to Get Rid of Retirement Dread

Embrace the who, what, and why of your retirement years.

Key points

  • Retirement is sometimes thought of with panic or perceived as a loss of identity.
  • Embracing the who, what, and why can help make retirement the best years of your life.
  • By seizing the retirement years, one can become the entrepreneur of their future.

Do you dread retirement? Many people think of retirement as leaving a job. It is considered a loss. It is something we look forward to from a young age, but once it arrives, it is often perceived as “jumping off a cliff” or “panic” or “a loss of identity.” But, retirement doesn’t have to be either of these things. Retirement is an opportunity for us. We know from research that by our 50s, 60s, and 70s, we are at our happiest (AARP, 2018). We are developmentally at a stage in our life where we can expect to care for others without expecting anything in return (Ehlman, 2012), and this means that we have a lot to offer and a desire to do it. We are at a point in our lives where we have mastered our craft, whatever field we are in. This gives us the option of continuing work in the field we have been in—or trying something we have always desired but didn’t have the chance to do. That could be another job, or something that brings meaning and value in our lives through acts of mentoring, volunteering, or philanthropy.

So, as people prepare to retire, it is a good idea to figure out what will bring the most meaning to our lives. By viewing this time as an opportunity, and paying attention to the who, what, and why of retirement, it may be a lot smoother than expected.


Rather than thinking of retirement as a loss of your job identity, think of it as an opportunity to develop and hone your true inner identity. This is the person you've always been but probably didn't have much time to devote time to while working. Get back to your roots. Who are you at your core? Do some self-discovery and enjoy the process of getting to know who you are without the job title holding you back. Are you someone who loves adventure, enjoys helping others, or feels connected to changing the world? Maybe you are several things: grandparent, traveler, artist, volunteer, mentor, philanthropist, or pickleball enthusiast. Retirement is the time to figure this out or expand on it. Who are you?

 Joan Azeka/Unsplash
Do what you love.
Source: Joan Azeka/Unsplash


What does retirement mean to you? For many, it is a time that is free from the burdens of work and structured weeks. For others, the thought of structureless weeks and days without purpose can fill us with dread. Regardless of your expectations, it is a good idea to define what your retirement will look like. What do you plan to do? What will your days look like? What will you be doing for money? What will be your purpose? By structuring these expectations, we can reduce our anxiety right before retirement. That is because if you come upon a "what" that you don't know the answer to, you can work it out and make a plan for it before your job ends. For example, maybe you don't know your purpose or passion that drives you each day. Thinking about this ahead of time is very helpful for preparing for retirement.


Retirement is the perfect time to figure out the "why" in our lives. Our "why" is our legacy, and we have the ability to choose what we want that to be. Why do we matter? Why did our lives, our jobs, and our connections with others matter? Those who give thought to legacy can shape their legacy to make a clear mark on the world that includes their values, culture, and things they hold dear to pass on to the next generation. This is usually the most meaningful aspect of retirement and can lead to wisdom and the feeling that our lives mattered.

Retirement is something far more important than a time to relax or slow down. It is a time to ramp up the positive emotions, meaningful connections, and deeper understanding of ourselves. We are working for ourselves in retirement. We are entrepreneurs of our future. Retirement is definitely something to look forward to.


Ehlman, K., & Ligon, M. (2012). The Application of a Generativity Model for Older Adults. The International Journal of Aging and Human Development, 74(4), 331–344.

AARPWashington. (2018, January 28). Get Happier As You Get Older - Stanford's Dr. Laura Carstensen. YouTube.