Retirement: Am I Still Transitioning?

A year and a half ago, my husband and I took the ‘leap of faith’ into retirement without a clear map of what we wanted our post-career life to look like. We did follow our plan to relocate to Vancouver Island. We have also been spending much time with family/friends, enjoying our grandchildren, meeting new people and traveling…all of which we had hoped to do.

In fact, our retirement so far has been a whirlwind of family time, social time and travel. It has been the gaps in-between those fast-paced times which gives me pause to wonder, “Am I still transitioning?” “Should I have a more established routine?” “Am I achieving what I wanted from this amazing gift of freedom?”

We had decided to give ourselves ample time to transition. But how long does transitioning take and should I be doing something more with my retirement? Volunteering? A deeper commitment to my community? Contributing to world peace? Or even just achieving a more established routine or engaging in some form of ‘employment’ (shriek here)!

Originally led by the work of Professor Robert Atchley, (The Sociology of Retirement, R. C. Atchley – 1976), researchers suggest that the psychological process of retirement follows a similar pattern to other major areas of transition, and can be divided into distinct stages. Researchers also suggest that it is not always necessary to complete each of these stages sequentially before moving onto the next. Also, like many other transition models, there are several variations on the labeling and description of the phases. The sources are endless. I have listed just a few of them here. (Source 1, Source 2, Source 3, Source 4).

The core phases are often described as follows:
1. Pre-retirement – Planning Phase
2. The Final Days of Work – Farewell Phase
3. The Initial Days of Retirement – Honeymoon Phase
4. So this is it? – Disenchantment Phase
5. Building a New Identity – Reorientation Phase
6. Moving On – Establishing Routine and Stability Phase

And there it was, staring me in the face–the disenchantment phase. It hits us all, even if just fleetingly — especially after travel or holidays. As Abba so appropriately asked in their song, ‘Happy New Year’*, What do we do at the end of the champagne and fireworks? How do we know if we are going astray, or do we keep on going (astray) anyway? (Source 5).

And that really is the question that I have been asking myself this post-holiday season, after my eighteen months of retirement. Luckily, again, according to researchers, it is these exact questions (Who am I now? What is my purpose?) that we need to ask ourselves in order to achieve closure from our working days and fully embrace our retirement years.

Currently, I would say that I am juggling between Phases 3 and 5, with a healthy dose of Phase 4 mixed into the intervals. I’m definitely not at Phase 6 quite yet. Since that stage is about ‘finding stability and routine,’ I think I’ll keep experimenting with what’s out there for a little while longer!

If you are retired, do these phases seem familiar to you? Are there any additional phases that you would add?

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*When I was part way through writing this post, I came across Abba’s song ‘Happy New Year’ featured on Hugh’s Views and News blog. It fit in perfectly with my theme. It is truly amazing how often this ‘synchronized blogging’ happens. You can check out Hugh’s post here.

42 Replies to “Retirement: Am I Still Transitioning?”

  1. You are doing Retirement Research! With no doubt, you are still in the Honeymoon Phase! I admire your life greatly! More importantly, knowing that you are happy brings me much joy.

    1. Hi, Aiqin – Yes, it is completely true. Our deeply ingrained traits, habits and personalities follow us into retirement. I’m still avidly researching…but this time solely for me! Thanks again for keeping in touch.

  2. Oh this post was timely — it is exactly what I’ve been feeling lately as I come up to my one-year anniversary of this thing called retirement. Since Christmas, I’ve been at odds with myself, not sure what I think of what I’ve done with myself in retirement — sounds like phase 4 to me! I need to reflect some more on this!

    1. Hi, Lyn- Thank you so much for sharing. I believe that restlessness, and feeling at odds with ourselves, happens to so many of us (not just retirees) after the holidays. Reflection is good and (apparently) does help lead to the advance phase of stability and contentment. Let’s keep each other posted on how that goes for each of us!

  3. Hi Donna, I love your blog. I retired in June from 40 years of teaching. Still finding my way that is for sure. So many blessings in my life but tough to figure out my personal purpose and what activities will bring new friends for this journey.
    Patience will bring peace I guess. Happy New Year to you and keep blogging!

    1. Hi, Debbie – Congratulations on your retirement. After such a long, active career of focusing on others, it is often difficult to fully relax and focus on one’s self. I agree with you that patience brings peace. Thank you for sharing…and for your kind words.

    1. Hi, Kate – I fully agree that the freedom is exhilarating…even though, for me, it has sometimes been strangely daunting as well. Maybe you are now a new improved version of yourself… and that is why it feels the same, but different?

  4. Hi Donna, I guess what you are exploring now is exactly what I have been fearing about retirement. As educators we live very social and purposeful lives. Our role in education has defined who we are or have been. When that is over, then what is left? “What are you going to do when you retire?” is a frequently asked question to those of us who are leaving behind work. When I answer them, I give very vague answers although I have explored some alternatives. For my entire career, I have been purposeful in what I do next. Now I am just not sure. So for me, I am learning how to be comfortable with that.

    1. Hi, Fran – To know you is to know that you will equally find purpose and meaning in your retirement years. Of that I am quite certain. Welcome to the wonderful world of retirement. Despite brief intervals in Phase 4, I wouldn’t trade retirement for the alternative!

  5. whilst I’m not retired i did see the phases you described in my step-dads retirement. He was forced to retire to care for my ailing mother and a few years later it was my ailing uncle that became his focus. He now swings between traveling and being in phase 4.
    I hope when my time comes I’m lucky enough to be able to plan and do things on my own terms. Your blog has certainly opened my eyes to a different experience of retirement. 😊

    1. Hi, Patsy – I greatly appreciate you following, and sharing so openly. I’m sad to hear that your step-father still spends so much time in Phase 4 of retirement. I hope that the current travel part of his retirement is fulfilling and rewarding. Hopefully your own retirement will be what you want it to be and will give you lots of time for travel…to Vancouver Island perhaps (hint, hint)!

  6. GREAT post! Although my contemporaries all seem to be retired or retiring, as a life-long entrepreneur, my helping addiction hasn’t resulted in enough money to stop working ANY time soon. 🙂 I doubt that I would ever be happy to stop working altogether in any case. I might really enjoy taking a few years “off” to polish and publish a few books – but that would take a pretty hefty advance that doesn’t seem likely in today’s publishing world.

    So it is with alternating emotional reactions that I read the above – from an almost envy to an eagerness to read that you had decided to get back out in the world to make a difference with at least a few of your newly released hours.

    But then, involved Grandmothers make a HUGE difference, so if that turns out to be what you choose to do, don’t second guess yourself – just jump in and enjoy every second. I’d love to have that choice myself.
    xx,
    mgh
    (Madelyn Griffith-Haynie – ADDandSoMuchMore dot com)
    – ADD Coach Training Field founder; ADD Coaching co-founder –
    “It takes a village to educate a world!”

    1. Hi, Madelyn – Thanks for stopping by. I had just been checking out your site. Great minds think alike! (:
      I greatly appreciate your thoughtful and helpful comments. Good luck with your writing and publishing. Thank you for your work in making a difference for others.

    1. Thanks, Liesbet – I definitely stole the Abba song idea from Hugh’s blog. I had been half-way through writing this post, when Hugh’s blog popped up. The lyrics to that Abba song matched the theme of my post perfectly. It continues to amaze me how often another blogger writes on a theme or topic that I have just written or am currently writing. Relatable, shared experiences are my favorite part of the blogging world!

  7. Donna, this was such an interesting post! thanks for sharing the 6 phases (not the same number as the grieving process, surely!). I have been through this but my caveat is that I still lecture at a university part-time. One thing that I don’t read in your post is what you do with your leisure time. So many people retire but don’t give this idea of leisure, a second glance. Sure, we all have good intentions about travel, visiting family, etc. But what about the daily grind? I teach these concepts to my students, that leisure time can consume up to 1/3 of our lives, yet most people don’t consider this. Many well-intentioned retirees sit and watch a lot of TV because they didn’t plan for leisure. Blogging filled that time for me, along with regular exercise and a summer of uninterrupted windsurfing. Leisure-life balance is the key. So what DO you like to do for fun, Donna?

    1. Great question, Terri, thank you for asking.
      In the month of November, I made it to thirty yoga classes at our local studio. In December, that dropped down to ten visits, but we were in and out of town and had lots of company (my excuse and I am sticking with it)! I am also a member of a walking club. We walk 5 K on Wednesdays and 10K on the weekends. Our 10 K walk was today (followed by coffee and pie)! I take part in a monthly book club, which I love. It is a great group, with a very stimulating reading list. For this month, we just finished reading J.B. McKinnon’s Our Once and Future World. I am an active member of our local Newcomer’s Club, and I am in charge of the Facebook Page for our club. For next year, I will also take over the website, newsletter and all social media. On Tuesdays, my husband and I do volunteer dog-walking at our local SPCA. I enjoy cooking (especially anything in a slow-cooker) so do a fair amount of entertaining and hanging out with friends and family. My husband and I try to get out to Mt. Washington for some snow-shoeing at least a few times a season. As we are still in our “experimental stage” of retirement we have also dabbled in curling, bird-watching, and special events through our local Parks and Rec Association. Richard golfs as often as he can. I have also dabbled in a bit of painting (okay, so that was pretty painful, but at least I tried). I also regularly sneak in as many games as possible of Words with Friends. And finally, I blog which I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE!

  8. Sometimes I think we just think too much.

    Yes, there are definitely times when I feel a whole lot of disenchantment, but that’s been true for every stage of my life.
    And during every stage of my life I’ve also gone through some version of each of these ‘retirement’ stages.
    I’m sure you have too – university, single life, married life, children, career, etc.

    Don’t overthink retirement. It’s not a race, just let it ‘be’ and let it evolve.

    Now I have to go and give myself the same pep talk.
    Joanne Sisco recently posted…An Unusual January RoadtripMy Profile

  9. I retired (unexpectedly) almost two years ago and thus did no advance planning. I had to figure out what this retirement gig was all about. I have felt confused, overwhelmed by choice, and sometimes even a bit lonely. But never sad, angry or regretful that I took this route. I haven’t looked back, not even once. So for me, I have been primarily in Stage 5 and am enjoying the process of enjoying reinventing my life.
    Marian Jen recently posted…Love DIY and It’s Not ‘Cause I’m FrugalMy Profile

    1. Hi Marian Jen – I greatly admire your positive attitude, and ‘reinventing spirit’, despite your initial confusion and loneliness. I look forward to following your blog to read more about your adventures!

  10. Hi Donna, First of all, thank you so much for mentioning my blog post.

    I retired back in 2012 and haven’t looked back since. 😀 I’m certainly at Phase 6 and reached it very quickly. However, I know that many other people do struggle with retirement. My Brother-in-law, for example, got very depressed at both the thought of retirement and then it actually happening to him. After six months of retirement, he managed to find himself another job and his mood changed. He seems to thrive off the everyday routine of getting up and going to work, coming home in the evening, eating dinner and relaxing before going to bed. He’s about to retire again in few months time and I can already see signs of what happened before, happening again.

    For him, I think it was a problem of being able to fill his day. Fortunately, for me, I discovered blogging which fills my days with enjoyment.

    1. Hi, Hugh – Thank you so much for stopping by, and for commenting. It is so true about how retirement affects each of us so differently. For me, it has been a relatively smooth transition, but the whole process has been much tougher for my husband. Wishing good luck to your brother-in-law on his upcoming retirement.
      PS – I am greatly looking forward to your next feature song post!

  11. I recall seeing Atchley’s six stages when I was in my first year of retirement. (Yeah, researcher here too!). Since I did no planning, and didn’t have a slow down at work, it never felt right to me. We also had some life constraints that prevented a true honeymoon phase. I jumped right into stage 5…building a new identity. Which 2.5 years later I am still doing! Guess I’m slow at things.

    I liked your comment litany on leisure…that feels like the start of a blog!

    1. Thanks, Pat – When I was checking sources for Atchley’s Retirement Phases, Google led me to your post on this topic. I love being surrounded by fellow researchers! Jumping straight into Phase 5 puts you in the “advanced learner” category in my books.

      1. Hah. Advanced learner was not my first thought! I’m calling myself a beginner at life. I was a workaholic for too many years.

        I saw a great litany of questions on Olderhood today about “what is your identity”…so maybe I am still in Phase 5 as I reacted so strongly to it!

  12. Hi,
    My husband retired officially January 2 while I am still working. I am concerned his transition will be difficult, on him or on me, I’m not sure, LOL. We shall see.
    Janice
    PS Thanks for coming by my site and liking my post about how to get more page views.
    If you’d like to do a follow for follow back, let me know.
    Janice

  13. Hi, Janice – Congratulations to your husband on his recent retirement! Despite the multitude who thought that I would struggle with retirement, I have never regretted it for a moment (at least not so far)! My husband also retired at the same time as I did, but has found his transition to be a little tougher. He misses the excitement of his busy international career, the diverse energy/input of his colleagues…and the ‘balance’ of work and leisure. I have followed your blog/twitter/Pinterest with great interest. I look forward to following you further.

    1. Hi, Jude – That is seriously NOT going to happen. We do bring our personalities into retirement. Us A-types just find others things to keep us (very) busy!!
      (Thanks also for letting me know about the over-active comment feature on this site. The good news is that I haven’t been getting any spam. But I also don’t want to miss legitimate comments. Please let me know if it happens again.)

  14. Hi Donna – as a newly retired woman who has just turned 56 it was great to read your post. I’ve re-read it a few times and am planning a post so I will link to it if you don’t mind! I was made redundant late last year after months of battling to save mine and others’ jobs, so I haven’t really had the opportunity of step 1. Step 2 was painfully sad packing up my office after 20+years in the same workplace. But also quite nice to be thanked and farewelled by others. At the moment (2 days into official retirement) I’m definitely in the honeymoon phase, loving the freedom particulalry. I am very worried about Step 5 and this has been my concern all along. I’m one of those people who others say looking at me incredulously ‘but what are you going to do?’ My identity was rolled up in my job and I don’t know how I will reconcile that.
    The main thing I wanted to say was the time-frame you mention heartened me – you are 18 months in and still consider yourself in the transition phase. That gives me hope. My husband is finishing his career later this month but has had the luxury of planning and preparing for it. He’s been on leave for the past few months and has coped really well so I’m hoping all will be well for me too. Anyway, I just want to say thanks very much for this post and for the comments as well, as it eases my mind a bit knowing there are others out there in similar situations.
    Debbie Harris recently posted…Share Your World – January 9 2017My Profile

  15. Hi, Debbie – Thank you so much for taking the time to write such a detailed, thoughtful and open comment. Having a post help a reader enough to cause them to re-read it, makes every single effort of blogging worthwhile. I’ve greatly enjoyed getting to know you through your blog, and can tell that we have much in common. “WHAT will you DO?” was a common question made to me about retirement. Several months ago, I wrote a post partially in response to that query. If you are interested, you can read it here: https://www.retirementreflections.com/?p=54.
    I look forward to keeping in touch!

  16. Great post, Donna! After almost three years of retirement, I’m either in the Honeymoon Phase, or I skipped directly to the Moving On Phase. If there ever was a perfect job for me, it would be retirement. I really do feel sorry for people who are struggling with the idea – or actuality – of retirement. I’m not sure why it’s so hard on some, and others – like me – find it so positive. Personality, location, relationships, health, preparation; I’m sure they all factor into how well we assimilate to any life changes.
    Janis recently posted…GratiTuesday: A Blank Slate for a New YearMy Profile

    1. Thanks, Janice – My guess is that you are definitely in the Moving On Phase. You are a great example of someone who is totally at peace with retirement. As my husband has found retirement much more challenging, I am very aware of how this transition can be very difficult for some. For many, I believe that retirement is a process that unfolds over time.
      Thanks for sharing. I always greatly look forward to your comments!

    1. Hi Nancy – I just checked out your blog. It looks great! I am sure that you will enjoy it. There is a great community of retirement bloggers out there. Welcome!!

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