Redefining our identity after we retire – Sandra W. Haymon, Ph.D., LIVING WELL Magazine

Redefining Our Identity After We Retire

By Sandra W. Haymon, Ph.D., Johnson County LIVING WELL Magazine

How often, when we ask people who they are do they respond by telling us where they work or what kind of work they do? For example, “My name’s Jane. I teach fifth grade at Miller Middle School.” Or “My name’s Jack. I’m an artist.” Where we work, and the type of work we do, not only identifies who we are, but it also identifies our place in society. When individuals are no longer the teacher, the receptionist, the doctor, the attorney, or the nurse, many are at a loss as to who they are or how they fit into their communities or into society in general.

Most folks plan for their retirement by ensuring that they will have sufficient income to sustain them throughout their retirement years. Yet, they often fail to prepare for that part of their lives when they are no longer identified by their work. Some continue to live in the past and talk about what they used to do.

So, after the first few weeks of sleeping in, and all the unfinished projects are completed, what’s next? How do individuals go about redefining their identity after they retire?

By definition retirement means “to withdraw,” “to go into seclusion,” “to remove from active service,” etc.  This is not the mental image most of us have of retirement. During the first years of retirement, many of us plan to continue doing paid work that will, perhaps, be significantly different from the work we’ve spent the past 30 to 40 years performing. Perhaps we will do what we’ve always wanted to do, but feared we couldn’t make a living doing. After retiring we will have more time to do more of what we want to do and on our own timetables.

An accountant went to work as a wilderness guide, an executive went to work for Weight Watchers, an art teacher started selling furniture, and an attorney started driving 18-wheelers. Okay, maybe this isn’t really retiring. Maybe it’s making a career change after 30 plus years. Whatever we call it most folks have plans and goals for their lives after retirement. Some plan to take educational classes, others plan to finish degrees, some plan to start small businesses, while others plan to learn new hobbies such as playing golf or a musical instrument. Others may volunteer their time and talents and give back to their communities and families.

We were the first wave of women to enter the workforce in masses, and now we are the first wave to retire in masses. Consequently, we will have to, once again, define, or redefine, ourselves, our identity, and our place in the world of retirement. The important thing is to take time to think about how your life will be and how you will identify yourself when asked, “Who are you?”

It is absolutely enough to say, “My name is _________, and I am retired.”  Then when asked, “Sooo, what do you do all day?” your reply might be, “Whatever I want!”

Dr. Sandra W. Haymon is a licensed psychologist, author and international speaker. Her latest book, “Baby Boomers–Sandwiched Between Retirement & Caregiving” (Tate Publishing, 2009) addresses the emotional and economic issues associated with retirement and caregiving. Dr. Haymon is presenting a seminar entitled “The Sacred Journey of Caregiving: A Transformational Approach to Life” at Johnson County Community College on July 19, 2012. She can be reached at or through her website at .