Written by Isabelle St-Jean, RSW, PCC, RTC
While leading retirement seminars for pre-retiring accountants over the past ten years, I have observed diverse levels of readiness, attitudes, and concerns towards this major work/life transition. Those in public practice often prefer to retire gradually, but accountants in industry or government rarely have this option. Some pre-retiring accountants are eager to explore and delve into new activities and projects, whereas others worry that their lack of personal interests or hobbies could leave them adrift in retirement. Similarly, some accountants are excited about specific post-retirement plans they’ve made with their spouses, while others are uncomfortable about the prospect of spending more time with their significant other.
As opposed to merely retiring, re-engaging means finding a new or renewed meaningful purpose in a balance of leisure, wellness, and social activities. This concept appeals to boomers, and it first requires engagement in a thoughtful process of reflection to identify purposeful endeavors and redefine your personal identity as distinct from the professional one you’ve embraced for 30 or 40 years.
Finding new rhythm, purpose, and avoiding a common pitfall
A gradual retirement typically lends more ease and flow into the process of re-engaging. When that is not possible however, preparedness is even more important to help avoid the disorienting feeling that can result from suddenly having to make good use of about 40 to 50 hours of unstructured time each week.
I recall a client—a manager who’d retired from the public sector—saying of her first year of retirement: “I had to find my own rhythm.” She meant that she had to first learn to become comfortable slowing down from the hectic work pace she’d become accustomed to. Once she adopted a more mindful pace, conducive to self-awareness, she was better able to make proactive, well-considered choices and get involve with interesting activities and projects. With new habits and routines reflecting what mattered most to her, she was intentionally re-engaging the new currency she now had in greater abundance: time and energy.
There are 4 stages in the transition of retirement; the first two consisting of pre-retirement planning, the second is the actual beginning of retirement. In that beginning stage, many retirees explore their newfound freedom by travelling extensively, which can provide much entertainment and enjoyment. Over time, however, most eventually realize that they won’t be truly fulfilled by living as if on perpetual vacation. That’s when the need to deliberately design a balanced lifestyle based on core values, meaningful activities and motivators becomes most evident, lest there is a risk that depression might gradually settle into one’s body and mind. With paralyzing physiological symptoms, depressive states usually equate disengagement from others which further exacerbates that downward spiral.
The backbone and heart of re-engagement
To help counter the risk of depression, you need to know that, as Richard N. Bolles and John E. Nelson explain in their timeless book What Color is Your Parachute – For Retirement, there are three main dimensions of happiness in retirement: meaning, leisure, and engagement.
While leisure activities are the things we do for fun and pleasure, engaging activities are those that require some focus and skill, and may offer an enjoyable challenge. Meaningful activities, such as volunteering for a cause, help us feel that we are part of something greater than ourselves and that we belong to a community of likeminded people. These kinds of activities also offer protection against social isolation, which is increasingly found in research as a significant physical and mental health hazard.
“Re-engaging with backbone” also means developing the discipline and proactivity needed to prioritize your health and develop an active lifestyle. Having more time in retirement does not mean that you’ll automatically become more motivated toward your wellness and fitness needs. I recall a newly retired accountant who said he’d exercised daily while working full-time, but in retirement, he was hardly getting to the gym twice a week and was missing the stamina he previously had.
Let’s remember that without our health and the energy we get from an active way of life, we cannot realize our heart-dwelling dreams. Whether you yearn to learn to play a musical instrument, a new language, mentor others, or visit the country of your ancestors, avoid painful regrets by discovering and acting towards those aspirations. Otherwise, you may converse with your spouse about “someday” dreams in vague terms only to realize that time is passing as you get sidetracked by various menial daily or short-term tasks, or by the demands of others.
Re-engage the best years of your life
The importance of being well prepared for what could be the “best years of your life” cannot be overestimated. And it needn’t be daunting. With seminars available, such as the ones I offer, (What’s Next, and Beyond the Numbers) through CPA Alberta and other provinces, you can use the information, group discussions, and tools to deeply reflect upon and envision your best future; lay the groundwork for a passionate, joyful and fulfilling re-engagement in life after retirement.
Isabelle St-Jean is a registered social worker, professional certified coach, certified retirement coach, registered therapeutic counsellor and the author of Living Forward, Giving Back: A Practical Guide to Fulfillment in Midlife and Beyond. She leads retirement seminars for professional communities across Canada as well as providing one-on-one coaching to help pre-retiring professionals successfully navigate the major work/life transition of retirement.
Hear more from Isabelle St-Jean by attending one of her upcoming CPA Alberta PD seminars: