The Life Cycle of Retirement

One of the things I come across frequently in my work with pre-retirees is that they view retirement as an event. One day you are working and the next day, hopefully after a nice party, you are living in retirement. But, just as life has a cycle marked by various milestones (infancy, childhood, adolescence, adulthood, late adulthood), so does retirement.

Retirement is actually a series of  transitions. A widely adopted model of retirement’s life cycle was developed by gerontologist Robert Atchley, PhD who outlined the six stages of retirement.

  1. PRE-RETIREMENT: The stage before you finish working. You’re focused on financial planning and your expectations, fantasies, or fears about retirement.
  2. RETIREMENT: You’ve had your retirement party and finished your last day of work. Atchley says this stage can go one of three ways:
    • Honeymoon: You feel like you’re on a permanent vacation. You are actively enjoying your new found freedom, the ability to set your own schedule, and do all those things you didn’t have time for before retirement. Travel is especially popular now.
    • Immediate retirement: You already had a busy life with lots of interests and activities outside of work, so you simply continue with this existing schedule after retirement. You wonder how you ever had time to work before?
    • Rest & Relaxation: You may be feeling burned out after a very busy career with limited time to yourself and choose to take some down time and do very little in the early part of your retirement. Spending time in your pj’s with a good book is a favorite pastime.
  3. DISENCHANTMENT: Is that all there is? You feel let down, bored, aimless or even depressed because retirement isn’t all you expected it to be. This is where the rubber hits the road between an ‘idealized’ retirement and an ideal one. Many people decide to go back to work, at least part-time, at this stage because they haven’t planned for how to replace all the benefits that work provided: (pay cheque, structure, sense of identity, social connection and purpose).
  4. REORIENTATION: You start developing more realistic expectations for your life in retirement. You adopt a curious mindset and begin to explore activities and interests that will be fulfilling and you start to establish a satisfying routine. Reinvention. replenishment and new beginnings are watchwords in this stage.
  5. STABILITY: In this stage you have mastered retirement. You have identified what’s important to you, and make choices that fill your days with what brings you meaning and fulfillment. In other words, you have developed a new sense of purpose.
  6. TERMINATION: Your retirement period ends because of illness and/or disability, death, the loss of financial independence, or simply returning to full-time work.

Not everyone experiences all of the stages, or in that order, but virtually all of us will experience some form of this process. Whether you go through them all or how long you spend in one stage is often up to you. It will depend on your own life circumstances, your expectations and how well you have prepared yourself and planned for your retirement.

What are you doing to prepare yourself for the transition through each of the stages of retirement?


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