Don’t Retire, Re-Invent!

By Karla Freeman

As recent as a generation ago, the concept of “retirement” made sense. After working hard for 40+ years, it only seemed right for yesterday’s seniors to spend their “golden years” relaxing and slowing down. Today, however, life is different. People live longer, have more energy, and yearn to live fully well into their 80s, 90s, and sometimes beyond.

So rather than view the post-career years as retirement, a new trend is emerging. Baby Boomers are starting to think in terms of reinventing themselves and living several new life cycles. They realize that thanks to longer life spans, “retirement-age” may very well last more than thirty years. And instead of slowing down and taking it easy, Boomers want to use this added time to explore, experiment, learn, travel, and in many cases, contribute. In other words, it’s a time for them to re-invent themselves.

However, when most people stop working, they lose their daily trip to a place they feel connected to others—a place they “belong.” Now they don’t have a particular place to go to anymore—no more Monday morning meetings or afternoon chats at the water cooler. But work is really a habit. So as people near retirement age, they need to consider the new trend of “re-invention.” 

Re-invention Possibilities: Re-invention is a process. Unfortunately, many people fall into what is most comfortable rather than expand and find what interests them. But if you think in terms of making this second half of your life a gift of time, then you can invent yourself as a more joyful person and uncover new endeavors that can make you happy.

Some possible ways you can re-invent yourself include:

  • Traveling

  • Volunteering

  • Being a social entrepreneur

  • Focusing on art or writing

  • Grandparenting

  • Going back to school

  • Moving to a new place

  • Spending a year abroad

  • Starting a business

  • Creating a community of people with shared interests

  • Working part-time or on projects

  • Becoming a consultant or mentor

  • Teaching what you love to do

Challenges with Re-Invention: So why doesn’t everyone naturally think of re-invention rather than retirement? Because change is like being a new person, and that’s what re-invention is all about—changing what you do, changing your routines, and sometimes even changing who you are. For most people, their major identity is that of their job. That’s why some people will limit their choices and stay at their job well into their 60s and 70s. They think that’s all there is and don’t know what else to do.

Additionally, work is the main avenue for meaning and purpose. That’s why in order to re-invent yourself you need to consider other avenues for meaning and purpose. Could grandparenting or traveling bring meaning and purpose to your life in lieu of work? Most people are usually so busy working that they don’t take time to think of other options for themselves. To them, retirement seems boring or too slow, especially if they are used to being where the action is. If that sounds like you, then you might experiment with new challenges outside of work and explore finding joy in quieter activities. In other words, re-invent balance between being and doing in order to feel good with your new meaning and purpose in life.

Finally, re-invention requires a time of adjustment. At the beginning you might have a lot of discomfort as you no longer go to work and instead try something new. That’s okay and normal. All beginners feel awkward initially. When you understand that you’ll have to give yourself time to adjust to this new life cycle, you’ll have a much better chance of seeing it through and even enjoying the process.

The Keys to Re-Invention: In order to make your re-invention successful and stress-free, consider the following guidelines:

1. Be okay with change: When you’re comfortable and like what you’re doing, you feel good about yourself. Likewise, when you’re uncomfortable and don’t like what you’re doing, you tend to be hard on yourself. Therefore, you need to realize that this life cycle is new, so yes, you’ll be uncomfortable at first. Be okay with that. Leave room to tolerate the discomfort.

2. Take time to research: Rather than think in big steps, think small. Start by doing some research into your new endeavor. This can mean doing anything from talking to people to sampling something. For example, if you want to pursue some artistic goals in your new life cycle, you can start by reading art magazines. Once you’re comfortable with that, go to art stores or art galleries. You don’t have to buy or do anything at this point; you’re just looking and researching. Then maybe you can take a class that meets for a short amount of time, or you can just get some brushes and paper and start doodling. The research phase is what gets people over that initial hump of thinking too black and white—of thinking that they’re either an artist or they’re not.

3. Make re-invention a game: Think of re-inventing yourself like being a kid again. Children grasp onto whatever makes them happy, and they pursue it with gusto. They get the erector set and they start creating buildings, knocking them down, and then building again. They don’t say that they’re being architects and make everything seem serious and grim. When you’re at the second half of life, it is like being a child again because you have accomplished so many things and have achieved a level of success. Now you can embark on the re-invention process, which is about finding what gives you joy, meaning, and purpose. This is the playful part of you—the time to try new things and explore.

 4. Practice makes perfect: In order to erase any fears you have about your new undertaking, do some practice runs. For example, if you’ve decided that you want to spend the next life cycle traveling the globe, don’t start with an “around the world” extravagant trip. Do a short day trip to start. If traveling still seems like the thing you want to do, then plan a weekend trip. Gradually increase your trip duration until it feels like second nature to you. Or if you want to open a Bed and Breakfast, start by volunteering at a local B&B to get a feel for the work and the environment. By starting with practice runs, you can be sure you’re making the right choice—one that makes you happy.

5. Separate your dreams from feeling of fear: Your dreams are what can keep you going. Don’t confuse your feelings of fear with the excitement of a dream. Whenever we take on something new, feelings of fear are normal. The key is to overcome those feelings. That’s why you need to have a way to keep yourself going when you feel afraid or encounter challenges. Some people opt to journal every day, while others prefer doing visualization. Do whatever works for you. And remember that everyone gets afraid and feels uncomfortable from time to time. Let your dreams guide you during those moments.

6. Make your top 10 lists: If you’re unsure exactly what you want to do during your next life cycle, make a few Top 10 Lists to spur your thinking. These lists include:

  • 10 things I want to do

  • 10 trips I want to make

  • 10 ways I can contribute to healing of others or the planet

  • 10 ways I stop myself

  • 10 things I can enjoy without spending money

  • 10 ways I can make more money

  • 10 ways I can spend less money

  • 10 things I have done in the past that have made me happy

  • 10 people I admire

  • 10 ideas for new businesses, projects, activities

  • 10 ways I can talk to myself that are encouraging

  • 10 people who could or who do love and support me

Examine your answers for themes or common threads. That’s when you’ll uncover areas for experimentation and further research.

Start Re-Inventing Yourself Today: In recently released research by AARP, of the 76 million Baby Boomers, the majority either can’t or don’t want to retire. People want to be involved in life, no matter what their age. And that’s exactly what re-invention provides. So no matter where you are today or what you’re doing in life, begin thinking about your next life cycle. Consider how you’ll use your years of experience, well-earned wisdom, and awareness of the value of patience to create a new and joyful life for yourself—one filled with limitless opportunities and creative outlets for change.

Read other articles and learn more about Karla Freeman.

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