Retire ” in place”… Illusionary Oxymoron or Helpful Reality

This article is written by the founder of Retirement Options.
Lynda Smith is an accredited coach for Retirement Options in South Africa

By Richard P. Johnson, Ph.D., CRC

“When future historians look back on this time in retirement history, they will not say that this was retirement’s darkest hour … no, instead they will say that this was retirement’s finest hour.”(paraphrased from the famous quote by Winston Churchill)

Question: How do we, as retirement coaches assist those folks now who have voluntarily postponed their previously scheduled retirement time due to the uncertainty of the current economic recession?
Answer: We coach them to shift their perspective of their personal relationships with their work. If they can’t actually retire from their job … they can “retire in place!”

This may not be as crazy as it seems. Read on. We know that the recession has temporarily changed the retirement plans for some percentage of people; some are opting to put off their retirement to a time when they hope to feel more financially secure … whenever that may be. But, they still wish to retire; and most of them want the “new retirement,” that type and style of living about which Retirement Options certified coaches are so well qualified to help them in their quest. They’re fearful now, and fear paralyzes us. Yet, our potential clients are restless, they want change in some form, they want to feel that they are moving forward … that they are doing something concrete to prepare for the future. How can we help?

“Retirement in place” is not an oxymoron; rather it can be a logical and rational goal toward which those who have put off retirement can aspire. The fundamental essential, that which is at the core of any successful retirement, is a change in attitude and a change in perspective of oneself. We normally think of retirement as changes made on the outside: changes in our day-to-day activities, changes in environment, changes in our schedule, etc. We see these outward changes as prerequisites for inward changes in attitude and perspective. But, are the outward changes actually necessary for the inward changes to occur? Is it possible to shift our attitude and perspective about ourselves so much that it enables us to adopt, or “take on” the retirement role internally even though we are still outwardly employed at the same career position? A curious question indeed!

When we look at the very first retirement success factor on the RSP (Retirement Success Profile), that of “Work Reorientation” we can see the seeds of ‘retire in place.’

Work Reorientation: The degree to which you have emotionally distanced yourself from taking your personal identity from your work.

On page 10 of “The New Retirement” we find: “In order to healthfully shift into the new retirement mode, we must jettison our old conception of ourselves and take-on a new self definition of expanded proportion.” Retirement means, first and foremost, that we leave our old definition of self behind and craft a new one that better ‘fits’ us at this stage of life. We no longer ‘see’ ourselves as managers, or plumbers, or pharmacists, or IT professionals, or teachers, or accountants, or sales personnel. Retirement requests that we construct a new primary definition of self, a definition that is based primarily on ‘who’ we are, rather than on ‘what’ we do. This shift is not easy, but it is essential if we are to fully take-on the ‘new retirement mentality.’ We’re not used to defining ourselves in terms of ‘being; no, we’re used to defining ourselves by what we ‘do.’ We’ve always defined ourselves based on our actions. In polite conversation, we’re very infrequently, if ever asked, “Who are you?” rather we’re asked, “What do you do?” Yet it’s the “who” question that emerges as most important as we approach the retirement transition.

Healthy retirement is much more than exchanging one “doing” definition of self for another. “I used to be a chemist, but now I’m a fly fisherman.” We understand such a statement, yet does is genuinely get to the core of ‘who’ I am? Isn’t there something essential, something deeper and more permanent about the person who used to work as a chemist, but who now fly fishes? This essential core is what is supposed to become clearer as we mature. Personal growth is about self-awareness, and it’s during our transitions when we grow the most. The Buddhists have an interesting saying that captures the essence of this point … they say, “Before enlightenment, carry water and chop wood; after enlightenment, carry water and chop wood.” The notion here is that we are a ‘who’ beneath the ‘what’ that we do; the ‘what’ of us does not necessarily define the ‘who’ of us. This discussion may seem be a bit philosophical for coaching, but the core issue of who I am is quite different from the issue of what I do.