Retirement Looms and I’m Starting to Worry! Any Advice?

I'm about to retire from my job of 45 years, a life change I've been looking forward to for two years. My husband is retiring, too. We have friends, family, hobbies, and plans, so we're very excited about spending time out of the office and getting to work on some new projects. But as it turns out, I'm actually getting scared of the change. I know, I know: it's always natural to have some trepidation about big life transitions. I just always thought that since I've been preparing for retirement for so long, and since I have so much to occupy myself with after it happens, I wouldn't feel so fearful. It feels irrational. Any idea why I'm nervous, and any advice for calming my nerves? —Uneasy Retiree-to-Be
Dear Uneasy Retiree-to-Be,

I think it’s totally normal to feel uneasy when you’re facing a life change, even when you’re clearly well prepared to do so. Preparation, or packing for a journey and making sure you have the right shoes and the right clothes and your tickets, too, is a good way to start your trip, but the trip itself is what you’re worried about. What if you don’t like it?

You’re lucky; you have friends, family, hobbies, plans, and new projects to work on. I suggest you add one more thing to your arsenal of preparations—a journal in which you can write down your thoughts and find out what your fears are, exactly, and develop what you love best. Maybe you have a journal already, but if you don’t, you might start one right now, just as many people who travel do. Don’t forget to take pictures!

Time travel is what you’re doing. We all are. You’ve just finished a job that you had for 45 years, and your husband is retiring, too. You have a good life, it sounds like, and some good projects in mind, too, but you know as well as I do that your life will be quite different than it was. For one thing, you will be establishing your own rhythm, as your husband will also, and you will have to work out your individual lives and how they blend in this new incarnation.

I think some people look on retirement as a golden land, kind of like the endless happy summer they imagine they had, that ideal time that never actually existed, when they were kids. Often things look a lot better when you look back at them, better than they were when you actually lived them. We tend to reminisce with golden glasses.

Life is far from perfect, and retirement is a new life stage, just like school and marriage and family and work and career. Now you’re starting a new theme. It sounds like you have found many things to occupy yourself with, which is good, but I’m wondering if one of the purposes of the “many things” list is to prevent yourself from getting bored—or maybe it’s a defense against something, perhaps thoughts and fears about getting older. Partnering with a therapist in your area may shed more insight into your particular concerns.

We’re all getting older (that is, if we are lucky). I am getting older, too, and I know plenty of retired folks. This is what I think is most important: Don’t be a fuddy-duddy. You certainly don’t sound like one. Try new stuff. Help others. Accept help when it’s given. Allow yourself to feel gratitude for the beauties of the world.

You’re worried that you’re nervous and you think you shouldn’t be. Who says? You’re human, you have feelings, and you’re allowed to have them.

I don’t know what ways you have developed to care for yourself and calm your nerves over the years, so I can only advise that you do what is beautiful and true to you, now and always.

Enjoy the sunshine.

Best wishes,

Lynn Somerstein, PhD, NCPsyA, C-IAYT is a Manhattan-based, licensed psychotherapist with more than 30 years in private practice. She is also a yoga teacher and student of Ayuveda—the Indian science of wellness. Her main interest is in helping people find healthy ways of living, loving, and working in the particular combination that works best for them, connecting to their deepest energic source so their full range of abilities can be expressed. Lynn's specialty is understanding and alleviating anxiety and depression.
  • Leave a Comment
  • Jon

    December 12th, 2014 at 10:41 AM

    Well you could be like my father in law and just prepare to keep on working because he knows that when he stops he will be so bored that he will probably drive the rest of us absolutely crazy!

  • Lynn Somerstein

    December 12th, 2014 at 10:52 AM

    Please thank him for me.

  • Gerard

    December 12th, 2014 at 3:11 PM

    I too think that I will be worried, not because I don’t want to retire, but I want to be able to enjoy that retirement and I worry about having enough money to hopefully live a long time. You always hope that you have planned well, but there could always be something unexpected that could pop up and destroy everything that you have worked for so hard. I know a lot of friends who keep working simply because they are afraid of what would happen to them if they didn’t.

  • gladys

    December 14th, 2014 at 5:22 AM

    This is a time that you have obviously been working for for a very long time. Now that it is here it can be scary to think about the things that you may have to give up, but think about all of the wonderful things that you can get out of this as well. You now have time to do what you want when you want. Tome to travel, spend with family and friends, or time to do nothing at all… there is nothing wrong with being a little apprehensive, but there is also nothing wrong with making the most of this part of your life either.

  • Edward

    December 15th, 2014 at 3:17 PM

    All I can say is that there never feels like there is a good time when there is so much economic uncertainty worldwide.
    We don’t like to think that what is happening in other places has any impact on us, but we are all intertwined and interrelated, and therefore our lives are dependent on the actions of others whether we like it or not.

  • Lynn Somerstein

    December 15th, 2014 at 5:52 PM

    You’re right, Edward, these are difficult times in many ways.

  • CELY

    December 16th, 2014 at 1:32 PM

    Have you given any thought about working with a financial adviser or someone that you trust with money questions just to make sure that you are on the right track?

  • Harris

    December 18th, 2014 at 4:43 PM

    I can remember entering every new stage of my life with a little bit of fear and trepidation so I totally understand where you are coming from. However, you have worked hard and now is going to be the time when you can actually sit back and relax and enjoy everything that you have worked so hard for. Don’t beat yourself up, you sound like you have it all planned out, just taking that next step can be a little scary. You are going to love it though, I promise.

  • Laurette O

    January 21st, 2015 at 1:11 AM

    I have decided, after looking into my life’s changes in the past, that I will watch to see what life is going to bring me, as I go along my merry way in retirement, and deal with it as it comes. I have had a good life, up to now, met many wonderful people, have had many good opportunities, and enjoyed them, have been able to get through all the ups and downs of life, so why would any new challenge be any different? My resolve is to trust it will all turn out well, and to tune out the ‘fear’ channel, and get through this with a smile on my face when it’s all said and done.

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