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Retirement reinvented
Evolving your identity


Have you ever wondered what lies beyond the horizon of your formal working life? As retirement approaches, do you find yourself questioning what your days will look like and what will give you a sense of purpose? How will you redefine or evolve your identity once the roles and routines that have long defined you fall away?


Eriaan Oelofse Retirement reinvented Evolving your identity 2Jul2024

By Dr. Eriaan Oelofse


In our article Thriving in retirement: The next chapter, we touched on the importance of emotional and social preparation for retirement, emphasising that thriving in this new chapter requires more than just financial planning. Today, we delve deeper into a critical aspect of the preparation phase: confirming your purpose and redefining your identity.

Nancy K. Schlossberg, a prominent psychologist, identified six ways individuals might navigate the transition to retirement:

  1. Continuers: These individuals continue using their existing skills and interests in new ways. They seek continuity with their past professional lives while adapting to new contexts.

  2. Adventurers: Adventurers view retirement as a time to start entirely new activities or careers. They are eager to explore new skills and interests that they didn't have time for during their working years.

  3. Searchers: Searchers are actively exploring new options, trying out different activities and roles to find what fits best. They are in a phase of discovery, seeking new paths to fulfilment.

  4. Easy gliders: Easy gliders do not plan their days rigidly. They prefer to go with the flow, enjoying a relaxed and unstructured approach to retirement.

  5. Involved spectators: These individuals remain connected to their previous careers or fields of interest but in a more observational or advisory capacity. They stay engaged with society without the full-time commitment.

  6. Retreaters: Retreaters may initially take a step back from active engagement, using retirement as a time to rest and recover. They might treat each day like a holiday, focusing on relaxation.

What do you think about these categories? Can you see yourself in one of them, or perhaps in more than one? If so, which do you think would be the dominant one for you?

Schlossberg’s categorisation is just one way to understand how people with different personalities and preferences prepare for retirement. People come from diverse backgrounds, with different financial statuses, ages, genders, and personality traits. When you mix in the numerous schools of thought in the social sciences (psychology, sociology, spirituality, etcetera) on how best to prepare for retirement, it creates a maze of complexity that can cloud the retirement planning journey.

Much like a GPS offering various routes to the same destination, each with different waypoints, the journey to a fulfilling retirement can follow many paths. What works for one person might not suit another, so it's essential to consider your unique situation and circumstances as you apply the insights provided. Regardless of the specific school of thought or approach(es) that works for you, one of the critical aspects to address according to most of the existing theories or approaches, is one’s concept of identity and purpose. This is paramount for a meaningful and fulfilling retirement.

It is important to recognise that using any of the existing and published models or theories can be highly beneficial. These models serve as guides, helping to structure your thoughts and plans for retirement. You can also use more than one model, as each provides another angle and deepens your understanding of who you are as a person. The key is to spend time reflecting on these insights and how they apply to your life.

Remember, the secret is not in rigidly adhering to one theory but in integrating the valuable aspects of multiple theories to create a personalised roadmap for your retirement. Reflecting on your identity and purpose —your past, present, and future—will help you navigate this significant life transition with clarity and confidence.


Reflecting on your identity:

What is identity and why does it matter?

Identity, like a diamond,  is a multifaceted concept encompassing our beliefs, values, personality traits, roles, and affiliations. It answers the question, "Who am I?" and is shaped by various factors including our upbringing, culture, experiences, and social connections. Our identity significantly influences our sense of self and how we interact with the world around us.


The role of identity in our lives

Our identity provides a sense of continuity and coherence, helping us understand our place in the world. It shapes our choices, behaviours, and relationships. When our identity aligns with our actions and values, we experience a sense of purpose and fulfilment. Conversely, when our identity is disrupted, it can lead to confusion, anxiety, and disorientation.


The impact of retirement on identity

Retirement can be a major identity disruptor, however it is important to acknowledge that identity is often seen as a continuous, evolving process rather than something that is completely new in a new life phase. For many years, our professional roles often define a significant part of who we are. When we retire, we leave behind these roles and the structure they provide. This transition can lead to questions like, "Who am I without my job?" and "What is my purpose now?" The loss of a professional identity can be disorienting, but it also presents an opportunity to rediscover and redefine who you are.


The importance of exploring your identity

Taking the time to explore your identity during retirement is crucial for your well-being and personal growth. This process involves reflecting on your past, understanding your present self, and envisioning your future. Here are some steps and examples of questions to guide you:


  1. Reflect on your past:

Personal history: Consider the experiences that have shaped you. What roles have you played in your family, community, and career?


  • What were the significant moments in my life that shaped who I am today?

  • How have my past roles influenced my identity?

  • What values were instilled in me during my upbringing, and how have they shaped my decisions?

  • How have my relationships and interactions influenced my self-perception?

Achievements and challenges: Reflect on your accomplishments and how you overcame obstacles. What do these say about your strengths and values?


  • What am I most proud of?

  • What challenges have I faced, and how did I overcome them?


  1. Understand your present self:

Current passions and interests: What activities bring you joy and satisfaction? How do they align with your core values?


  • What fears or anxieties do I currently have about retirement?

  • What activities make me feel alive and engaged?

  • How do my current interests reflect my core values?

Relationships: Who are the important people in your life? How do they influence your sense of self?


  • Who are the people that matter most to me?

  • How do my relationships shape my identity?


  1. Envision your future:

Goals and aspirations: What do you want to achieve in this new phase of life? How can you continue to grow and contribute?


  • What are my dreams and goals for the future?

  • How can I make a positive impact in my own life, the life of my family, my community?

  • What skills or hobbies have I always wanted to explore but never had the chance to?

  • How can I use my experiences and knowledge to mentor or support others (family members, friends, community members)?

Legacy: What kind of legacy do you want to leave? How do you want to be remembered?


  • What do I want to be remembered for?

  • What contributions do I want to make that will leave a lasting impact?


Deepening the Reflection Process

While these questions are a good starting point, it's essential to stress that merely reading through them and quickly answering in your head will not be as impactful. To gain the most benefit, consider the following advice:

  • Take your time:  Set aside dedicated time to reflect on each question. Don't rush through them.

  • Write down your thoughts:  Use a diary or a dedicated notebook to jot down your answers. Writing helps to clarify thoughts and can reveal deeper insights.

  • Refine your answers:  Periodically revisit your responses. As you reflect more, you may find new layers of understanding.

  • Be honest with yourself:  This process is most beneficial when approached with honesty. Be open about your feelings, thoughts, and aspirations.

  • Personalise the process:  Adapt these questions to fit your unique context. If additional questions come to mind, explore them as well.


The benefits of self-exploration

Exploring who you are, is not just beneficial when planning for retirement; it is a vital process throughout our life journey. Much like adjusting our sails to respond to changing winds and ensure we reach our desired destination, regularly reassessing our identity helps us stay on course. Many people drift aimlessly through life, not reaching their objectives and goals because they neglect this critical self-reflection process. By continually exploring and evolving our identity, we can live more intentionally and fulfil our potential.

Exploring your identity can lead to a deeper understanding of yourself and what truly matters to you. It can help you:

  • Build resilience: By knowing your strengths and values, you can better navigate the challenges of retirement; improving your ability to bounce back from challenges, setbacks, or adversity. Resilient individuals often demonstrate inner strength, flexibility, and the capacity to grow and learn from experiences, ultimately emerging stronger and more capable. It's about facing life's challenges with courage, knowing that setbacks are temporary and can be overcome with time and effort.

  • Enhance well-being: A clear sense of identity can contribute to your overall happiness and fulfilment.

  • Strengthen relationships: Understanding yourself can improve your connections with others, fostering more meaningful and supportive relationships.

By embracing your past, understanding your present, and envisioning your future, you can create a fulfilling and meaningful life in this new chapter.


The foundation for future planning

As we conclude this exploration of identity, it’s important to recognise that understanding who you are and what you value sets the foundation for all other aspects of retirement planning. This self-awareness will guide your decisions, helping you choose activities, relationships, and goals that align with your true self.

Our journey thus far has highlighted that identity and purpose are central to navigating retirement successfully. Whether you are a continuer, adventurer, searcher, easy glider, involved spectator, or retreater, the insights gained from exploring your identity will shape the choices you make moving forward. This introspective process is not a one-time event but an ongoing journey that will evolve as you continue to grow and adapt in retirement - making this phase of your journey truly rewarding and aligned with who you are.


Practical steps for ongoing self-exploration

  1. Dedicate time each week to reflect on your thoughts, feelings, and experiences.

  2. Write down your reflections, goals, and insights to track your progress and growth.

  3. Engage in conversations with trusted friends or mentors who can provide valuable perspectives on your exploration process.

  4. Embrace the idea that your identity can evolve, and be willing to adapt your plans as you gain new insights.

By following these steps and maintaining a commitment to self-exploration, you can ensure that your retirement years are not just a time of rest but a period of continued growth, fulfilment, and purposeful living.


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