We’ve recently received e-mails from retirees asking about how to manage their loss of identity now that they have retired. One retiree painfully acknowledged that she had become her business card, and wondered who she was now? A retired CEO summed it up: ”Too late I discovered my title was fleeting and it was never about me. It was about the chair I was sitting in. Once I retired, the chair maintained its identity. I did not.”
This “identity thing” didn’t happen overnight. Remember when you were a child and people asked you: “What do you want to be when you grow up?” It was the first time we were forced to consider a new identity beyond being “a kid.” Many of us said doctor, astronaut, race car driver, teacher, or however we identified with.
When we became adults, people would outright ask, “What do you do?” Society was making us identity ourselves and it was usually by our profession or job title. This was particularly painful when people were downsized and in transition. We personally substituted “what do you do” with “what keeps you busy?” The question allowed people to save face. At the time we thought wouldn’t it be great if people started conversations by asking, “So what gives you joy?” but we knew that wouldn’t happen . The reality is we like to assign a label to someone because it helps us position them within our framework and it is a quicker way to start a conversation.
From an anthropological standpoint, being a member of a tribe offers a strong sense of identity. Modern tribes can be a company, a business, clubs, religious denominations, a hobby group etc. The person who belongs to the tribe has a built-in identity.
When retirement arrives, identity can go and the tribe with it. Loss can cause anxiety, even pain, especially if you have no new interests or passions to pursue. And pain knows no gender.
This is the opportunity for people to rewire by re-routing their energy into new activities, paid or not, that are emotionally fulfilling and allow for the creation of a new identity. It might not be the same…but it can still be good, maybe even better but you need to be aware of what motivates or drives you before you set out on this new journey.
In our research we discovered 85 reasons, we call Drivers, of WHY PEOPLE WORK BEYOND MONEY? A sampling of the 85 range from Having Accomplishments to Belonging to Problem Solving, Being Valued, Wielding Power, to Having Recognition.
Take the time to identify your Drivers; they can aid you in discovering new ideas and activities to pursue that can help you create a new identity in your next act.
Above all try to make it enjoyable so you look forward to waking every morning with your new identity and the new tribe that goes with it.