Navigating the Treacherous Transition to “Retirement”

By on February 2, 2017
Navigating the Treacherous Transition to “Retirement”

By Katherine Olivetti, MA, MSSW –                                          

“Retirement” needs a new name, because this phase of life has changed. Baby Boomers’ increased vitality and longevity mean that instead a few years of leisure, your next chapter will likely span 20+ active and potentially fulfilling years. Along the way, however, the process of transitioning from a fully engaged, single-focus life—the big job—to the next chapter is fraught with mental, emotional, physical, spiritual, relationship, and fulfillment challenges. And yet, it receives little or no planning beyond financial concerns.  

(Feature Photo Above – The co-founders of Life Reinspired)

Patrick Skerrett, a former editor for the Harvard Health Publications, writes,

 “…Researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health…looked at rates of heart attack and stroke among men and women in the ongoing U.S. Health and Retirement Study. Among 5,422 individuals in the study, those who had retired were 40% more likely to have had a heart attack or stroke than those who were still working. The increase was more pronounced during the first year after retirement, and leveled off after that.”

This frightening statistic does not mean you shouldn’t retire.  It does highlight that the transition period is especially treacherous and requires that you navigate both losses and dramatic changes, such as:

  • When you leave a job or significant endeavor, you lose a community and relationships. You’re likely to miss how valuable all those smiles and interactions made you feel. (And your partner may not be crazy about having you underfoot all the time.)
  • You have been organized and motivated by outer demands for decades. Now you need skills to shift to a life organized and motivated by inner demands.
  • When you went to work you knew who you were. If you ran a charity, the same. Now stripped of title, perks, status, etc., you wonder, “Who am I without my work identity?”
  • Middle life is organized by the developmental mandates to achieve, accomplish, and develop competency. The next stage of life asks you to use and apply your expertise and experience, but doesn’t tell you how.

Your transition should point you toward preserving the positive aspects of a working life, those that benefit wellbeing, while redeploying your strengths and passions in new directions. This takes some dreaming and planning. And it’s worth it. Statistics show that people who plan for their retirement are more likely to feel positive about it.

With some planning, what used to be called “retirement” has the potential to be the greatest developmental period of life. It’s a time to tap more of your potential, to point your energy and time to what you care about, to grow new parts of yourself. And this doesn’t happen by accident. It’s imperative to create a space for dreaming, planning, and experimenting.  This is largely unprecedented, but then, Baby Boomers have always pioneered life transitions. Why should the next chapter be any different?

Here’s an exercise to begin assessing your strengths, talents, and skills: 

  1. Write a list of at least 25 of your strengths (innate) and competencies (learned). We are often blind to our own strengths because we’ve always had them, so ask people who know you well to describe what you’re good at.
  2. Now divide your list in two. One list should be the things that come naturally to you—what you are really good at and love doing. The second list should include competencies that you needed for your work, do well, are valued for, but may be tired of using.
  3. List #1 constitutes the building blocks for a rich and fulfilling next chapter.
  4. The abilities listed on List #2 may come in handy now and then, but using them probably won’t add much to your happiness.
  5. Now review List #1 again and brainstorm several applications for each of your key strengths.


Katherine Olivetti, MA, MSSW is Co-Founder of Life Reinspired, a life reset lab for successful Baby Boomers who want retirement to become their best chapter ever. The first programs are scheduled for May 4-7 and May 19-21, 2017, at MacArthur Place Resort and Spa in Sonoma, California. Katherine is a Jungian therapist, coach, and published writer in the San Francisco Bay Area. She specializes in navigating transitions, developing creativity and fulfilling dreams. She holds two graduate degrees from Columbia University and has taught and led workshops worldwide. Reach her at [email protected].


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Navigating the Treacherous Transition to “Retirement”