Retirement, at any age, is a significant life event that can cause a range of emotions. We all tend to concern ourselves with the financial side of retiring early and forget about the emotional stages of retirement. The different feelings we all go through as we near retirement and once we retire.
I remember when I took voluntary redundancy from a company I’d been with for 18 years. Even though I wanted to go, I still went through a whole range of ups and downs both before my leaving day and for months afterwards.
I am 5 years away from my planned full retirement at 55 and I know I’m going to have a mixed set of emotions I need to handle (I’m already feeling some of them). So I thought I’d do some research and start preparing myself.
The retirement process was broken down into various emotional stages by Robert Atchley an American professor of sociology. Atchley’s seven-stage model, published in 1976, outlines the emotional journey of retirement from before leaving work to after fully transitioning into retirement. It was based on interviews conducted with a cohort of Americans who were either near retirement or had retired.
Some other studies into the same concept cut these down to five emotional stages of retirement but basically follow the same general pattern.
So let’s take a look at how Atchley broke down and defined the emotional stages of retirement:
The preretirement stage is when you begin to plan for eventual retirement. During this stage, you may be unsure if you are making the right decision or feeling a sense of anxiety about the future.
The pre-retirement stage is an important step in the emotional journey of retirement. It can be a difficult time as you weigh your options and make decisions that will affect your future, both financially and emotionally.
During this stage, you may experience a range of emotions including fear, anxiety, excitement, and doubt. Fear may be experienced when considering the uncertainty of retirement and all the changes it might bring. Anxiety may stem from worries about financial stability or health issues that might arise over time. Excitement could come from knowing that retirement provides freedom to pursue one’s interests without the constraints of work life. Doubt could be experienced when trying to decide if retiring is really the right choice at this particular point in life.
The next stage, the retirement event, marks the day when one leaves work for good and officially enters into retirement. This transition often brings feelings of both excitement and sadness.
As retirement approaches, one may feel a mix of emotions including nostalgia for the familiar workplace and colleagues, mixed with anticipation of new possibilities and opportunities. On the day of retirement, many people experience a mix of feelings such as sadness, excitement, and relief.
The sadness can come from leaving friends and colleagues behind or mourning the loss of an old routine. The excitement can come from looking forward to new experiences that retirement will bring such as more free time to pursue hobbies or travel to exotic locations. The relief may come from no longer having to work long hours in a stressful job and finally being able to relax without worrying about work deadlines or obligations.
After leaving work and officially entering retirement, individuals often experience what is known as the “honeymoon phase.” It can last for a few months or even a year. This stage is characterized by a sense of excitement and newfound freedom. It’s a time when retirees may feel a sense of relief and joy as they embrace their new lifestyle. During this phase, they may engage in activities they didn’t have time for before, explore new hobbies, or simply enjoy the relaxation and leisure that retirement brings. The honeymoon phase is a positive and exhilarating stage of retirement, filled with optimism and a sense of adventure.
The stage of disenchantment occurs after the retirement event, when you have officially left work and entered retirement. During this stage, retirees may experience a sense of disillusionment or disappointment. The initial excitement of retirement may start to fade, and individuals may begin to realize that retirement is not all they had imagined it to be. This stage can be challenging as retirees adjust to the realities of their new lifestyle and face the potential loss of identity and purpose that work once provided.
It is important for retirees to recognize that disenchantment is a normal part of the retirement process and that it is temporary. With time and adjustment, individuals can navigate through this stage and find new sources of fulfilment and satisfaction in retirement. Seeking support from loved ones, engaging in new hobbies or activities, and exploring new interests can help retirees rediscover a sense of purpose and rekindle their enthusiasm for this new chapter of life.
Reorientation occurs after fully transitioning into retirement. It occurs in about year two. During this stage, individuals may experience a period of adjustment as they navigate their new lifestyle. They may feel a mix of emotions, including a sense of uncertainty or loss, as they adapt to their new routine and identity as a retired individual. It’s important to recognize that reorientation is a normal part of the retirement process and that individuals may need time and support to find their footing in this new phase of life.
This phase can last for many years. You have mastered the role of retirement. You know what your choices are, and what is satisfying for you.
This is where you settle into a comfortable and rewarding retirement routine. Some individuals may do this soon after they leave full-time employment, while others take longer. This phase can last for many years and many mid-course adjustments can be made along the way as new interests emerge or new opportunities and challenges present themselves. This stage is called ‘stability’ but it doesn’t mean that the remaining years or decades of retirement are without surprise and unexpected pleasures.
The last phase of retirement is the termination phase, where “the retirement role is cancelled out by the illness and disability which sometimes accompany old age”. The retirement role may also be cancelled out by death, the loss of financial independence, or simply returning to full-time work.
This one definitely sounds a bit bleak and hopefully, illness & disability are a long way off for most of us or better still may never happen. To my mind, this one is less to do with the emotional stages of retirement and more to do with the final stage of life.
My Thoughts and Feelings
I’m definitely going through a few preretirement worries, mainly will I really have enough money – what if the market has a terrible 5 years, what if I suffer a major sequence of risk issue during the first few years of drawdown etc.
Financial security is probably the major concern so most FIRE types in the early years of retirement but a lot of this is offset by the fact I could simply delay my plans and work a bit longer if I have to.
I don’t think I’ll miss the social interaction as I have plenty of friends outside of work and I don’t think I’ll struggle to fill my days as I have plenty of hobbies.
Most of the people I know who have retired young(ish) love it but they all have something in common which is plenty of money. A number of them have gone back to work in some fashion, not because they need to financially but because they find it fulfilling. Is this ‘disenchantment’ or just the fact that they get a sense of achievement from it, I don’t know.
What am I doing to deal with these emotional stages of retirement
As I set out in my FIRE Goals post I am getting the money side of things into better shape for the long term but I’m also focussing on fitness, health and more time doing this together as a couple.
I also enjoy watching the Two Sides of FI YouTube channel which discusses the emotional side of FIRE well.