What is Retirement?

“Where Do You Stand?” by Patricia Cavanaugh

By February 8, 2010 May 21st, 2023 2 Comments

5 stages of the Retirement Process

A 2006 study done by Ken Dychtwald and Age Wave looks at the journey of people moving toward and through retirement. They identified five stages.

The first stage of the Retirement Process, Imagination is 15 to 6 years before expected retirement.  As retirement becomes more of a reality people begins to focus and envision what life might be like without a regular workday.  They ask what are my goals and what preparations do I need to make.  People actually start feeling some excitement and enthusiasm and a sense of adventure.

As the day of retirement draws closer, approximately 5 years before, people have a sense of Anticipation the second stop on the journey.  This is the beginning of what we call (the 3rd act). There is a feeling of excitement and hopefulness for those people who have goals, a plan and are close to having their finances in place.  At the same time, as the threshold of this major change grows close, people often become anxious and have a sense of worry or doubt about how this transition will impact every important area of their life.

The next stage is Liberation, which includes the day of retirement and the year that follows.  Liberation is filled, this study shows, with feelings of enjoyment, enthusiasm and hopefulness.  Dychtwald calls this the short “honeymoon” phase.  There is a sense of relief and excitement and most people are very engaged in new activities from travel to starting a new business.

Reorientation is next, a stage that spans a period of 2 to 15 years after retirement.  During this phase there may be  letdown feelings of boredom, depression or worry.  It is a time of considerable challenge of reprioritizing life goals.  Dychtwald found that folks fall into 4 categories, in this stage:  Empowered Re-inventors, Carefree Contents, Uncertain Searchers and Worried Strugglers.

The Empowered Re-inventors have done considerable planning and preparing for their later years and find life satisfying and full of adventure, possibilities and meaning.  Carefree Contents are optimistic but not looking for adventure or to start new plans. Instead, they prefer to wind down with less stress and responsibilities.  Most do not continue to work.  Those who are Uncertain Searchers are trying to sort through their options. They are still in the mode of discovery because they did little planning for retirement in previous years.  The Worried Strugglers are generally anxious and sad, often with feelings of emptiness.  They have not spent time planning or preparing for retirement.

The last stage of the Retirement Process is Reconciliation, which begins about16 years after retirement and extends into the 4th Act.  People at this stage have worked through most of their hopes and fears and have come to terms with life as it is.  Interestingly, in this stage people find they have a renewed interest in activities and hobbies.

Where do you find yourself in these phases of your mature years?

  • Are you Imagining what it would be like to not go to your workplace every day, envisioning what “retirement” would be like?
  • Do you have a set of goals, a plan and looking forward to your next adventure?  Have you set your financial plan in motion? (Anticipation)
  • Are you feeling adventurous and empowered? Have you recently left your primary workplace?  Or have your children recently launched their own lives.  Are you experiencing a sense of Liberation?
  • Are you rethinking your situation with a focus on what is satisfying and meaningful? (Empowered Re-inventor)
  • Are you happy to kick back and relax, watching the world go by? (Carefree Content)
  • Do find yourself mulling over the next steps, uncertain about your goals, and not clear about what really gives you a sense of fulfillment at this time? (Uncertain Searcher)
  • Or do you find yourself feeling worried and anxious about the future with a sense of “is that all there is” from Peggy Lee’s famous song of the fifties. (Worried Struggler)

Take a moment to identify where you are in the Retirement Process.  The only way to move forward with the challenge of change is to know where you are standing now. Regardless of the stage you find yourself, inner exploration, intentional planning and clear goals will help you move into the flow and fullness of you mature years with a sense of renewed vitality.


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