Retirement: Personal Identity Redefined

As you consider retirement, think about how much your career defines you. A successful retirement begins when you are able to separate who you are from what you do. Your personal identity aligns with what you do professionally. When you retire, you need to find new ways to define yourself.

So how do you begin this process of re-defining?

First, look at how much you have already emotionally disengaged from work. If you are just starting to think about retirement, chances are, you haven’t really disengaged much at all. Work may still consume you.  And your identity associates with your professional title.  Now is the time to start thinking about what your life would be like if work wasn’t your primary interest.

Think about what you will be moving towards when you retire. Focus on your life after retirement.   Disengage just a little and see how you feel. Many people find the prospect of not working so uncomfortable and scary, that they give up right here.

It’s natural to feel scared about the unknown. This isn’t an unusual feeling. Not everyone looks at retirement as being a positive time in their lives. At some level, you need to get comfortable with not knowing exactly how your life will evolve once you are retired.  This is where it really does help to have new activities, projects, and plans to look forward to. Keep thinking about how you will retire to something and not from something. Disengaging from your professional life should slowly begin to feel okay.  Maybe not great, but at least okay.

Remember, disengaging from work doesn’t mean that you are rejecting all that you’ve done or what your career has meant to you. It’s just the first step in a new direction.

You won’t even entertain the thought of disengaging until there’s some chance, no matter how small, that retirement is on your radar screen. Once you recognize that retirement is a possibility, then begin thinking about letting go of the past and looking for ways to define who you want to become.

It’s hard to think about stepping away from your career, but change is a part of any growth process. At some point, you’ll need to grow into your retirement and that begins by disengaging from your job. Eventually you’ll need to build a new personal identity that doesn’t lead with your job title.  Begin the process now to re-define yourself in new ways.

If you weren’t at work, who would you be?


Many readers find themselves stuck in planning for retirement. Retirement Style offers a number of resources, including our 30 Day Journaling Challenge, to help you get unstuck in working towards your best retirement. If you would like to speak to a certified retirement coach about your personal journey, please contact us.

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Showing 2 comments
  • Dianne

    Your articles have really helped me look at retirement in a new light. I’m so excited to be retiring in a couple of weeks. I know that I’ll be involved in things I didn’t have energy for while working. I’ve been reconnecting with some past activities while on vacation & have fallen in love with my husband again. Feeling blessed.

  • Deborah Williams

    Dianne, Thank you for the kind words! It sounds like you will definitely begin your retirement in a positive way. I wish you all the best!

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