Post retirement identity crisis for women isn’t a new concept, it just has a new name. We used to call it “empty nest syndrome”. A mom who steeped her identity into being the mother of demanding little kids suddenly finds herself with “nothing to do”. Who is she now? Who needs her? What is her purpose? What is she to do every day if not be chef, janitor, chauffeur, therapist, nurse, mediator, cheerleader…for her children?
This abrupt change – even though she knew it was coming for 18 years – can lead to depression, anhedonia, identity crisis issues, realignment or dissolution of marriage and other side effects.
Women who have been in high level (or even not so high level) careers can experience the same confusion. What now? Though the decision to retire seems exciting and free, it can bring with it questions, concerns, fears, and anxiety. Planning trips, sleeping in and volunteering probably isn’t enough after spending half or more of a lifetime being responsible, needed, admired, structured and in- charge.
Best, is to be able to divorce your “do” from your “be”. In other words, what we do is not our identity. It is simply a profession. We do what we do because of who we are. But, somewhere in the process of working in our chosen field, we make a switch. We turn what we do into who we are. For example, one of the first questions we ask a person we have just met is “what do you do”? We are really asking; what is the hierarchy between us…where will I fit into this relationship? This is just one reason to be fully self-accepting regardless of what we do – or have done – for work. To esteem people over profession.
When clients, who are in this situation, sit on my sofa in a quandary with such identification questions, I use the example of Christopher Reeve. He was known as “Superman”. Then he had a debilitating accident from which he became quadriplegic and would never be able to work as Superman again. He didn’t have time to plan for a life change. But it didn’t change WHO he was. It only changed what he could DO. Inside he was still a super-man.
I remember the first day I saw my name on the door of my newly formed company and it brought tears to my eyes…it was so emotional to think of all it took to accomplish that feat. I vowed that day not to let my vocation become my identity. Piloting, teaching, cleaning, litigating, writing, nursing, software developing, etc., are professions…not identities.
Depression or the blues can come from not having a sense of accomplishment, a schedule, or a purpose. So, I do subscribe to retirees having something to accomplish and/or to spend their time on to fulfill the empty space in their lives that their job once occupied.
When we begin a career, we know that it is temporary. That one day it will end, and we will retire, and a new season of life will begin. So, even prior to retirement or empty nest, I urge you to get into the habit of seeing your “self” as a person with value and worth regardless of whether or not you have a job title. Enjoy the fruits of your labor in this new season of life called retirement and keep BEING the best YOU!