July 12, 2018

Is Your Retirement an End or a Beginning?

That is a good question with an important answer. Retirement is both an end and a beginning. It is a transition between two phases of life. Whether that is a positive or negative change is really one of attitude and expectations.

For many of us, our job, our career, the time we spent earning a living came to define us. The people we worked with may have been the core of our social structure. If married, our family's life revolved around work commitments. Vacations happened when there was a lull in the schedule. Weekends may have been at the mercy of mandatory staff and management meetings. For those of us who traveled a lot, being home was more about catch up than relaxation and family. Hobbies or passions? No time.

When someone asked what we "do," we had a ready answer: a description of our place in a company or industry. Raising a few children, being married or engaged, working on a novel....that wasn't implied in the question. The "correct" answer was always related to our income.

For us, the start of retirement was the end of something: an easily defined, socially acceptable place in the scheme of things. For a period of time, we may have struggled to figure out who we were without the title. The answer to what we "do" became hesitant and poorly defined. 

For others, retirement was a beginning, the conclusion to a life of work,
a clean break between two stages of life: one externally focused, the other internally. What had paid the bills and produced enough investments to  stop was enjoyable and fulfilling. We liked our work. But, we knew life held something different for us. We were created for more. We embraced the break.

Maybe we worked at something because it was required to support us and others. The job was a slog to be endured. Nights and weekends meant a small taste of freedom. We wondered what else might satisfy us. When a chance to retire became more than a dream, we jumped across the break between the two ways of living, sure that something good lay before us.

How we mentally approached retirement was quite different but the final result was the same: another way of life. A poll on this blog asked "if knowing what you know now, would you have retired sooner than you did?"  62% responded that, 'No, I retired at just the right time." 

To me, that is a good measurement of satisfaction. Whether the respondents initially saw retirement as an end or a new beginning, more than 6 out of 10 are happy with the timing. Add the 15% who wished they had begun their satisfying retirement earlier and there is an obvious conclusion: retirement could be both an end or a beginning, but however it was approached it is a welcome stage of life.

"Officially," I am now into my 18th year of this part of my life.  I loved my career and have tremendous memories. I entered retirement with some fear and uncertainty. It took a few years to find my stride. Now, I am exploring all I can be. Each part of life was quite different from the other, but I needed the first stage to realize the blessings of the second.

If you'd like to read more, here are a few articles to inspire you:

Is Retirement an Ending or a New Beginning?

Life After Retirement: What Do I Do Now?

The first in a series of three new booklet-length resources is now available. Preparing For Your Financial Future after Retirement is a guide to the most exciting journey of your life, the one that takes place after retirement.

Whether you are still working toward this new phase of your life, or already there, Preparing For Your Financial Future should be one of the resources you consult.


  1. Those of us who have been retired for a while try to reassure people that retirement is not the end of the world, but the beginning of a whole new wonderful life. But maybe it's just a process that working people have to go through themselves, that they "enter retirement with some fear and uncertainty" ... and then take a while to hit their stride. Of course, blogs like yours help with the transition. And books too. I read "Preparing for Your Financial Future in Retirement" (and commented on amazon) -- and found that even an old hand like me picked up a few useful tips.

    1. Thanks, Tom, for the very nice review on Amazon. The book is doing well, with the next one set to hit the market by the end of next week.

      Probably all of us enter retirement uncertain to some degree. Even if you can't wait to leave work, not having a regular paycheck can keep you up at night. It does work itself out, but deep breathing helps!

  2. As the saying goes, what the caterpillar calls the end of the world, we call a butterfly. When I retired, I had initially arranged to take a leave for a year to "try it out" before making a final decision. However, a time limited retirement incentive package offered by my employer motivated me take the leap. I never looked back.

    I was fortunate to have a very smooth transition into retirement. I had a lot going on in my life that year (two grandbabies born within weeks of each other, for one thing!), and being retired gave me plenty of time to devote to these other things. So for me it was a peaceful end to a job I loved very much, and an exciting beginning to a life I've loved ever since.

    1. I know you enjoyed your law work at the university, but have seen how happy and free you are now. Your transition is an excellent example to others of loving your life before and after retirement.

  3. At the time of my retirement, I received a card that read - retirement is when you stop living at work and start working at living. Every ending is a new beginning. I was so ready for retirement and like Galen, never looked back. An ending, a beginning and in many ways a continuation. There are so many things that haven't changed, i.e life still needs to be managed and there are so many activities of daily living that continue whether employed formally or not. I'm still not over the slow mornings and the gift of time not colored with the work routine.

    1. The card you received summarizes the feeling many of us had. You make an important point, too, about the continuation of things. Much of what made your life enjoyable before life continues. I assume there are some folks who think of retirement as a complete break between two parts of life. It isn't really like that.

  4. It is scary to make that leap into retirement. You have a good job, probably at the most money you've ever made, and you are supposed to just walk away from it. Not easy to do. If you get laid off or receive some other retirement/severance downsizing package it probably doesn't make it any less scary but at least you can rationalize that the decision is out of your hands.

    I was having a conversation with a friend of mine who had been on long term medical leave. When he returned to work after the extended medical leave (over a year) he was let go with a generous severance package. He was in his late 50s and decided to retire and shortly thereafter he had "retirement religion" and was happily promoting it to everyone he knew and just couldn't understand why people are nervous about retiring.

    I asked him "When you returned to work if they had offered you your old job back would have taken it?"

    He agreed that he would have and I said "It's like that."

    I made my own decision to retire, no package or incentive, and I have to say it wasn't easy for me to "pull the plug" on my working life. I had a target date that I missed by almost 2 years, not for any real financial reason, but just because it is a lot less scary to keep on doing what you have been doing.

    It's all worked out fine and my transition to retirement has been as smooth, probably smoother, than I ever expected. I didn't experience any "letdown" period at any point and I can honestly say it's all been good. I put a lot of thought and planning (both financial and perhaps more importantly non-financial) into my retirement so perhaps that's helped. Bottom line is that, like the rest of life, retirement is what you make it.

    To the question "if knowing what you know now, would you have retired sooner than you did?" My answer would be that I probably should have kept to my initial target date but missing it by less than 24 months is close enough.

    1. "like the rest of life, retirement is what you make it." That is absolutely true. Regardless of how someone enters into retirement, the journey will be determined by what you do with the time, freedom, and opportunities. As I have said many times, each one of us has a unique retirement experience. We have to figure out how to make it work for us.

      It seems like you have done so!

  5. Why does it have to be one or the other? For me, retirement has been both an end and a beginning. My retirement was not planned and was health issue driven. As a result it happened a few years before I had expected. I was not really ready. I loved my job and was making a good salary. My health had other ideas and I needed to leave. And so that marshaled in the ending with very little preparation and fanfare. Fortunately this blog and others and the wonderful insightful comments really helped. And so it also became an unknown beginning. I had a very nervous transition. Not prepared for feelings of too many unstructured hours, no colleagues to visit with, no projects to be working on, etc. Plus trying to come up with an answer to “what do you do?”. But each day got better (just as folks said it would) until now this stage of life is wonderful. I look forward to each day.

    I still wonder if I retired “at the right time”. If I had done so earlier I may have avoided some health issues and if I had done so later I may have had more or worse. Since it was not really my planned choice I guess it doesn’t matter. As you say, we each will go through our unique transition.

    But I do know that this retirement time is becoming easier, more fun, and a lot more comfortable. I still catch myself concerned about finances given the wild ride of my 401K but I know that I can always adapt and overcome just like when raising a family and building a career. Life is good.

    1. Life is good, Jeff. I saw retirement as an end to a career and my own business. Like you, I was nervous and worried. A year later it became a new beginning that has amazed me over the next 17 years.

  6. The answer to “what do you do?” can tell a lot about a person. I think that is why people like to ask it as a conversation opener. For example, you get a different picture of what someone’s life might be like if they answer “surfing instructor,” “school bus driver,” “Vice President of X corporation,” or “mother of three preschoolers.” Of course, a job does not say everything about a person, and it would be a mistake to thing that is all you need to know.

    As a retiree, I find it interesting to know what career(s) a person used to have. If people ask me what I do, I say that I am a retired professor.


    1. At my age most people assume I'm retired. But, the person I'm meeting almost always asked what I did before retirement. It is a natural curiosity.

      That was not the case when I stopped working at 52. People wondered if I had won the lottery or been laid off.

  7. For me, retirement is a transition from one stage of life to another, like going from High School to College and from College to my career. I am newly retired at 58 and although I was making a very good salary, I was tired of the corporate BS, it just felt like the right time and reading blogs like yours just reaffirmed my decision. Like the one commentor’s card said, I am working at living now and so far so good...


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