Georgia Bulletin

The Newspaper of the Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta

The Senior Side: Life after retirement

By BILL CLARKE, Commentary | Published September 21, 2017

“Retirement planning is so focused on money that people don’t realize they need to plan for the more personal areas of life that are crucial to creating a happy, healthy, and connected retirement.”  Robert Laura

How are you adjusting to “life after retirement”?

The initial few months and years of retirement can be either a time of great joy or a time of tremendous turmoil. For some retirees the experience can be a rather unexpected challenge since few retirees receive any advance warning or separation counseling about the many psychological and practical issues that come with retirement. The advance retirement planning focus is usually about financial concerns and not the other issues that you must anticipate and plan for to have a more complete and comprehensive retirement plan.

If you and your spouse are experiencing blissful happiness in retirement, don’t change a thing—just keep enjoying life.

If you are frustrated, not totally content or possibly depressed, you are not alone. You are probably dealing with a couple of issues: first, on the psychological side, you are facing the sudden transition from a work-a-day world to a “what am I going to do today” mentality. Second, from a practical side, the new retiree must adjust rapidly to the reality of being home with their spouse 24/7 after spending 30 or more years on the job.

The world at home can be turned upside down when the retired spouse is suddenly camped out in the private domain of home and attempts to help with the daily routine while inadvertently and unintentionally getting in the way. Many a spouse has been driven to the edge of sanity by the sheer presence of a retired partner who upsets the normal routine of a household. Both partners must now develop new habit patterns for how to get along with each other.

In an earlier column I explained the psychological issue called the “Post-Retirement Syndrome,” a condition triggered by the sudden loss of your job and career. It is not easy to walk away from something you have been doing for several decades. You will miss your colleagues and your customers, patients, clients, students or commuter friends. You will also miss the routine that you followed every day of your working life. Eventually you will also miss the feeling of well-being and importance that your job and career provided, whether it was triggered by your rank, title, authority or perks.

You quickly learn that in retirement you have none of the trappings of your former life. You’re now just another retired senior person.

The adjustment process in retirement is similar to other major changes in your life. Try to recall your feelings when your youngest child went off to pre-school or kindergarten. You cried and fretted all day long as you lamented about abandoning your helpless little baby.

Another emotional touch point occurred when that same child, now a teenager, departed for college. You knew for sure that life would never be the same without them, and you were right.

A few years later you watched pensively as your grown-up son or daughter got married. Your life was now totally turned upside down. How can you ever survive without children in the house? What will you talk about? When will things ever be normal again?

The reality is that you have to learn how to deal with the “new normal.” In spite of your level of preparedness, life goes on. It’s important that you anticipate that you may have some downer days in the early stages of retirement. That’s OK—you will have plenty of company. You can get over it faster by determining how you plan to deal with the many psychological and practical issues of retirement.

Below are some questions that your financial planner probably did not ask. They deal with the psychological and practical issues that you need to consider and incorporate into your retirement plan.

  • What is your number one goal in retirement? Without a goal, you run the risk of wandering aimlessly from one activity to another.
  • What do you and your spouse really want to do in retirement?
  • Do you have a desire to do something totally different than you’ve done so far in your career or life?
  • What is going to make you truly happy? Your spouse? Your family?
  • What does your spouse think about your retirement? What does your spouse want to do? What does your spouse want you to do?
  • How do you cope with the feelings of depression you experience from the sudden separation of your job and career? The dreaded Post-Retirement Syndrome?
  • How do you replace the sense of well-being and self-worth that your career provided?
  • How do you develop a retirement kind of relationship with your spouse now that you are suddenly thrust together 24 hours a day/seven days a week?
  • What are the other things you need to organize besides your finances and legal issues?
  • How do your parents, children and grandchildren fit into your retirement plans?
  • What about travel, entertainment, leisure activities and your social life?
  • What do you intend to do to take care of yourself physically and mentally?
  • Are you happy with where you live? Is your spouse on the same page?
  • What are the activities you want to get involved in? Work? Family? Community? Church? Organizations and clubs?
  • What are your strengths? How can you capitalize on your strengths to do something rewarding in your retirement?
  • How might you use your experience and wisdom to generate additional income in case you outlive your retirement nest egg or want additional money for unplanned expenses?
  • What are the obligations or commitments that you must fulfill?
  • How will you separate the things you want to do from the things you need to do?
  • What will provide you with a sense of personal fulfillment for a life well spent?
  • What must you do spiritually to help ensure eternal life?

In short, there are a great many other personal and psychological issues that you need to consider and plan for in retirement.

Importance of Attitude

Another major issue that surfaces in the early days of retirement deals with aging and the eventual reality that you are part way through the second half of your life. Regardless of how you feel about growing old, there is nothing you can do to stop the aging process.

But you can be proactive in taking good care of your mind and body to lessen the impact of aging.

Your attitude has a lot to do with how you feel about getting older.

You’ve heard the expression, “You are only as old as you feel.” If you think you have aches and pains, you will have aches and pains. If you don’t allow yourself to become disheartened by the aging process, you will feel and act like a much younger person. You can control how you feel and act.

It amounts to attitude.

Final Thought

My final thought is about the need to maintain your perspective about life. You must always remember that this mortal life is but a transition to eternal life. God doesn’t differentiate between pre- and post-retirement. Don’t get so preoccupied with your retirement experience that you lose sight of your purpose.

Bill Clarke, former business executive, teacher and senior citizen, emerged from his third retirement to serve as the associate director of professional development for the archdiocesan Office of Formation and Discipleship. To send Bill your thoughts on this and other topics, send an email to