I am Flunking Retirement!



Why is my retirement of two months not feeling like retirement?  How do I flunk retirement? Maybe it is because I am still really busy! My Bucket List is sadly on hold until I can figure out this confusing stage called retirement.

I was trying to figure out why I was not enjoying retirement, about 2:00 a.m. when it hit me.  I am going through the Stages of Transition that David Pollock developed years ago. I got up, turned on the lights, and began to jot down the Stages of Transition and what I was experiencing. My retirement dilemma and the Stages of Transition all fit together in my head and my brain was finally at peace.  Here are my midnight musings on transition and retirement.

I began by looking up the definition of transition.  My handy little iPhone dictionary states it is “the change from one stage to another”.  Yup, that is me. I have moved into the stage of retirement, but my mind has not yet arrived there.

There are many major stages or states that we move through as we mature. Among these stages are birth, adolescence, teenager, college, marriage, vocational adulthood and retirement. I am in the last one. Realizing that one fact alone, makes me nervous. I am in the LAST stage!

There are, also, catastrophic events such as the death of a loved one, a divorce, a natural or manmade disaster that move us through the cycle of transition. And a move between cultures will do it as well. Pollok developed the Cycle of Transition with this last group in mind. But as you will see they fit for most any major transition we might be experiencing.

Many years ago when studying the impact of change on us, I learned that transitions are harder when they are imposed on us by others or life. In those situations we feel as if we have lost control. Change tends to be easier when they are self imposed. We feel like we have more control.  You are in the driver’s seat in these types of change or transitions. A simplistic example of this is marriages that take place because the couple choose to be married have less difficulties in making that transition into a good marriage, than shot-gun marriages or because they were “forced” to go through a marriage against their will. Many of these marriages end up in divorce court, they don’t make the necessary transitions.

Let’s look at Pollock’s Cycle of Transition and see how it fits into my time of transition into retirement or your time of transition into another culture.


1.  Involvement

Life was normal as you went to work each day. That is good because if you are in a good place emotionally, it will impact how well you do when you land in the next stage.  If you are already struggling emotionally, financially or physically, you will struggle when you get to the next stage. You have to start off healthy. If your marriage is bad before you even start to make a major transition, it will more than likely be bad as you move into the next stage. In fact, it may not even survive the stress of transition. In my case, all was normal as I went to work each day and interacted with my clients. Life was normal.


2.  Leaving

The major change or transition is starting to take place. This is when several key things come into play which can create a solid or a shaky foundation for the next stage. They are any of the following: Is it a self-imposed change or imposed by someone else? How did you find out about the change? Was it a surprise or something you talked about with your spouse, employer, children, close friends? Were you given enough time to absorb and prepare for this major transition? Or did you have to make the transition suddenly? Are you running away from something you don’t like about others or yourself? What is your reason or motivation for the change?

With retirement you can be in denial that it is coming and not be adequately prepared for the move. When the date arrives, you stumble around in disbelief that the date is actually here. You may not have prepared financially and now you either can’t make that transition into retirement or have supplement your income in some way. Or you have not trained someone to fill your role in the organization. Hopefully, you don’t fall into that category.

As you are leaving, you might feel yourself pulling away from your coworkers through silly arguments, working extra hours to finish up that last project or develop that manual that you hope will “save the day” for whoever replaces you.  

“Hmmm, this feels strangely familiar. I felt this when I left my friends behind as I moved between countries!”

It feels the same, but it isn’t the same as you are not changing cultures or losing friends.

In the leaving stage, you might find myself getting angry more often with yourself and anyone else within range.  “Why didn’t I invest more money?” “You need to do my job just like I did it.” What do you mean, you lost the manual I wrote!”

As you are moving between countries you can have the tendency to blame your international company or agency for not adequately preparing you for this move, blame your spouse for not giving you all of the details, or the packing company for not doing things in a timely and careful manner. Anyone becomes a fair target. It is easier to leave if you are angry at those you love.


3. Transition (I call this stage “Chaos”)

                              Going into retirement the realizations can be frightening. You suddenly realize you have to spend 24/7 with your spouse. That can be an adjustment, even though you love them dearly, you are not used to always having them around.

There can be identity issues of “Who am I?” as in our Western culture, our identities are tied up in our vocations, especially if you are a male or a single female. “I am a teacher, banker, coach”. Stay at home women frequently see  their identity as a mother, “I am the mother of five children and 14 grandchildren”. If you worked outside of the home most of your adult life, when you retire you suddenly find yourself asking “who am I”?

Internal chaos or confusion was the order of the day for me.  I began to write down what all was creating this confusion within me and my loss of daily structure.

  • What time do I get up?
  • What meal will be my big meal of the day?
  • I don’t have enough bumming around clothes.
  • I only know what day of it week it is by my pill box.
  • I go to the grocery store, not to buy anything but to talk to someone, anyone.
  • Who do I tell that I am sick?
  • What day of the week do I do the laundry or clean the house?
  • When I go on a trip, is it a vacation or just a trip while in retirement?
  • What will I do, once I finish all of my projects?
  • No more pay raises
  • Everyone has strong opinions on what I should do with my time.

Chaos is the best way to describe this stage, because the schedule has been turned upside down. It is no longer familiar. New expectations and rules have been handed out and you don’t know what they are at this point. You lost the retirement manual. Again, it is just like moving into a new culture, but I have not moved.

Some fall into a depression because they have lost their purpose or goals in life and they do not know what to do next.  They have lost all hope and crawl between the sheets on their bed and quickly grow old.


In a move between cultures, I have seen some stay at home spouses do this very thing or slide into the world of addictions in order to cope with their entire world and identity turned upside down.

What you need at this stage is someone to hear your heart cry and confusion. Someone to just listen to you without judgement. You need someone to feel your pain with you. You need to be validated that it is hard. Once you feel your friend or spouse has heard the cry of your heart, than you are ready to hear their advice.


This is the advice given to me by friends who have already retired.

  1. Don’t make any major decisions or long-term commitment during the first year.

  2. Surround yourself with people who care about you. (Sit with you and listen to your confusion.)

  3. Eat well, get plenty of sleep, exercise, do what you love and be proactive socially.


These words of wisdom would also be the same ones I would give to someone moving between cultures.


4.  Entering    

This is when hope starts to peak it’s head out of the ashes of chaos or grief. You start to realize, “Do I dare hope that life will be normal again?”, “Maybe I can do this”, “Hey, this is actually fun!”

You have become more intentional in your living and find ourselves accidently loving it once again.  As a retiree you might find yourself volunteering in a school, tutoring, woodworking, enjoying free classes at the local library, joining a book club, taking up photography, or becoming a tour guide at a state park. You realize there is a big world out there with a number of interesting and enjoyable activities that you now have the free time to do. You now have the energy and time to start to do all of those things listed on your Bucket List.

5.  Re-involvement

You are now living the new normal, you have accepted the losses of leaving behind your former career and identity and you have made the adjustment. You see that you can do this (retirement or adjusting to a different culture) and life moves forward. You have now reintegrated into society and have found your sense of belonging once again.

You are at peace and enjoying retirement or a new culture and a new world.

And so, I am moving through the Stages of Transition as I am busy adjusting to retirement. Today, I am in the stage of Chaos, but I am moving forward until I get this retirement thing down right.

What stage are you on in your life?


My Go To books on Transition

  • Homeward Bound: A Spouse’s Guide to Repatriation by Robin Pascoe.

  • Home Away From Home: Turning Your International Relocation into a Lifetime Enhancement by Beverly D. Roman.

  • Managing Transitions: Making the Most of Change by William Bridges.

  • Third Culture Kids: Growing Up Among Worlds by David Pollock, Ruth Van Reken & Michael Pollock.