Finding Meaning In Your Next Chapter
5 minute read
I can’t wait to retire.” I’m sure you’ve said those words to yourself on more than one occasion. Most people look forward to their retirement years and the freedom that comes along with them. But once they’re in it, many retirees find themselves longing for certain aspects of their old lives…the office camaraderie…the feeling of purpose…and let’s not forget, the paycheck.
Retiring represents a major life transition. So does “unretiring,” or deciding to reenter the workforce after you’ve retired–which notably, more and more people are doing these days. If you’re looking for help managing the changes that accompany retirement and unretirement, you’re not alone.
Bruce Feiler is a bestselling author and motivational speaker who specializes not only in transitions, but also finding meaning in the different chapters of your life. Feiler’s work is based on his years of collecting and analyzing the hundreds of life stories of Americans from all ages and all walks of life in all 50 states. From those conversations, he identified a few common themes and a roadmap, albeit winding, to lead us through life’s later chapters.
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“The Linear Life Is Dead”
One of the biggest ideas that emerged from Feiler’s hours upon hours of interviews was a stark realization that the so-called “linear life is dead.” The linear life, for most, followed a pretty standard path: getting married, having children, working, retiring and the end of life. Feiler says it’s been replaced with a nonlinear life with ups and downs, unexpected interruptions (which he calls “disruptors”) and plenty of transitions.
According to Feiler, during the course of our lives, we will go through roughly three-dozen disruptors, most without issue. But then, you have what he calls the “lifequake.” Think of it as a disruptor on steroids, or in other words, a massive burst of change in your life. “The lifequake puts you on your heels,” says Feiler. “The life transition is what puts you back on your toes. It’s the human response to the lifequake…and the transitions are a skill we all can and must master.”
The important thing to note, Feiler says, is that these lifequakes are “value neutral.” A lifequake might happen to you, or it might be something you create voluntarily. It might even be something incredibly painful, like losing a loved one, but it could lead to something in life we later view as positive.
Becoming A Master In Transitions
What could the playbook for navigating retirement and say, the playbook for becoming a new parent have in common? A lot, according to Feiler. He says the way we manage all periods of change can be broken down into three different phases:
The Long Goodbye: This involves accepting that your old life is no longer. It’s an emotional experience that we use rituals (for example, a retirement party) to mark.
The Messy Middle: This is a time of shedding old habits and experimenting with new ways of living. It can be complicated, and as the name indicates, messy…but it’s also where Feiler says the magic happens.
The New Beginning: This is an unveiling of your new self, with new habits and ways of living.
Just like life, these stages aren’t linear either. Feiler says any major life transition will take you through these phases, but you decide their order. “My big advice to people is to pick the phase you’re good at,” says Feiler. “If you’re good at saying goodbye, start there…but you’re going to have to go through the Messy Middle.”
While Feiler says each transition will go through the three phases, he has some specific pieces of advice when it comes to retirement. “If you’re retiring, start talking about it using that word,” he suggests. “It strips a lot of the emotion out of it.” Also, be prepared to shed certain habits from your pre-retirement life, including the “habit” of getting a regular paycheck. “It’s going to affect you practically as you figure out how to pay your bills and it’s going to affect you emotionally,” says Feiler. “Because maybe you took meaning and had pride in being the provider and having this money come in.”
Feiler says one of the most important things you can do to ready yourself and your family for the financial aspect of retirement is to have hard conversations about money. Be honest about your feelings and don’t be afraid to let go of your long held money philosophies. You may have been a spender, who has a set blueprint for how you feel about money. In retirement, that may need to change.
To Find What’s Next, Engage In A “Meaning Audit”
For many, the biggest struggle of the retirement transition is finding meaning in your new life. It’s the reason many people, after retiring, go back to work. According to a recent study, roughly 20% of retirees are working either full time or part time, while 7% are seeking employment. The specific reasons for “unretiring” are varied, but boil down to two main categories. Roughly 48% of those working in retirement felt they needed to do so for financial reasons. 45% said they’re working for the social and emotional benefits.
Whether you find a new hobby, go back to work part-time or pursue another full-time opportunity, you’ll want to find meaning in this new phase of life. To do so, Feiler proposes going through a “meaning audit.” Life, he says, can be broken down into three sectors, also known as the “ABCs of meaning.” There’s “agency,” which is what you do or create, “belonging,” which is our relationships with loved ones and “cause,” which is your calling or purpose.
Give yourself 100 points and then divide them amongst the ABC categories. As you work through a transition, those values can–and should–change. “In the right transition, you readjust your ABCs,” says Feiler.
Retirement: It’s Not Just One Transition
Feiler says the signature piece of data from his years of studying transitions is that the average one lasts five years. That means for most of us, retirement is not just one transition. It won’t always be easy, but here’s the good news: “Nearly everyone–more than 90 percent in my interviews–believes they did get through their difficult time…which is why perhaps the most powerful fact of life transitions is that they work,” says Feiler.