It is an inevitable fact that each of us will face retirement one day. What most of us do not
realise is that retirement is a process that cannot only be thought of when we reach retirement
age. In South Africa we have no legal retirement age; however many companies look at 65
years as the retirement age.
Often frustration is felt by the person retiring and their social network during the period of retiring
and sometime after. This is because retirement is a process with complex layers that affect
many people. A big reason that this process is such a big milestone in a person’s life is because
it involves a loss of identity.
If we think of our lives; we go to school and further our studies with a job or career in mind. We
pursue this job and turn it into a career. We spend years of our life making a name for ourselves
in our chosen career and during this time our career becomes part of our identity. When asked
to introduce ourselves we often include our occupation in our introduction. We think of ourselves
as a lawyer or a salesperson or an electrician. We are proud of this part of our identity. When
faced with retirement there is a loss of this occupational identity. It can feel like there is a part of
the person missing; which is a big feeling to deal with. It can become overwhelming; especially if
retirement was not a choice or if a person is not financially ready for it.
A person who retires may feel loss not only of their occupational identity but of their daily routine
and motivation. They can also lose their purpose in life; many people feel that once they retire
they no longer have a purpose in life. This is not true. There is also a loss of belonging; for
many years a work community has been experienced and now the person is leaving this
community. The loss felt is a complex loss on many levels; this loss needs to be properly
A good way to deal with retirement is in a two-step process. The first step is to prepare; this
should happen before the person needs to retire. Preparation begins with understanding if a
person is financially able to retire. If they are not then part time paid work needs to be found. It
will do a lot to relieve anxiety and stress over retirement if this is finalised before the person
retires. The next consideration is living arrangements. Will the person remain where they are or
do they need to move? If they need to move where will they move? Then a person needs to
mentally and emotionally prepare for this change. They need to make sure they have strong
support structures with family and friends; they need to try shifting their perspective from what
they are losing to what they can gain. Going to see a counsellor during this process can be
helpful as they can facilitate a re-framing of perspective.
It is a good idea to do this preparation before the person has left their place of work. Still being
at work will help the person feel secure in their identity and place and the security can make it
easier to face the coming anxiety, loss and stress. Some companies have a Retirement
Preparation Program that helps their employees through this process.
The next step is adjustment to retirement; this phase can last for some time. A person needs to
develop new habits, routines and behaviours that suit their new lifestyle. Keeping strong support
networks and social interaction, finding work whether it be paid or voluntary and exploring ways
to feel in control of their lives again are all important parts of the adjustment period. Sometimes
counselling can make this process easier.
It is important to remember that retirement does not mean a loss of identity or purpose or
belonging. It is an opportunity to reinvest in relationships, engage in hobbies, learn new skills
and find ways to give back to the community. When a person gives back to the community they
find a sense of belonging and meaning which strengthens their self-concept. This is the
re framed perspective that we need to strive towards when we think about retirement.
– By Amy Pieterse 2018