Facing the Fear of Retirement

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Doctor Neha: Welcome to TalkRx with Doctor Neha. I’m here with Tom. Tom owns a construction company. I’m so glad you’re here, Tom.

Doctor Neha: I’m so glad that you have been thinking about some communication issues. Tell me what’s going on.

Tom: Well, lots going on, but one of the directions in my life is I’m 63. I’ve had a construction company for about 40 years. And when you get in your 60s, it’s time to start figuring out what your next episode of your life is going to be. That brings up that retirement word.

Doctor Neha: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Tell me, when you say the word retirement, what does retirement mean to you?

Tom: All right. Let me take a deep breath. It’s an unknown change in your life.

Doctor Neha: It’s change. It’s the unknown.

Tom: Yes. I’m going to be handing off my business to three great guys in their 40s. They’re going to take it down another path—or they’re going to continue down the same path. But it has my name on it. It has my legacy and my life.

Doctor Neha: It feels really important. Even though you might be leaving on a day-to-day basis, it’s still attached to who you are and what you’ve built.

Tom: Yes! If it starts to go astray in a way that I might not approve, I don’t have control anymore. That’s one aspect. The other aspect is about my life after I’m not working 10-hour days. I’ll have some gaps that I have to fill. I know I can garden. I know I can play tennis. I still like to surf. I can still fill an hour or two here and there. As you start to move into having more and more time on your hands, I think it’s healthy to still have interests and fill up your day with things that are challenging, but also fun.

Doctor Neha: I’m going to stop you for a minute and have you make a shift here in your vocabulary. When you say, “When you retire” or “Like you…”

Instead, I want you to say, “When I retire, I’m going to have some time in my day that I need to fill.”

Tom: When I

Doctor Neha: Right?

Tom: Right.

Doctor Neha: Where do you feel that inside you as you’re speaking about it? Can you physically feel how your body is responding to the whole idea?

Tom: Yeah, right here [points to his head].

Doctor Neha: What’s happening on the front of your forehead?

Tom: Ideas are going back and forth, but there are no answers. Nothing solid, it’s like I have to come up with ideas and things and places.

Doctor Neha: You know what I think, Tom? How good are you at the word surrender?

Tom: Probably not very good. How do you spell that?

Doctor Neha: As you start to get older, often starting around 40, life becomes more about letting some things go. Letting things go not because we don’t work hard, or I don’t work hard, or you aren’t working hard, but there’s a natural process that starts to happen. The first 50 years of our lives are this buildup, and then there’s the second half that is this graceful letting go.

Tom: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Doctor Neha: There’s joy in that.

Tom: Is there? Tell me about it.

Doctor Neha: Could you describe that to me? Like when you know that something is right to do, and instead of being afraid of letting go, you start to look toward what is coming. For instance, when people say to me, “Oh, Neha, don’t you wish you were 20 again?” I think to myself, And I’d have to learn those 2 decades all over again? No thank you! Maybe I’d have youth and more beauty and vigor, but I’d also have to learn the lessons that came in those two decades. Now there’s a part of me that says, “I’ll let go of that. I’ll choose the wisdom and the experience that I’ve got, and I’ll honor the woman I am right now.”

For you, I want to focus a little bit on surrender. There are different ways that surrender comes in. There’s the white flag of surrender when you lose a battle; that’s like giving up. Sometimes it is good to surrender in battle, okay? But I’m not talking about that. I’m talking about something different. It’s more than letting go; it’s something bigger than that. It’s allowing that you have enough self-trust and trust in your people that you’re going to do this. You’re going to do it to the best of your ability.

You are such an interesting man—you surf, you garden, you’re energetic. I don’t think you’re going to have much of a hard time filling the days up. I do think that maybe what you’ll have a hard time with is allowing the space for that beauty to unfold. It’s moving from control to allowing. It’s a little bit of a dance. When there’s ever too much of one thing, that’s when it becomes a weakness. If you ever find yourself in this process and thinking, It’s been a little too long to be in this mental space, it’s probably because either control or allowing is taking the reins.

What is it that retirement would bring into your life? What would it give you?

Tom: Time.

Doctor Neha: What would you do with that time? What are the beautiful things that you would do in that time?

Tom: Well, some of the sports things I mentioned. Some of the gardening things that you know I like to do.

Doctor Neha: And you have a lovely wife.

Tom: Yes! There’s going to be fun.

Doctor Neha: One thing she is is capital F-U-N.

Tom: Who could ask for more?

Doctor Neha: Now when we talk about letting go, what happens inside you? Where does letting go or allowing, where does that sit?

Tom: When you let go, you find all of a sudden all this tension that you’ve been holding onto is just gone. Then it’s like, “All right!” It’s a good feeling. You’re not carrying around all of that baggage anymore, and it’s okay. Sometimes, you’re afraid to let go, because you just don’t know…

Doctor Neha: You don’t know.

Tom: Yeah.

Doctor Neha: Then you want to listen to that, because it could be some intuition telling you that something is not quite ready yet to happen. Listen to that. What do you value the most about your company? Give me 3 or 5 values. What do you value about what you’ve built?

Tom: It’s reputation.

Doctor Neha: Okay. It’s a solid reputation.

Tom: I value it because it’s a creative process for me. I love the creative. Then the people. I not only enjoy the people I work with, but also the people I work for.

Doctor Neha: Yes.

Tom: Relationships.

Doctor Neha: Okay, so this transition is really big for you then.

Tom: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Doctor Neha: In transition for you, you will need to build another community that feels just as connected and enriching in your day.

Tom: That’s really good stuff. That’s very important.

Doctor Neha: Because it seems like what you’d be giving up is how much you enjoy the people interaction.

Tom: I had never put my finger on it, but you’re right. That’s very important to me.

Doctor Neha: Why would you give up the thing that feeds you? That feeds your soul. So look for the community that you want to engage in next. What has passion and meaning to you and is creative?

Tom: I’ve done a lot of wonderful volunteering things too, so that’s an opportunity.

Doctor Neha: But being careful to balance it all. You just don’t go out of work and into …

Tom: People flunk retirement, and I don’t want to do that.

Doctor Neha: You know what the beauty is? Even if you “flunk” retirement, you adjust. You trust yourself enough to adjust course.

Tom: OK, yes.

Doctor Neha: Awesome. What were some takeaways for you?

Tom: Well, allow things to happen. Don’t just sit there and hang on and hang on.

Doctor Neha: Control, control.

Tom: It’s liberating really when you do let go. Part of the planning thing, you just put your finger on it, is not just the sports and not just the things I enjoy, and not just my wife. I need to find sources for interaction with other people and community.

Doctor Neha: That are meaningful and creative because that’s what you love so much about work.

Tom: That’s good!

Doctor Neha: All right. For all of you out there, I wonder if any of you think surrender is a swear word—because we live in a world that is all about control. There’s some beauty in learning to surrender and surrendering in a way that’s graceful. Surrendering is not giving up or waving the white flag of failure. It’s about gracefully transitioning as the phases of our lives unfold and honoring the process of life. Letting go can be graceful and amazing—and even more is it shows you trust yourself and can let control give way to allowing. What is it that you’ve been holding onto that you can now learn to let go a little and allow for something new? Thank you Tom.

I’d love to hear about how you’re handling a transition in your life. Has anyone you care about recently retired or planning to retire? Come on over to the blog and leave a comment. I’d love to hear how it’s going. Also, drop me a tweet at #AskDoctorNeha.

Awareness Prescription

  1. Identify what you value about your current job situation (e.g., the relationships, being creative, variety in your day).
  2. How can you support your values in your new situation or post-transition?
  3. Make a list to honor all that you’ve accomplished. Also make a list of what you have to look forward to. If you had a blank slate, what would you create?
  4. When you feel discomfort in your body (because you will!), ask yourself: What would courage and trust do now?
  5. Take a deep breath, as you exhale, surrender and be open to receive the gifts that await you!

To the beauty of the unknown,

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