ATD Blog

Retirees Re-Envision Work

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Prior to the Baby Boomer generation, people expected to truly disassociate from work when they reached retirement age. However, just as Boomers have redefined other life stages, they are reinventing retirement. (You can check out Shifting Gears to Your Life & Work After Retirement for more.) The retirement paradigm is shifting from one of having reduced contributions to society to one of fulfilling passions and facing new challenges.

Retiree Concerns

An overall concern for most retirees is how to stay motivated, engaged, and excited about life. Boomers want to continue being mentally alert, physically active, and socially involved. They are combining different activities, including an array of possible work arrangements—both paid and volunteer.

Another growing concern is longevity. Heath and medical advancements have resulted in people experiencing longer life spans. This is changing their perspectives on aging—how to remain productive and active. But living longer also means reassessing finances. People must ask: Will I have enough money to last for as long as needed? Will I be required to supplement my income?

If you think work will be part of your retirement life, you should not only assess the potential benefits, but also envision how it will fit into your new lifestyle. Consider how family and friend relationships might change. Will adjustments be successful and satisfying?

Reinvent Who You Will Be

Retirement is a major life event. Upon leaving your employer, a big piece of your identity is gone. Common questions emerge: “How will my daytime hours be spent?” and “How will I introduce yourself when meeting new people?” But there’s a bigger question: What new characteristics, priorities, actions, goals, and passions will emerge?

Indeed, this change also is an opportunity to do what YOU want to do. Are you able to picture the new turns in your life pathway and who you will become as you move forward? Are you aware of your priorities for your next life chapter? Can you imagine an ideal retirement lifestyle? People have varied reactions on their first retirement day.


William Bridges suggests allowing for a transition period. This will enable you to:

  • bring closure to your work life
  • plan for an “in-between” time or a neutral zone to move from one life phase to another adjusting to a new life style
  • establish a new beginning creating the space to ease into and fit comfortably in your “new skin.”

Next, take time to discover your present true self. Self-awareness is the image you present when describing yourself. It is knowing the how and why of your choices: strengths, weaknesses, a value system, goals, lifestyle, and purpose. The identification of your true or authentic self changes with different experiences, such as entering a new life stage like retirement.

Re-Examine Work Roles

Some strategic planning can help you explore how your self-image may change as you transition from working full-time to a retiree who has work options. At this stage, you can engage in paid working assignments or volunteering. Similarly, you can use this opportunity to shift levels of responsibility or industries. Or, you may take on projects that involve travel or fulfill a personal passion. Some even take this time as an opportunity to start a business.


For many, it’s helpful to set specific work goals that reaffirm your intentions and offer a basis for planning your retirement work. In fact, written goals can help you stay focused and give direction to your future plans—increasing your odds for creating a tangible future. Basic work goal elements include:

  • What work do you want?
  • How you will attain this working arrangement?
  • When you will attain this work?
  • What barriers can hamper your success?

Essentially, you are redefining what work will look like in your retirement years. Be sure to review what your work activities should include. Consider:

  • What level of responsibility do you want?
  • Do you want a lot of contact with other people or do you want to work independently?
  • Will you use old skills and expertise or focus on learning new skills and knowledge?
  • Would you like to expand a specific interest or give back to the community?

Clearly, as a retiree you are able to decide the how, when, and where of work. One essential question is: “Will the work truly engage my attention and interest?” Engagement helps to experience retirement as a new life stage rather than the end of the prior one. It builds a positive mindset. When you are engaged, you are challenged, learning, more creative, have a purpose, and involved in social relationships—all elements of a successful career and a flourishing retirement.

Are ready to identify old and new working engagements?

About the Author

Annabelle Reitman has more than 40 years of experience in career coaching and counseling, specializing in résumé development that targets clients’ individualized professional stories. She also does short-term coaching for people in work transitions, enabling them to successfully continue their career journey. Reitman is an established writer and author in the career and talent management arenas. She is a co-author of ATD's Career Moves (2013) and contributed the Take charge of Your Career: Breaking Into & Advancing in the T&D Profession Chapter to the  ASTD Handbook, 2nd edition (2014). Reitman holds doctorate and master’s degrees in higher education administration from Teachers College, Columbia University.

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