On Your Mind

Key to a successful retirement: Live with intention, therapist says

2013-06-21T00:00:00Z 2013-06-21T16:09:30Z Key to a successful retirement: Live with intention, therapist saysChristine Bryant nwitimes.com
June 21, 2013 12:00 am  • 

As someone with a busy schedule, suddenly being out of work was too drastic of a change for David Henke.

The healthcare professional didn't lose his job - he chose to retire, something many look forward to accomplishing. For Henke, however, it was a decision he soon regretted.

"I should have had some hobby lined up, a class to take or plugged myself into a volunteer mode," he says. "I feel busy all the time and am so used to a busy and hectic schedule, the drop off came too fast."

Despite being an elected official in Elkhart and a landlord, Henke needed more to occupy his time.

He took a position as executive director of Whispering Pines Health Care Center in Valparaiso, and consults for facilities that have financial or regulatory concerns.

"I enjoy work and helping others," he says. "Maybe I am not cut out for slowing down. At 55 years old, I am looking forward to change, but I'm not sure what form change will have."

Henke's attempt at retirement is common, says Cindy Thelen, a psychotherapist who has an office in Oak Brook, Ill. Many approaching a life-changing event have second thoughts.

"Any transition, even one that we label as positive, involves leaving that which you've known, and journeying into unchartered territory," Thelen says. "That in-between place is so uncomfortable. You're not where you were and you're not where you're going yet. You're in limbo-land, a supremely uncomfortable void."

Thelen says normal to feel anxious, afraid and even terrified of retiring, and those experiencing it feel many of the same emotions of loss or grief - confusion, anger and numbness.

"All of these emotions, and many, many more, are common and natural," she says. "We have to grieve the loss of what was, before we can embrace what is new."

So how does someone prepare emotionally for a life-changing event like retirement when any type of change can be difficult?

"We generally like predictability and routine," Thelen says. "I would invite someone preparing for retirement to think about what feels most difficult for them, and then make a specific plan to address that."

For example, Thelen says if someone can't stand the thought of not having something on her schedule each day, have her develop a strategy.

"They could look up volunteer work, they could walk with a friend every day, they could sign up for a class," she says. "The idea is to be intentional."

Thelen says it's also important for someone approaching retirement to be open to his feelings and acknowledge them. This could include talking with friends or family, writing in a journal or expressing through art.

"All are ways to express what's inside so that those feelings don't sit inside, build up and eventually come out in unhealthy ways," she says.

Thelen also recommends prioritizing various realms of your life, whether it's family and friends, health, recreation, spiritual/personal growth, volunteerism or money. Decide which of those areas you want to improve upon in retirement.

"If you rated your fun/recreation category a 3, what makes it a 3? Where would you like it to be in 12 months? How will you get there? What might get in the way?" she says. "Look at each of these categories and then prioritize. Take baby steps to live more intentionally."

Recommended resources for retirement:

"Transitions: Making Sense of Life's Changes" and "The Way of Transition," by William Bridges

"Seasons of Change: Using Nature's Wisdom to Grow Through Life's Inevitable Ups and Downs," by Carol McClelland

"When Things Fall Apart" and "Comfortable with Uncertainty," by Pema Chodron

Source: Cindy Thelen, psychotherapist and licensed clinical professional counselor

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