Real Retirement

Photograph by Kathryn Severns Avery.

Throughout my lifetime I have often lamented that life does not come with instructions. “Why didn’t someone tell me that this would happen?” I would often wail when my plans went awry. The truth is there always was someone in my life telling me “this” would happen. I just didn’t want to hear it.

In college and afterwards friends warned me that romantic relationships I pursued would turn out disastrously. They were able to size up the situation with a degree of objectivity I did not have. Thankfully, most of them graciously refrained from saying “I told you so” when the situation blew up and I was heartbroken.

Human beings are experiential learners. We can be told a hundred times that an iron is hot, but we don’t know what hot is until we experience the pain of a burn. Most of us learn from our mistakes, but some of us are slow learners and repeat the same behavior expecting different results. We engage in magical thinking that someone or something can change our life circumstances when we are the ones who must change if we want things to be different.

The desire to spare others pain is natural. Parents, wanting to spare their children pain intervene on their behalf. By so doing, they unwittingly instill a belief in their children that someone else will swoop in and save the day. It is uncomfortable to bear witness to a child’s struggle with pain and to encourage them to trust themselves to handle the situation. Yet one response breeds weakness and the other strength in both the parent and the child.

We forget that pain is a part of the growth process. Pain can be the acetylene torch that cuts through rationalization, denial, and other disempowering coping mechanisms in a way that talking, pleading, and cajoling cannot.

The same can be said of the mission of Your Countdown to Retirement. My desire has been to spare fellow baby boomers the pain they are likely to encounter as they transition from working to not working. But the truth is pain is a transformative part of the transition process. By seeking to spare someone that pain, I am doing them a disservice and may prevent them from learning life lessons necessary for their evolution as a human being and as a soul.

What is infinitely more beneficial is to provide ways to help baby boomers lean in to the pain and discomfort of what it means to stop working and acknowledging we are aging. Providing a pathway through the pain and tools to evaluate how to use their remaining time to master whatever life lessons remain is far more constructive. Showing that there is value in accumulated life wisdom, there is a way to create a rewarding and fulfilling post-career experience, and there is hope for the future is the “real” purpose of retirement coaching.

To that end it is important to know the difference between hope and false hope. False hope is akin to wishful thinking. It is an impotent belief system that waits for someone or something to change our circumstances. Hope, real hope, is active rather than passive and is anchored in both belief and action. Hope is the path for moving out of pain and the future is filled with hope.

We all want the version of retirement where we are happy, fulfilled, and joyful. Your past performance in life is reliable indicator of future results. If you are generally happy, have satisfying relationships, have worked through difficult issues, made peace with your past, forgiven both yourself and others, know your values and what makes you happy, you undoubtedly will continue those traits and experiences in this phase of life.

You have learned the secret of “real” retirement – the more you are willing to experience the pain and discomfort of self-examination and discovery of who you really are and whom you want to be, the happier, more fulfilled, and hopeful your future is likely to be.

Kathryn Avery

About Kathryn Avery

When Kathryn Severns Avery’s husband, Chris, began contemplating retirement in 2014, she knew they had to quickly come up with a multi-faceted plan. They spent the next year discussing, sometimes heatedly, what they would do once he stopped working. On paper their plan looked exciting. They would head from Colorado to the 1891 sea captain’s house they bought and renovated in Rockland on Maine’s midcoast. But the reality of planning and implementing retirement was much different than expected. Kathryn has worked in radio, television, marketing, and public relations. She is the author of five books and has written articles on interior design and crafts for national and regional publications including Romantic Homes, Log Homes Illustrated, The Rocky Mountain News and Colorado Homes and Lifestyles.