I had breakfast last week with a woman who attended my most recent webinar. “There were two things you didn’t cover in enough detail,” she told me. “How do handle the lack of accolades and accomplishments that high performers experience after retiring and the diminishing mental acuity retirees go through in the first couple of years of not working.”
I learned why these two issues were so important to her. In 20 out of 22 years in her career she had been one of the top five performers in her company. “I’m used to someone telling me I’ve done a good job,” she said. Not receiving external validation was a jolt to her ego. She went on to say “Being told you cooked a great meal just isn’t the same.” She was also highly regarded problem solver – a skill she wasn’t using as regularly in retirement.
Learning self-validation isn’t easy. But if your self-esteem is dependent on the accolades you receive from others through work, it is particularly difficult when you stop working. That is why so many hard charging, “Type A” personalities find retirement excruciatingly painful. The measuring stick in the form of job performance they base their worthiness upon is gone.
For some it may take a long time to revise expectations and to learn to be okay with a measuring their accomplishments on a different scale. But the elation that once accompanied receiving a bonus check for outstanding performance can be nurtured by learning to give back to others. It’s not unlike the service aspect of the addiction recovery process. After all, isn’t this really an addiction to validation by others?
We all like to have others recognize our work and achievements. But work is not the only place to earn that recognition. Finding a place to contribute our time and talent to is vital to successful retirement. But far too often those who are still working equate “retired” with “irrelevant” and “obsolete.” That is why boomers often balk at the word “retirement” and why it is so difficult to come up with a word that accurately describes this third phase of life.
Diminishing mental acuity often happens when we leave work and are no longer required to make decisions under pressure, evaluate options, and to research a wide variety of topics. This phenomenon is similar to what our brains experienced as children when we had several months off from school during the summer. We forgot things we worked hard to learn and had to redevelop our cognitive capacity once school began again.
The cliché “use it or lose it” is especially true about our cognitive ability in retirement. Yet, many retirement activities like learning a language, taking up an instrument, or reading can stem the brain fog that comes from lack of use. It takes determination, commitment, and discipline to make keeping your brain sharp a priority.
Apps like Lumosity, Eidetic, Fit Brains Trainer, Brain Trainer Special, Cognifit Brain Fitness and Brain Fitness Pro can help. So can scheduling time to feed your mind on a regular basis.