The threshold of retirement
One of the most significant thresholds for professionals in the corporate sector or the bureaucracy is retirement from their jobs. This may not be the case for independent professionals like doctors, lawyers, actors, or even professionals working in private family businesses which may have a policy of retaining employees till they can work, where age is not a determinant of when the person should retire. Retirement means many things to different people – on the upside, the most common things cited are freedom, rest, security, time to pursue personal passions, better health care, reduction of stress, pensions and enjoying the fruits of one’s lifetime of work. On the downside, retirement also evokes anxiety, depression, stress and conflict for many people arising from not being able to manage this transition, role confusion, loss of identity, loss of structural power and authority that one enjoyed in one’s role in the organisation, changes in social identity (changed attitudes of former colleagues, friends, relatives and even one’s own children, spouse and others in the immediate family).
Work is one of the key signifiers of our identity. Our professions are not only a means of earning, it becomes one of the most defining parts of our identities, that stems from a journey spanning across 30 to 40 years of one’s life. It builds our sense of self, our resilience, our source of support and strength – and we grow to rely on it for our emotional and psychological well being. Retirement may mean that this identity of ours becomes our past and may create space, which, if we don’t know what to do with, makes it turn into emptiness that creates anxiety and sadness.
'Amit Bagchi (pseudonym) was a chartered accountant by profession, a profession that he took up when he was in his early twenties, once he earned his degree with hard work and perseverance. The eldest son in his family with 4 siblings, the family desperately needed to add an earning member to support his father as the lone provider. Amit devoted himself to his profession, his work, his career to earn competence and recognition in his company, one of India’s leading CA firms. In course of time, he became good at his job, rose the ranks, his salary increased considerably as did the perks. It allowed him to fulfill his responsibilities to his parents as the eldest son wherein he ensured the best of health care for them and well being, the eldest brother who ensured that all his siblings got an education and became financially and socially secure in their own lives, it also allowed him to have his own family and provide for his wife and children with all the privileges that he never got in his life.
When Mr. Bagchi retired in 2012, he welcomed it with proclamations of freedom, joy and satisfaction of achievement. He promised himself and others that he would gift himself with time, fun and spontaneity. His retirement was celebrated in his company with genuine felicitations, customary rituals and some amount of tokenism. The first few weeks after his retirement were celebrated with breaking of habits and rules, be it the morning routines, or an drink before lunch on a weekday, sudden decisions to visit a relative or old friends mid-day, getting involved in housing committees or community committees for the Durga Puja (Bengal’s largest community festival). When this ‘breaking of customary habits’ also lost novelty, he started feeling bored. He realized that he missed work.
Conversations and socializing with friends and family wasn’t helping him deal with a constant feeling of restlessness. Everyone else had their routines and his extra time for socializing or connecting was not necessarily accommodated in their lives. He realised that a large part of his communication with his wife and children, over the years, had been functional and around tasks and responsibilities, and having more time to spend with them also meant finding newer ways of relating, and that he did not know how to deal with. Mr. Bagchi’s struggles are not his alone, however, he did not know who could help him deal with his anxiety and the stress, he was not even necessarily accepting of the fact that he wanted or needed help.
Manifestations of this restlessness showed in different ways, arguments with his wife and children over various matters, his growing irritability and snappiness. Eventually, he decided, as everyone around him advised, to find out ways of keeping himself engaged and involved and he decided to take on consulting projects reaching out to former clients. This has helped him to some extent, however, he often feels dissatisfied with the assignments, the fees – and the core issues that he was struggling with – his purpose of life, his relevance in the family and communities, his questions on what he has achieved and the cost/ price he has paid, remain closeted that haunts him from time to time, in his thoughts and sleep.
Amit’s struggles are not unique. Most people, in Amit’s situation in life, go through levels of anxiety and stress in different degrees and find different coping mechanisms. The coping mechanisms may even offer short term relief and solutions, but may leave core issues ignored that corrodes a person internally, emotionally, psychologically and that impacts a person’s well being, social relationships and the ageing process negatively.
The Threshold of Retirement: Making Transitions Meaningful, is an offering for people between 50 and above, who may wish to work on making their retirement experience meaningful for themselves. Change Mantras, an organisation that provides services for personal growth, leadership fostering and organisational development, offers personal growth workshops and facilitate a process for self reflection, generating insights, getting in touch with aspirations, replenishment and rejuvenation.
Change management for retiring professionals require getting in touch with existential questions around identity, purpose of life, one’s worldview, one’s desires, anxieties and fears, looking at one’s life narrative and the narrative that one would like to build for oneself. The process empowers people from being a victim of circumstances to someone who feels internally resourced to welcome changes, and make changes meaningful for oneself and others.