5 steps to a successful and fulfilling retirement

The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.

Eleanor Roosevelt

Life is about change. The adage, change is constant is true for all of us at any stage of our lives. Certainly, there has been a great deal of change and disruption globally. There is no doubt this will continue.

The domino effect of this major disruption has seen changes to the way we live our lives, particularly with the rapid move to remote working and learning. Many people have used this time as an opportunity to take stock and evaluate their lives, their priorities, their values and what it is they want for a better and more balanced life in the future.

At the end of the day, change is inherent to life. Without change, our lives would be very dull and boring. Life is about going through change and transitions, whether they are forced upon us or we make a choice.

No one’s life ever completely stands still. For a myriad of reasons, people come into your life and leave it, material possessions come and go, people relocate and careers change.

For me personally, I have recently been through a major lifestyle and career change. After having had a long and successful career as a teacher, career coach and an executive manager in Education Institutes, I decided to take the plunge and move away from my life in the corporate world and focus more on my writing and coaching, while at the same time getting a more balanced lifestyle.

It wasn’t long before people branded me as a retiree. I became curious. What do we actually mean by retirement? This word has never appealed to me and after having looked it up in the dictionary (the action or fact of leaving one’s job and ceasing to work), it has even less appeal!

Do you know the Spanish word for retirement is “jubilación”? A much more appealing word.

Of course, retirement means something different for everyone. I prefer to say going through a major career and lifestyle transition. A mouthful I know!

The life transition I am currently going through means I can concentrate fully on my passions, paying or otherwise, and be more flexible and freer in the way I live my life.

No matter where you are coming from, if you are intending to “retire” or are going through a career and lifestyle change, be very clear, it is a major psychological transition and needs to be well thought out and planned.

I welcomed my new life with open arms and, knowing the importance of preparing for major transitions and in fact advising this to people over the years, I prepared well for this using the self-coaching model I had developed several years ago

However, as we all know, life is messy and complex! When I finished my corporate work, it was as though my whole world turned upside down. What! This is something I had looked forward to so much.

Changing my lifestyle completely, even with meticulous planning brought with it lots of emotions. My tendency to anxiety skyrocketed. My main stressor, my high-pressured job had been left behind, surely this would mean I would have less anxiety.

No matter how prepared I was, I did not understand the full ramifications of the emotions I would go through. First and foremost, I felt like a ship without a rudder. The daily routine I had for so long followed went out the window. I felt directionless and ungrounded.

The reasons we work are so varied. It is about achievement of a job well done. It is also about connection with people, having that stimulation of working towards shared goals.

It is about being part of the human experience, the sense of belonging and the complexities of building relationships. It is also about security and a sense of purpose whether it be about work or personal goals of financial security.

What advice can I give someone considering going down the path of “retirement” or as I prefer to say anyone considering a career and lifestyle change?

1) Understand the difference between change and transition

It is important to note the difference in meaning between change and transition. Change is the external event or situation that takes place and can happen quickly. It may be starting a new job or moving to a new location.

Transition is the inner psychological process that people go through as they come to terms with the new situation that the change brings about.

The starting point for dealing with transition is not where you want to be, but the endings that you go through in leaving the old situation behind. Understanding the emotional ramifications of going through major change is very important.

William Bridges was a world-renowned change consultant who developed a Transitions Model to guide organisations and individuals during significant change. According to William Bridges, transitions have three phases. They are Ending What Currently Is, The Neutral Zone and The New Beginning.

It is important to celebrate and acknowledge the ending of any stage in your life. This is a good time to organise a few activities whether they be social or otherwise, that are an acknowledgement of you finishing this significant part of your journey in life.

The middle phase, the neutral zone, is the messy one where things feel chaotic. Interestingly, it is here with all its chaos, that all possibilities and innovative ideas can come to life and flourish.

Finally, there is the new beginning where you have worked out what your future life looks like and make a fresh start in that direction.

These phases are not in order, you can be doing a bit of all of them at the same time! We tend to gravitate towards the stage we’re good at and interestingly can feel really stuck in our weakest stage.

2) Find your purpose and set goals

Articulating your life purpose and having conscious goals to work towards, creates energy for change. Often goals change as we go through different stages of our life. However, being clear about your purpose and setting goals to achieve this purpose can be a powerful and liberating process.

We are challenging ourselves to reach our full potential, making use of our inner resources and the wisdom we have gained over the years through life experiences and challenging times.

Goals give you purpose, direction and momentum. The real value of setting and pursuing your goals is not just in the goals themselves but in the person you become as a result. It is about consciously changing your habits and behaviours.

In many ways, you are reflecting on what you need to change within yourself. In doing so, you are changing emotionally, leaning into those uncomfortable feelings that need to be addressed that may have been with us for many years. This is what leads to sustainable change and can enhance all facets of your life.

3) Plan, plan and plan

This is such an important step. Knowing your purpose and setting goals is the first part. Developing a personal action plan and monitoring the progress towards your goals is where real change takes place. In terms of a planned major life transition, it is one of the best ways to guarantee that all will work out when the time comes to make your move.

My Life Journal online course has evidence-based techniques and tools on goal setting and taking effective action to enhance your life and inner wellbeing. This course teaches a self-coaching model to achieve those inspiring goals you set yourself, through developing and monitoring your individualised personal action plan.

Achieving your goals and creating lasting change often boils down to cultivating positive habits and embedding them into your life.

Many people have successfully used this model to create a create sustainable change, whether it be in their personal or professional life, and live a meaningful and fulfilling life they love.

We advocate a healthy work life balance, the time allocated to your work, to enjoying yourself and spending time with your family and friends as well as having leisure activities you enjoy. We all know this helps with preventing burn out and reduces stress. If you have followed this in your working life, then you will have few problems transitioning to your new life.

However, there are many people who put most of their energies into their work. Their connections are work-related and it seems most of their life is about work.

Here is a good example, when you are moving into a more balanced lifestyle, of utilising the self-coaching model in Life Journal and set goals to develop meaningful connections and activities outside work.

4) Become more self-aware and mindful

There is no doubt whether your life transition is voluntary or involuntary, the ending comes with a form of grief and there is a grieving process. It is good to familiarise yourself with the different stages of grief. Understanding why you are feeling the way you do really does help.

During this time, be prepared for any ingrained habits and thought patterns that lead to anxiety and stress to amplify and exacerbate. Preparing yourself emotionally to ensure a smoother transition is key here.

Most of the time I did not allow my propensity for anxiety get the better of me in my corporate work. I was that duck gliding calmly on the water with legs moving furiously. I was very mindful of the energy I invested in my work and tried to keep an emotional distance.

Going through a major transition no matter how prepared you are is an opportunity to learn more about yourself, about your patterns of behaviour, particularly when under stress.

It is a catalyst for change. It is an opportunity to dig deeper and reflect on really what is the underlying reason for your stress and anxiety. You may be surprised at what really comes out!

For me, the anxiety I had suppressed for a long time, needing more and more adrenaline to push through in a high-pressured corporate job, increased.

Making this significant change in my life was a major opportunity to address my key issues of anxiety and expand my daily practice of mindfulness and self-compassion. This was one of my key goals in my personal action plan and was central to my vision moving forward in the next chapter of my life.


5) Develop a growth mindset

Current research in neuroscience shows that the brain has plasticity and our neural pathways are capable of changing. Every time we stretch outside of our comfort zone and do and learn new and hard things, the neurons in our brains change and form stronger connections Our brain can even reorganise over time through learning. It does not matter what age you are.

Carol S. Dweck, Ph.D., is one of the world’s leading researchers in the field of motivation and is a Professor of Psychology at Stanford University. Her research has focused on why people succeed and how to foster success. Carol Dweck has documented the benefits of adopting a “growth” mindset rather than a “fixed” mindset.

People who tend towards a fixed mindset believe that basic qualities like their intelligence, their skills and their talents are fixed traits. They believe that who we are today is essentially who we will be any time in the future.

In contrast, people who lean towards a growth mindset, see personality traits and abilities as malleable. They believe that even basic qualities can be developed through hard work and practice. They are striving to develop their qualities and see the potential for growth as they do this.

People with a growth mindset do not fear failure and understand this is an opportunity to learn and grow. They have a perspective over time of what they are reaching for. When something difficult happens, people with a fixed mindset can think it is the end of the world, whereas someone from a growth mindset perspective regards it as an exciting challenge.

We are not one or the other. We all have a little at least a little of thoughts and feeling that come from both mindset perspectives in different situations. You may generally have a growth mindset but in certain circumstances you may be more fixed in your perspective.

Researchers at Berkley have recently completed an impressive set of studies showing a growth mindset is predictive of creativity. When you are not worried about mistakes and you learn from them, taking a longer-term perspective over what you are trying to achieve, fosters innovation and creativity.

Articulating your life purpose and having meaningful goals to work towards that improve your life circumstances and emotional wellbeing, gives you the potential to lasting change and further develop a growth mindset.

This applies to us all and at all stages of our lives, whether you are starting out on a new career, relocating and in fact going through any major career and lifestyle transition including “retirement.”

To further cultivate a growth mindset, you could reflect on how you see failure and mistakes. A person with a growth mindset views them as challenges and opportunities to learn from their experiences. The saying, failure is the best teacher, applies well here.

Prepare yourself for challenges and be aware there will be some. Every time you get out of your comfort zone and take risks, regard it as a challenge.

Be curious about how you are going and why or why not you are succeeding in making those changes. Change takes hard work and perseverance. It is the getting up after you have fallen that is key here.

Carol Dweck says it well in an interview with Mindfulness in May founder, Dr Elise Bialylew.

“I would just say just keep your minds on the ways in which you would like to grow. The goals you have for your life. What contributions you want to make. Ways in which you want to grow and then go for it.”

To sum up, going down the path of retirement or any major career and lifestyle transition gives you the opportunity to rewrite your life story.

Whether your transition was forced upon you or you chose it yourself, it really is up to you how the next chapter in your life will look like.

It is an opportunity to learn more about yourself, heal the frightened parts of you and move on in a more positive and forward looking way to the next stage of a purposeful and fulfilling life.

I hope these strategies help you with whatever life transitions you are going through.

All the best in the next chapter of your life story!

Click here to find out more about the Life Journal course which can really help you to develop a personal and inspiring vision, set goals and take action to realize your dreams for your retirement.

Picture of Jeanette Brown

Jeanette Brown

I have been in Education as a teacher, career coach and executive manager over many years. I'm also an experienced coach who is passionate about supporting people in finding real meaning and purpose in their lives, building a resilient, grounded inner self and achieving their desired goals.

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