It’s a pretty universal thing to think of retirement as a glorious time. No more daily grind. Time for golf courses, beach vacations, and all the other stuff we keep putting off “till retirement”.
However, being a happy retiree isn’t just a matter of financial readiness. There’s also the matter of emotional readiness.
Not everyone is emotionally ready for it, even if they think they are. I’ve met plenty of people who were so excited at first, only to discover that retirement isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.
My mom is one of them, and while she’s certainly financially set, she has struggled with retirement after the initial giddiness wore off.
Here are 7 signs that you may not be emotionally ready for retirement. If they resonate with you, it’s better to realize it now and do something about it than get stuck in an existential crisis down the road.
Let’s dive in!
1) You haven’t defined what retirement means to you
With all the focus on financial readiness, planning for emotional needs upon retirement isn’t something that’s top of the list.
In fact, an AARP study found that 57% of retirees and 41% percent of non-retired adults had never considered planning for their emotional needs or finding ways to feel fulfilled prior to retirement.
So, when it finally rolls around, they’re faced with the big “What’s next?” question.
If you haven’t given it some serious thought prior to retirement day, this question can spark feelings of lostness.
I watched my mom go through this, and it’s actually been a wakeup call for me as well.
She had this picture-perfect vision of retirement. She’d have leisurely coffee mornings, hours and hours reading her collection of mystery novels, time to finally travel the world…
But she hadn’t bargained on how all of that would feel empty after a while.
You see, more often than not, our jobs give us a sense of purpose. We wake up everyday knowing where to go and what to do.
So, once that’s gone, what now? That blank, wide open space of free time suddenly looks a lot more intimidating than inviting.
That’s why it’s important to have a realistic vision for your retirement. A vision that includes purpose.
It doesn’t have to be monumental or world-changing. It could be as simple as hobbies that make you feel fulfilled, volunteering, or even starting a small part-time venture that you’ve always been passionate about.
The key is to have something that motivates you to get up in the morning, just like your job did.
2) You’re clinging to your job identity
In short, you’re not sure who you are outside of your job.
This is closely connected to my previous point – our jobs give us purpose and in that sense, shape our identity.
If you were the type who let work consume you, it would be pretty tough to let go of your job identity when you’re retired.
For example, as the head of an HR department, my mom was the “go-to” person at her workplace. That role was something she truly relished. She knew exactly who she was at work.
So when that ended, the next question popped up – “Who am I if I’m not an HR manager?”
If that thought scares you, then you might not be emotionally ready yet. I’d advise you to be prepared to embrace another role. As early as now, think about who you want to be once you retire.
I like to think of it as another adventure – another chance to discover yourself and see how you’re so much more than your job title.
3) You dread the thought of “free time”
Another sign you’re not emotionally ready for retirement is if you’re absolutely dreading the idea of “free time.”
If you’re still working, I know you’ll say, “Oh no, I love that idea!” But believe me, when you’re right there and you’ve got rows and rows of blank days on your calendar, it can feel empty.
Like an endless stretch of aimlessness.
Real talk – in theory, lots and lots of free time is so appealing. In practice, not so much. In fact, it can really make you unhappy, according to the American Psychological Association.
This goes back to the initial points we discussed about having a vision for your retirement.
If you have purposeful activities lined up – like a hobby, travel, or family commitments – you’re less likely to view free time as a burden and more as an opportunity.
Once again, the key here is preparation. Have a solid, emotionally fulfilling plan for how you’ll spend your free time.
Think about how you’ll fill your days in a way that’s both satisfying and meaningful, to avoid falling into the trap of too much unstructured time.
4) You’re not prepared for possible role reversals
Speaking of roles, let’s talk about role reversals.
It’s actually the cycle of life, but unfortunately, many of us don’t realize it until it stares us in the face.
People in their 40s and 50s may have thought that they were all done with the business of caregiving because their kids are all grown.
Completely forgetting that their parents are now at an age when they need looking after too.
What that means is that instead of traveling around the world, you could very well be stuck at home and unable to make long-term plans because you’ve got an aged parent to care for.
If you’re emotionally unprepared for these shifts, they can feel like unwanted obligations rather than new avenues for purpose and connection.
As with any transition in life, retirement calls for adaptation. Find a balance between your new roles and it will go much more smoothly.
5) You haven’t considered your partner’s plans
This one’s for those with a spouse or life partner. If you haven’t taken into account your partner’s plans, retirement could turn your relationship sour instead of being the time where you finally get to just sit and enjoy each other.
How? When there’s a mismatch of plans.
One partner might have dreamed about hopping from country to country, while the other, a future of just puttering around the house.
Contrasting plans like this can lead to tension – all of a sudden, it’s two different lifestyles that are completely incompatible!
The thing is, retirement can be one of the longest phases of your life. And if you’re sharing that time with a partner, you’ll need to be on the same page, emotionally and logistically.
That means having some deep, honest conversations about expectations, obligations, and how you envision your daily lives.
6) You have no social life outside of work
If most of your social interactions are tied to your job, what happens when that job is out of the picture?
I saw this with my mom, who, after retirement, suddenly realized that her closest friends were actually more like work friends. Once she didn’t have the office as a social hub, her calendar dried up fast.
Sadly, the emotional toll of this can be surprisingly heavy. Social connections are vital for mental well-being at any stage of life, but they become even more crucial during retirement.
According to retirement coach Scott Miller in CBS News, the beginning of retirement is often followed by loneliness.
That’s why it’s important to replace those work-related social connections. Here are some ways to do that:
- Join a hobby club or group
- Volunteer to a cause you care about
- Take a class on something you’ve always wanted to learn
- Attend community events like local fairs or workshops
- Get active in religious or spiritual communities
- Join a gym or take a yoga class (you’ll get fit while making friends, too!)
- Reconnect with old friends
Retirement need not be lonely, especially when you’re proactive about it!
7) You haven’t thought about where you’ll live
This is surprisingly one of the most overlooked aspects of retirement planning.
My mom thought she had it all figured out – stay in the family home and enjoy the golden years.
And that would’ve been fine, except that she hadn’t considered just how challenging it would be to maintain that big house. Not to mention the huge financial costs of upkeep and taxes.
Many people leave this till the last minute, which unfortunately adds even more to the stress. Plus, they underestimate the emotional attachment they have to a place they’ve called home for years, maybe decades.
So when it finally hits them that they have to move, there’s a whole cocktail of emotions that can be hard to deal with. The most difficult of which are anxiety and grief.
My advice is to start thinking about this well ahead of your retirement date.
Maybe take short trips to places you’re considering moving to. Look into community amenities, healthcare facilities, and even the general vibe of the neighborhood.
In short, give yourself the time and space to make an informed and emotionally sound decision. You want your retirement to be as messy emotion-free as possible.
We often view retirement as a means of escape – it’s always in the context of “getting away from work”, not “getting to a new chapter”.
So, it’s always an unpleasant jolt when we find out just how lonely – just how “not golden” – it can be.
The effect retirement can have on our mental health is no joke. But as long as you’re emotionally prepared, and you can find something that gives your life new meaning, it could be the best time of your life.