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GUEST COLUMN: Thriving After Retirement

Updated: Oct 5, 2022

By James Vandiver

When you hear the word “retirement”, what comes to mind? For many it involves stereotypes that may be incorrect. As lifespan in America continues to increase, retirement is being redefined. Some will never retire because of death, cultural, or economic issues. While the majority of those over 65 who are not in the work force cite retirement as the reason, that number is declining and other reasons such as illness or disability appear to be the main reason for not working. The reality is that when you see one retiree you have seen one retiree. Every person’s experience is unique.

There are many “gains” in being able to pursue travel, an encore career, mentoring, volunteering, or following a new passion. Men and women define these in different ways. Men tend to do work related things, enjoy sports and community involvement. Women tend to focus on family, friends, caregiving. Gender activity preferences tend not to change in retirement. Couples don’t seem to do everything together, but they balance this with individual activities.

There are losses. Job loss may not have been a choice. Society tends to value a person by what one does, not by who one is. The loss of this identity can be devastating. There may be the death of a spouse, significant others, close friends. The resulting grief may shatter our emotional wellbeing. Sometimes health decline is sudden, acute. Often it is a chronic condition that worsens over time. Both impact unexpectedly. Long term care needs may affect living arrangements. Again, financial limitations may prevent anticipated plans. The loss of perceived usefulness is the fear of many.

In her book, The Gift of Years, Joan Chittister suggests that “retirement is a time for asking questions”. Some important ones she mentions are: success in being a good neighbor, success in creating balance in life with time for reflection and personal development, success in learning to be happy. We might add to these the responsibility for passing something of value to the next generation. Erik Erickson calls this “generativity”. It’s coming to grips with what we wish our legacy to be. Legacy is about being remembered. It’s more about passing on values, not just valuables.

Post retirement years can be transformative if we use them wisely. Taking time to wrestle with these issues can be rewarding. You can develop a new sense of purpose and open the door to greater fulfillment regardless of external circumstances. It can be a new beginning.

James Vandiver is the Director of the Harpeth Hills Resource Center on Aging in Nashville. For more information, call (615) 373-0601 or visit


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