Discover more from Big Quit Energy
Befriend your “nobody” self as early as possible
Retirement’s a mind-fuck because we suck at leisure
I’m in the sluggish, down phase of my energy cycle. In times like these, I often have constricting thought patterns in which I tell myself that I’m “stuck” with my current identity as an advertising person and it’s too late to “add value” any other way. I fall into these thoughts even though I make a conscious effort to detach my sense of self from my job. I can only imagine the extent of identity fusion in people who don’t neurotically blog about this stuff.
So it’s with good timing that one of my favorite recent twitter finds, a “financial shadow worker” and psychology-of-money enthusiast who goes by Daemonic, published a thread summarizing an analysis of the manifold psychological shocks and suffering that retirees go through, and how ill-prepared most are to deal with it.
Some medical studies suggest that the risk of heart attack among Americans increases during the first year of retirement (I’m personally acquainted with two people this happened to), which if true underscores the stress that the transition causes.
There’s a lot more to the thread so it’s definitely worth the ten minutes to read it yourself, but what jumped at me most is the “identity disruption”: in essence, that it’s very jarring to rip away your “self” from your “job” after decades of “job inertia” during which you equated the two. This is especially true for anyone who received positive societal reinforcement from their job.
Even people who have dreamed about retirement run smack into this if, as adults, they never experienced themselves outside of their career (the confines of a two-week vacation are never enough for this). It’s certainly overwhelming to have to figure that out all at once, from scratch, at an age where you may not have the health and energy to do so.
The way to prevent this is simple, if not easy in our culture: get a damn life outside of your job.
In her talk about the dangers of passion at work, Erin Cech uses this same analogy, advising people to broaden their “portfolio of meaning” in order to be less vulnerable to exploitation by their employer. I love that phrase.
This is a very strong argument (as the thread also points out) for taking extended career breaks if you can–even if you need to temporarily work odd jobs to make them possible. Taking a handful of years in your 20s, 30s, 40s, 50s to experience the “nobodiness” of living outside a career seems to build up resilience and pay massive emotional dividends.
(Likely concrete health dividends too. The same study that noted increased risk of heart attack of retired Americans noted related studies that showed the health improvements among French and Swedish retirees. For the French, at least, I wouldn’t be surprised if their much more detached attitude toward work and careers had a lot to do with their positive experience of retirement.)
Happily, the analysis also points out retirement’s potential opportunities for people who take well to it:
But friends, if we take nothing else from the entire Big Quit Energy project, let’s take that we should be developing these experiences long, LONG before retirement, and doing everything we can to avoid jobs that get in the way of them. These experiences are a HUGE part of life itself–what a huge risk to put them off until your 60s.