I began to study how people adapt to retirement in 1965. By the time I retired from directing the Scripps Gerontology Center in 1998, I had surveyed and interviewed about five thousand people concerning their experiences of retirement. I had written two books and more than forty journal articles on retirement. Since I retired, I have had a steady stream of people contact me for help getting a handle on their upcoming retirement.
My approach to helping is to create in my own being a big space from which to listen to their concerns. Most of the people who contact me are fearful about retirement. They see it as a threatening unknown. This is mainly because in our society retirement is not a transition into a well-defined new role.
We are moving into a “do-it-yourself” life stage, in which we have great freedom. But too much freedom can be scary. To help them see this as a manageable task, I ask them to list twenty things they really like to do. Most are pleased to find that they have far more than twenty activities they enjoy.
Then I ask a few questions: How many of these things that you really like to do have you actually done in the past year? This gives them a sense of where they have been keeping their skills up to date and where not. How many of these can you do alone? How many cost more than $20 dollars to do? Most quickly see that their list is a rich and practical resource for envisioning life in retirement. They already had what they needed. They only needed someone to help them see it.
Helping is often very simple—listen and reflect back the person’s own inherent wisdom.