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The emotional transition into retirement can be tough
Retirement can be a big change, and it's totally normal to feel a little disoriented as you transition. But fear not, there's a powerful theory about transitions that can help you navigate.
As someone who has talked to many people about their retirement journey, I have found that some people experience it as a traumatic event, others not-so-much.
Those who transition to retirement successfully are the ones who accept or even embrace that it's time to let go of certain things that no longer fit their future and make changes to suit the times that lie ahead of them, well before they need to. They take the time to ponder the end of a job, career, or relationship and prepare for the emotional and physical challenges that come with this transition.
On the other hand, those who struggle with retirement often find, on reflection, that they are resisting change and trying to hold on to what was, believing that they are still in control. Even if they are the ones initiating the change, they resist acknowledging that something in their life is truly ending, and therefore struggle with the transition.
To give this some context, today I want to explain, William Bridges' theory about "transitions in life". I believe it is very helpful in the period leading up to retirement (and in many other transitional phases). His theory divides the process into three phases: the ending, the neutral zone, and the new beginning. And they always, always, always, always, work in this order. His theory can be applied not just to retirement, but to the loss of an important job, the ending of a relationship, the death of a partner or even the move out of your family home too!
In Bridges theory of transition, the first phase, the ending, is characterised by the realisation and recognition that something is coming to an end, and the person must learn how to manage the loss and accept the ending. The second phase, the neutral zone, is a phase of disorder, often disorienting and filled with sadness and turmoil, as people explore who they are now the ending is in place, re-examine their identity and find projects that might plant the seeds for their new beginning.
Finally, in the third phase, the new beginning, people grow with a fresh release of energy, establish new roles, and have a deeper understanding of their purpose.
Jenny and Jim, a couple who moved to a new town to retire, provide a good example of this theory. Jim is embracing the change and exploring new opportunities, trying a new gym, joining the local surf club and putting his hand up to help out at the local politician’s office, while Jenny is struggling to let go of her old life. She keeps driving the two hours back to their old town to visit friends weekly, wishing she could see them more often. She feels lost and empty, hoping that by staying connected to her old community, she can remain fulfilled. Eventually, she realises that she is in transition and needs accept the old ways are ending, and it’s time to explore her new life to find meaning and purpose. It is essential to understand that transition is an internal process that takes time, and everyone goes through it differently. It is not the change itself that creates transition, that is only the trigger. The transition is the process.
By acknowledging that an ending has arrived, people can begin to navigate the neutral zone and explore the new beginnings that might be possible. People need to work through the shedding of loss, gradually explore the neutral zone, and embrace the new beginning. Understanding and accepting the process of transition can make the journey to retirement smoother and more fulfilling.
Now, I know what you're thinking - "Bec, this all sounds great, but how the heck do I apply it to my retirement prep?" Well, let me tell you, my friend, it's all about acknowledging the different phases of transition will be a part of your change and trying to prepare for it. Firstly, you gotta identify what you're really going to be losing as you step back from work, and whether you need to lose it to gain new exciting things - whether it's a job, a set of workplace friendships, a lifestyle, or whatever it may be. This is the ending, and it can be tough, but it's an essential step in moving forward. You can get ahead of it by exploring new things before you need them, so that when you finally make the change you are not unprepared.
Next up is the neutral zone, where you may feel lost, confused, and maybe even a little hopeless - and you may not even see this coming right now, because you might think you are ready for the changes that lie ahead. But don't fret - this is the perfect time to explore your identity and start laying the groundwork for your new beginning. Have a list of key projects you can kick off in this phase that will allow you to try and do things you’ve always wanted to. Jim, one of my retired community, used his transition to write his family history, interviewing all his family members over a period of months and building a beautiful coffee table book for everyone to enjoy.
Finally, when you're ready, embrace that new beginning with open arms and a renewed sense of purpose knowing the excitement of a new phase is dawning.
It’s also worth thinking about the best way to step back from work and whether it’s better to do it slowly or quickly? You might not need to leap straight into it. Instead, you might be able to negotiate with your employer to stretch your work into your retirement by taking longer sabatticals each year allowing you to go on exciting journeys, or taking afternoons off one day a week to care for a grandchild or pursue a passion.
Remember, retirement is a huge transition, and it's okay to take it slowly, explore things you might do well before you get there, and, when you finally make the break, expect to feel a little disoriented at first. But remember, new beginnings come from acknowledging endings!
Had an experience you’d like to share? Leave a comment on the article here:
Have a great week - Make it epic!
Bec Wilson Xx
A little more about William Bridges' Theory of Transition
William Bridges was an American author and consultant who developed a theory of transition in the 1970s. It has since been used to frame change management for companies, and help people adapt to change, throughout the world. Bridges' theory suggests that transitions are internal processes that involve three stages: endings, the neutral zone, and new beginnings.
The first stage, endings, involves letting go of something that no longer serves us, such as a job, a relationship, or a home.
The second stage, the neutral zone, is a period of disorientation and uncertainty where we explore our identity and plant the seeds for new beginnings.
The final stage, new beginnings, involves embracing a new direction with a deeper understanding of our purpose and renewed energy.
Bridges' theory emphasizes the importance of acknowledging and working through the emotions of loss and uncertainty during the transition process.
Want to know more - William Bridges' transitions theory was first introduced in his book "Transitions: Making Sense of Life's Changes" (1980) and has been widely cited and applied in various fields such as psychology, counselling, management, and personal development It’s a great read!