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I'm wondering if anyone has found good self help resources for preparing for loss of identity or dealing with loss of identity when one retires. Thanks in advance.


A friend of mine recently retired and was very much looking forward to the day. However, within a couple months she found herself struggling a great deal with loss of identity and is now working again.

I have been trying to find self help resources to share with her and have not been successful. The past few days I have found one article which addresses this and many other issues of retirement but if anyone comes across resources that deal with how to cope with and prepare for indentity loss in retirement please post them here. I'll post the article in a separate post.

Hey Janet! I just saw your post with the article as I was posting this so will go and read it. Thanks for finding it.



Mars & Venus Circling Retirement, Part 1

Mars and Venus Circling Retirement

By Ronald J. Manheimer, Ph.D.
Executive Director, NC Center for Creative Retirement
The University of North Carolina at Asheville

Men may be from Mars and women from Venus but when it comes to retirement-related decision making, distance between the two planets is narrowing. Women?s increased participation in the workforce pursuing careers in previously male dominated professions has created the type of work-defining identity that can make the prospects of retiring daunting. Women are discovering the perplexing question that has traditionally challenged men: ?Beyond work and career, who am I?? Researchers exploring gender and retirement are pondering how this new development may reflect trends within the baby boomer generation.

Parallel Paths
A laboratory for observing life transition patterns and retirement-related decision making processes, the University of North Carolina at Asheville?s NC Center for Creative Retirement (NCCCR) is an education, leadership and research program now in its 16th year. Over the last 13 years, the center has enrolled more than 2,000 people from across the country in seminars designed to help them explore the big ?what?s next?? questions through midlife transitions seminars and retirement relocation workshops.
?In the early 1990s,? says NCCCR assistant director and seminar coordinator, Denise Snodgrass, ?women attending the seminars frequently expressed a concern about their soon-to-retire husbands that went something like this: ?For years he?s been managing groups of employees. Now, I?m afraid, he?ll want to manage me.??

At that time, explains Snodgrass, about one-third of the women attending the seminar were homemakers. Surveyed when they planned to retire, these women would typically reply: ?When my husband retires.? The other women were engaged outside the home in traditionally female friendly professions such as teaching, social work, librarianship and nursing. ?They mainly welcomed the freedom that retirement may bring,? she says. But they worried about the encroachment on their daily pattern of life of husbands whom, they feared, were unprepared to reinvent themselves in retirement.

Men, especially professionals whose sense of worth and identity were heavily invested in their careers, would frequently be at a loss for ways to fill their new leisure time, arrange social outings, and pursue hobbies. Instead, they might turn into couch potatoes or, worse, take on mindless projects like putting a rack of spices in alphabetical order or assessing their wives? cleaning techniques. While wives had the social skills to avoid it, their husbands were headed for a second adolescence-like identity crisis.

In more recent years, with baby boomers now the predominant age group attending the seminars, Snodgrass finds that things have changed. ?Couples are more likely to share the challenges together.?

Rosemary Ford of Newton, MA, a lawyer, represents the new bred of professional women. Retired four years ago at age 53, Rosemary says she regrets it. Pressures of juggling a stressful job defending correctional employees in civil rights law suits and simultaneously playing the traditional female care giving role looking after frail parents and in-laws brought her to an impasse. ?When I went before the judge in a case that had already been dragging on for weeks and asked for a continuance because my mother-in-law was dying, he replied, ?Mrs. Ford, when is this situation going to resolve itself?? That?s when I lost it.?

Ford knew there was precious little time left to be with her mother-in-law but even with rescheduling the trial she ran into other work conflicts. Also, she wanted to spend more time with her husband Richard, also a lawyer, who worked week days in New York. To Rosemary?s chagrin, Richard decided that though he had reach his 30-year career goal, he still wasn?t ready to let go of work, so their time together remained limited. She realized that since all of her close friends were still working, they were unavailable for daytime activities ? something early retirees, men and women alike, have reported.

Rosemary sought a substitute for work in a variety of volunteer roles including becoming a ?big sister? to 11 year-old Chrissy and assisting in the local hospice program. While these activities were satisfying, ?they were not meaningful the way work is,? she said. ?I don?t get real feedback or a sense of completion like writing a great brief or ending a trial. I don?t get a paycheck. And there?s nothing to check off on my list of to-dos.?

Retirement for professional women can be stressful. According to Christine Price, assistant professor of human development at Ohio State University who has studied the issue, women who hold professional jobs frequently feel they will lose both standing and status when they retire. By contrast, Price found that nonprofessionally employed women greeted retirement with a sigh of relief.

Rosemary Ford?s experience is reflected in another study reported in Women Confronting Retirement: A Nontraditional Guide (Rutgers University Press, 2003). The authors, academic administrators Nan Bauer-Maglin and Alice Radosh, found that professional women about to take the plunge into retirement worry about loss of professional identity and structure in their lives, financial instability, and claims on their time from family and others who see them as not having much to do.

The Fords typify midlife professionals who are ambivalent about their next steps. They see that retirement can bring new found freedom or lead to an identity limbo that sociologist Matilda White Riley characterized as ?a roleless role.? Influenced by their awareness of the longer life course that promises decades of enjoyable and meaningful activity, they have high expectations but also concerns about not wanting to make any big mistakes in deciding whether, when and how to retire. Given the rise of a more gender egalitarian society, men and women are now on more parallel paths in their attitudes towards retirement.

Fears and Fantasies

One of the seminar exercises assigns participants to gender-segregated groups and asks them to make collective lists of their greatest fears and fantasies about retirement. ?Over the years,? reports Snodgrass, ?the themes the groups come up with are increasingly similar.?

Fantasies usually include adventure travel, visits to children and especially grandchildren, productive activities such as consulting, writing, or teaching, time for outdoor activities and exercise, and rewarding volunteer jobs or post retirement, money-making ventures that tap an individual?s professional expertise. Fears include poor health, dependency, isolation, aimlessness, lack of meaningful activity, loss of status, and relationship troubles. ?Financial problems are low on and sometimes absent from the lists,? said Snodgrass.

Side Bar: Fears and Fantasies
Men?s List
Fears: tennis elbow (unable to play a sport I love), illness/dependency, poor communication with spouse, lack of playmates (friends), kids moving back home with their kids, lack of purpose, drifting (lack of daily structure), just keeping busy (meaningless existence), going from Who?s Who to who?s he?

Fantasies: ballooning (exotic travel), a low stress/high energy lifestyle, getting outdoors, taking grandchildren on a safari, learning new things, getting fit/weight loss, giving my briefcase to my son, dancing and romance (rediscovering my wife)

Women?s List
Fears: losing my identity (just a housewife), husband dependent on me for entertainment, health problems, taking care of everybody (parents, in-laws, grandkids), becoming invisible (an old lady), making bad choices about money and housing, outliving my spouse, dementia, insufficient health insurance.

Fantasies: learning to fly, reviving neglected friendships, starting a part time business, traveling to foreign lands, volunteer work that uses my expertise, laughing a lot, going back to school for personal enrichment or a new career

Relationship Differences
So if men and women view the pros and cons of retiring in much the same way, how do they differ? In a study conducted by sociologists Barbara Vinick and David Ekerdt of the University of Kansas Medical Center?s Center on Aging, the co-researchers found that women were far more likely to view retirement as an opportunity to spend more time with their spouse than did men who tended to focus on personal projects like painting the house or tending to hobbies such as working on a vintage automobile. ?Men were self-focused and women were spouse-focused,? reported the team.

Another difference has to do with friendships and intimacy. While Rosemary Ford had problems finding daytime pals, she had no trouble rounding up female friends to go out to dinner, movies, and other evening social events. Women generally have better social skills than men. This was illustrated in an optional seminar session on ?Relationships.? The majority of those who chose to attend were men. The topic they wanted to talk about was making friends outside the workplace. The men agreed that a big surprise once you leave the office, lab, or plant is that employment-based friendships quickly fade. Work was the glue that held friendship together but dissolved once they stepped beyond the workplace doors.

Men and women alike expressed concern about what more time spent together would mean for their relationship. The research literature on this subject consistently finds that women are apprehensive about their partner?s ?intrusiveness? into their establish pattern of activity. Men, on the other hand, expressed concern about existing communications problems that greater togetherness might exacerbate. ?Apparently, the men from Mars have a harder time sharing their feelings than the ladies from Venus,? says Marcy Hegglund, 59, a former banker who, in a volunteer role, serves as one of the seminar facilitators.

Fred Hill, 59, of Bluffton, SC, agrees with Hegglund. Hill, a management consultant in the wood and paper products industry, says he used to spend 150 nights away from home traveling for his company. Now an independent consultant with a business of his own, he can work from home for weeks at a time before he has to jump on a plane to go see clients. Consequently, he says, he and his wife, Lillian, ?started taking our togetherness for granted, and that became a problem.?

The Hills realized some years ago when their time together was precious, that they needed to schedule opportunities for intimacy ? both under the covers and beneath a vacation beach umbrella. ?Scheduling like that doesn?t sound very romantic,? Fred comments, ?but it made a huge difference in our quality of life.? When Fred began to stay home for longer stretches, the sense of limitation faded and the couple found their time swallowed up in chores, family visits, and separate recreational activities. ?We needed to go back to our earlier skill set,? says Fred, ?or we could find ourselves drifting apart.? So the couple decided to start ?dating.? They wrote in their calendars dates for dinners, movies, and cooking together ? just the two of them. ?We?ll do a whole year of planning in advance,? says Fred.

A related issue Fred faces, like many men, is that his career has been a chief source of friendships. ?That?s probably one of the reasons I continue consulting,? he admits. Because the Hills have moved several times, most recently to be near their daughter?s family, they have had to make new friends. Fred feels that Lillian, 52, who retired seven years ago from a career in x-ray and mammography technology because of a chronic health condition, is the more skilled at establishing social relationships. ?I had built-in relationships at work,? explains Fred, who worked for the same company for 30 years. ?Now, working for myself, it?s different.?

Perhaps reflective of the new boomer generation of pre-retirees, men like Fred Hill, who choose to attend the ?Relationships? session, freely admitted that while golfing partners and Super Bowl pals provided a certain degree of camaraderie, having peers with whom you could have a heart-to-heart conversation was important to them and much harder to find.
Gender Politics

Gender differences in the timing of retirement are turning out to be an important factor in marital satisfaction according to University of Minnesota sociologist Phyllis Moen. Moen and co-researcher Deborah Smith looked at ?marital power relationships,? and ?gender role ideology,? as part of the Cornell Retirement and Well-Being Study of 241 couples residing in upstate New York aged 50-72. Their unique study examined the perspectives of each spouse and the process they used to reach retirement decisions.

Smith and Moen found that wives who reported their husbands had little influence on their decision to retire were four and a half times likelier to be happy in retirement than if husbands pressured them. They found that husbands of retired wives were more satisfied than were the wives of retired husbands especially, in the latter case, if the husbands did not assume increased responsibility for some of the household chores.

In the gender politics of couples? retirement decisions, women who feel empowered, especially if they are what Smith and Moen called ?moderns? ? women who expect more equal sharing of roles and responsibilities in the marriage -- are going to be happier about their decisions if they feel uncoerced. Reciprocally, they noted that ?the odds of reporting satisfaction with the retirement experience increased by a factor of four and a half for husbands whose wives reported he had no influence on her decision to retire.?

The researchers also found common ground between the sexes: ?retiring to do other things,? regarding retirement as an opportunity, and having adequate income were major pluses for both sexes. In related research, Moen offered her ?conversing-diverging? thesis that while men and women are encountering similar issues and challenges, ?they both now experience a wide range of pathways to and through retirement.?

One pathway, Moen reports, is that while about one-third of the men chose to return to the work place in either part or full-time employment after formal retirement, only about 11 percent of women did. This suggests that women may be finding other outlets or forms of compensation for role changes triggered by exiting the workforce.

What about Singles?

Those who are single -- whether through divorce, a spouse?s death, having never married, or gender orientation ? face both similar and different issues as couples. Annette Hobbs, recently retired as chief information officer of an agency of the Federal Government. She says that having never married she?s never had to worry about checking in with a partner. Her house mates are cats, ?and they don?t get a vote on where I go or what I do.? As a self-supporting individual, she?s used to counting on herself. The down side of that, she says, is ?that I don?t have anyone else to balance my decision.? That?s why she welcomed a three-day government retirement planning seminar. It helped her weigh taking early retirement, and with it a reduction in her pension, against the decline in job satisfaction brought on by frequent government downsizing. ?I had survivor guilt,? says Hobbs.

Hobbs worried most about the structure and goals of her next chapters of life. So before she stopped working, Hobbs enrolled in a master?s degree program in management to test the waters of a possible post-retirement second career. She also purchased land in a state close to where she grew up. She plans to build a house that will include space for her elderly mother. While it is not all that common, single women are more likely than men to bring an elderly parent or other family member under their roof. This can bring valuable companionship but also the risk of dependency and isolation. The arrangement is not always beneficial to an elderly parent who would do better if encouraged to live in a more congregate setting that ensures opportunities for activity and social contact.

Single men face similar challenges. Men are more likely to be single due to divorce, death of a spouse, or gender orientation. If straight, they are much likelier to remarry than divorced women and widows. Mid and later life remarriages can add new spice to life while they bring on financial and legal issues concerning inheritance, property rights, and obligations toward adult children and stepchildren ? issues too complex to elaborate in this essay.
New Directions

While gender differences are narrowing, how do couples and individuals successfully navigate the issues that confront them? As pathfinders in a new era in which distinctions between work and retirement are blurring, corporate loyalties are diminishing, health care costs are rising, and investment pay offs remain uncertain, this new generation of midlife adults is having to innovate its own solutions.

Rosemary Ford is heading back to work, at least until her husband retirees and deals with his own post-retirement identity issues. Fred Hill is scaling back and taking several months off from consulting to give retirement a fuller rehearsal. He is exploring new friendships through membership in fraternal organizations and his church. Hill is even considering convening an informal life transitions discussion group in his home community. ?I was looking for role models. But I guess I?m going to have to become my own mentor,? he says. Annette Hobbs is completing her master?s degree, hiring an architect, scouting job opportunities in her future home community, and sitting down with her mother to have that heart-to-heart conversation so crucial to making sure their life together will be mutually enriching.


Mars & Venus Circling Retirement, Part 2

Five Pathfinder Lessons

Pathfinders in the new life course have a number of important lessons to offer us. Among them are:

1) Do your own imagining. Couples need to work as both a pair and as two separate individuals in identifying their hopes and expectations for the coming years.

2) Share the vision. Then they need to communicate their goals and, if necessary, negotiate their differences.

3) Put your toes in the water. Try out now what you think you would like to do later when you have more discretionary time. This may help you distinguish between sheer fantasies and realizable dreams.

4) Check the bounce. Knock ideas and plans around with others such as friends, family (including one?s adult children), coworkers, and financial planners. This can help both to clarify your goals and prepare family and friends to accept changes that are soon to come.

5) Have a plan B. Individuals and couples need to develop alternative scenarios or fall back plans because, as we all know, the future is unpredictable.

Being Prepared

Researchers examining retirement generally agree that while the transition to retirement is sometimes stressful, especially for those who have high expectations or who fear what may come next, actual retirement life is not. Clearly, those who choose to make use of life transition seminars, advice books and relevant web sites, and engage in honest conversations with significant others are the more deliberate types who value planning and who want to make the most of the next decades of their lives. Researchers are in agreement that those who act deliberately about the retirement questions are likeliest to be most satisfied with the outcome. They reflect the growing cohort of professional baby boomers for whom, Mars or Venus, the retirement decision process can be looked on as a positive, life-enhancing process.
* * * * * * * * *


While many people are tied to the identity of their jobs, those who make successful transitions are those who begin planning years before they stop working.

We live in a lifestyle shared by people who have retired "early", and most will tell you their plan began its development decades before retirement.

The job {or profession} becomes a means to provide for retirement, IOW retirement and financial independence was the goal and the job is the means to achieve that goal.

Therefore the identity is shifted from the job to the lifestyle of retirement.

Retirement does not have to mean a loss of identity, but rather the achievement of one's identity.

The planning involved choosing a lifestyle which would appeal to the couple, and during their years of preparation they would try out various lifestyles during vacations.

Once a goal was formulated, then all short term life decisions were made with the long term goal in mind.

Of course all this is dependent on both partners taking care of their health and making sound financial decisions.

David Baxter PhD

Late Founder
While many people are tied to the identity of their jobs, those who make successful transitions are those who begin planning years before they stop working.

Or those who have many other interests beyond their work.


My job is getting in the way of my hobbies! :~}

I agree, Steve, I think retirement is the time to fulfill your identity rather than lose it but seeing what my friend went through, I'm not so sure I would not end up in the same place.

This Mars/Venus article states that financial concerns are not listed as one of the fears and the example of a single woman was one who never married or had children. What about those who will retire single but were married and had children. Especially those from a modest to low income bracket. Do they not attend these seminars or are there other factors which would allow them the luxery of not being concerned about finances?
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