I officially ‘retired’ and left my teaching career ten months ago. I strongly identified with my career and wondered how I would adjust to my new life. Several of the books I had read about transitioning into retirement had talked about the struggle most people have with the loss of their identity. For the first few months after starting my new life, I wondered when my identity crisis was going to hit; it never happened. Instead, my identity has evolved since leaving my career.
An Evolving Identity
I suspect that part of the reason I don’t feel like I’ve lost my identity is that I still am engaged in some of the same activities I enjoyed at work—only now I control how much and when I do those activities. For example, to teach means you must continue to learn. I am continuing to learn new things, and I share what I learn with others. But now I don’t have to grade papers or give exams.
Additionally, I suspect that gendered role expectations may influence how I view my identity post-career. As some adult development literature has suggested, our culture encourages women to put other people’s needs before their own. When we do finally have our own time, it can be, as one study suggests, very liberating. Now I am that liberated woman who is embracing her life to the fullest.
Preparation Made a Difference
Another reason why I don’t think I have struggled with a loss of identity is due to the amount of preparation I did prior to retiring. I spent about three years reading and preparing for my transition from a fulltime career to my new life. I knew what to expect. I also had some idea of what I wanted to do with my time after I left a career that I had loved. My plans have continued to unfold over the last ten months, and I’ll admit that I’ve felt some uncertainty at times. But I am also feeling increasingly more confident that I am living the life I really want to live.
As I prepared myself to leave my career, I started thinking about my pending retirement as a rite of passage into my third and final act in life. It is possible that I’ll live another 30 years, but there will still be an end. Because of the preparation I did, I knew I wanted whatever time I had left to matter in some way. I wanted to engage in activities or work that I felt could make some difference in the world.
I don’t expect to do something earth-shattering during the coming years. However, if I can be that person who gives other people hope or challenges others to live their best lives, I will have lived my best life. What more can I want?