Retirement and identity

Semi-retired Harvard Business School professor Theresa Ambile interviewed 120 newly retired professionals on retirement and emerged with an appreciation for the impact years in the workplace has on all of us. For most folks, work doesn’t just become what they do, it becomes who they are.

She found that the single biggest challenge with retirement was bridging someone’s identity from what they did to how they wanted to see themselves in retirement. And, she also found that the things that made them happiest in retirement were not using an alarm clock, not needing to commute, the ability to pursue a hobby, and the flexibility to spend time with family.

2 reflections – first, “Retire early” is a fantasy for a non-trivial section of the workforce. But, as Theresa’s research re-affirms, it isn’t a catch-all solution to all the problems we get rid of at work.

And, second, imagine if we structured our work such that we got the sleep we needed, lived close to work, had the time to pursue a hobby, and spend more time with family? Would we have the best of both worlds?

As our life spans become longer, understanding how to deal with the concept of retirement will be increasingly important. Such research is a great start to doing that.