You’ve planned carefully, crossed your T’s and dotted your I’s, completed the last of your tasks/duties, said farewell to your coworkers, and cut the cake.  Congratulations, you’re retired!  Now what??

Retirement is one of life’s significant transitions.  As such, it is not a “one and done” event, despite what you may be lead to believe by society, friends, or advertisers.  The mental and emotional transition from your working life to your retirement life takes years, not a single day.  And in that time of transition, I often see retirees struggle with the loss of identity that is a natural part of the process.

After I retire, I no longer call or think of myself as “Laura, the Professional.”  Instead, I have to face the idea of “Laura, the… something else.”  This can be an exciting reinvention, an intimidating quandary, a terrifying prospect, or all of the above!  Regardless of how I feel about it, though, the blank exists and needs attention if I am going to transition smoothly.  The potential pitfall for retirees is neglecting to fill in that blank, or in filling it with something that feels small or unfulfilling.  To prevent this unsettling feeling, I have found that a few moments of mindful reflection can be helpful.

Try this: take a moment to sit quietly and allow yourself a little time and space for reflection.  Put aside any distractions (TV, cell phone, etc.) for a few minutes.  If it’s helpful, close your eyes.  Now bring to mind a time in your life when you felt the most alive.  Perhaps a time when you felt you were living your life’s purpose, or a time when you felt especially proud and positive about yourself.  What was happening?  Who was involved?  Where were you?  Whether it was long ago or just recently does not matter.  What matters is the feeling associated with the memory.

Once you’ve identified this high point, you can dig deeper into it to help you answer other questions such as: what else might give you a similar experience?  How can you structure your life now, to have more opportunities for experiences like this?  What needs to be done to protect this experience?  What diminishes this feeling?  Is there anything you need to avoid? 

While it may feel unusual at first, taking the time to reflect upon these deeper questions can help to guide you in making important financial decisions.  For example: where you want to live in retirement, what activities are most important to fund, how to structure your investments so that they provide the cash flow that you need in the manner that you desire, and/or who else is important to have involved in your decisions.

We all have high points in our lives which are important to remember from time to time.  This can provide us with a beacon to light the way in times of transition and uncertainty.  Whether you are age 30 or age 70, now is a great time for reflection on life’s touchstones.