Tell Me About It: Retiree searches for purpose and answers

Published January 11 2018

Retiree searches for purpose and answers

Q: I retired over a year ago from a fairly high-powered job that gave me worldwide recognition in my field. The decision to retire (in my mid-70s) was a very difficult one because I was not sure I could fill my time with engrossing activities. Iím still trying, but havenít settled in comfortably, and I find the situation emotionally difficult.

Everywhere I go, whether meeting with old colleagues or strangers, I get the same question: "So what are you doing in your retirement?" I wish I could answer honestly: "I havenít settled in yet, and Iím scared." But of course I canít.

The questions are all well-meant, but Iím afraid the questioners expect me to say, "Oh, Iíve become chairman of Such-and-Such." After a year, the repeated questions are weighing on me. Should I just answer, "Eating bonbons"?


A: If thatís what you want to say. Or do.

You can also tell them, "I havenít settled in yet, and Iím scared." You can be as vulnerable as youíre ready to be.

What people "expect" you to say is not only not your problem, itís also, very likely, an expectation that exists only in your mind. Or, perhaps more accurately, in your fears.

Since this is really about you, hereís the main question you need to answer before youíre ready to answer everyone elseís: What do you want from these exchanges?

If you want people to leave you alone, then youíve got the right idea with being quippy. Smile, laugh at yourself, reveal nothing.

If you want connection, ideas, support, "engrossing" conversation, then youíll need to share your ambivalence. It isnít a sign of weakness; it takes serious guts to admit you donít have it all figured out. Yours is a brave truth.

And, an interesting one. What it elicits from others might prove interesting to you as well. Imagine what bright people who know you well and share your membership in the achievement ranks might come up with if you dig around in this topic together.