What words do you use to describe retirement? The words we use to tell ourselves about this aging adventure are telling. 

• How do you describe your present environment?

• How do you describe yourself at your present age?

• What personal and cultural legacy burdens might affect how you view yourself at your present age? 

• Have you considered legacy blessings you might leave for others?

Are you in midlife, a “bystander” planning a future retirement, or are you retired, semi-retired, or envisioning never-retirement? Wherever you fall on a retirement continuum, can you imagine your retire/rewire years with passion? Perhaps you retired from one career, but do not feel “retired.” 

I did not know how to retire, so I researched the topic to find the latest thinking. What I discovered in reading others’ books on retirement proved instructive. The past American stand-by of hard work and continuous employment may not line up that way today. Many retirement books focus primarily on saving enough money for an unknown amount of time. Money is an important topic. 

Time feels slippery with a scarcity factor. There are unknown health factors ahead, with death as everyone’s endgame. Few books had as much focus on the d-word as on dying memory — for car keys, and more. However, there is much more to one’s so-called golden years than monetary gold, golden memories, and/or tarnished memories. Transforming Retirement focuses on retirement years as a rich psychological growth time. 

I gave my (pre-COVID) Johnston Retirement Survey to 125 seasoned citizens (ages 55-96) to detect what makes retirement plots positive vs. negative. Following up on participants who provided their (optional) email address, post-COVID responses from 40 individuals showed how anxiety and fear escalated in some lives. I discovered diverse perspectives — from those who expressed difficulty filling their time to others who loved their “free” time.                                                                                                       

“What is it that you do with your time?” 

Lin-Manuel Miranda told his interviewer, Willie Geist, that his synopsis of his Broadway hit, Hamilton, revolved around this question. Transforming Retirement covers this topic with many possible answers. Participant aspirations for present time and imagined future time are shared throughout pertinent chapters. Anticipation of retiring is one thing. What do individuals do in actual retirement? Here’s one newly-semi-retired individual’s response to my first question: “What does retirement mean to you?” 

61, female (works 12 hours/week; volunteers 10 hours/week): “We need a new name [for retirement] … INSPIREMENT! I am full of energy without the weight of my prior responsibilities!”   

Many people look forward to retirement, but others find the changes in their daily life difficult. Retirement signals a “loss” for them. People are naturally worried about transitions at any stage of their lives, and retirement transitioning presents unique challenges because you realize that your life clock is ticking faster with each passing year. 

Transforming Retirement encourages retirees to rewire their brains in a psychological reboot, applying to both work and non-work scenarios. Each chapter presents rewiring exercises that prepare space for new possibilities to germinate immediately, and “possibility time” exercises that foster digging deeper into legacy roots for shaping days where you flourish.

Come join other “seasoned” citizens for a talk on Transforming Retirement at the Oak Park Main Library on Thursday, July 20 at 7 p.m. Discover rewiring your day-to-day functioning for optimal results in personality growth. Books are available at The Book Table or online (Amazon and Barnes & Noble).

Janis Clark Johnston, Ed.D, earned her doctorate in counseling psychology from Boston University. Her career includes the roles of school psychologist, consulting psychologist at a mental health center, employee assistance therapist, and private practice family therapist with clients ages 3-83. She is the author of “It Takes a Child to Raise a Parent” and “Midlife Maze: A Map to Recovery and Rediscovery after Loss.”

Join the discussion on social media!