Navigating the transition to a successful retirement

Just as it is vital to invest in the financial planning, retirement planning must also focus on that other precious commodity – time.

We live in an era of increasing longevity, and we have the opportunity to redefine the concept of retirement and create our own path forward – which may include working in some form. 

Having the option to retire is recognised as a significant career and life stage, and it can produce mixed feelings. 

At times throughout life you are likely to have initiated, pursued or welcomed change related to work, home, family, friendships, travel. You may have viewed these changes in a positive way – onwards and upwards! Any feelings of uncertainty are likely to have been pushed aside in pursuit of the exciting development.

For those who will soon have the option to retire, the next step may feel very different. It can feel like the end of an era. Navigating change can feel challenging.  

After I was diagnosed with cancer some years ago, I learned that navigating change and uncertainty is very much a mind game. 

Our brains are wired to treat uncertainty as a threat. A useful response is to identify what we can control. For example, maintaining a healthy habit and listening to some favourite music are just two ways you can calm that part of your brain that wants to activate a sense of fear and anxiety.

Research suggests it is not change that we fear, it is the sense of loss that we fear. In this context, we may fear the loss of daily routine, loss of work community and networks, loss of identity, loss of purpose, possibly the loss of being part of something bigger. 

The good news is you can be proactive in navigating change and you can start well before you leave work. Here are three examples.

First, a major change is likely to relate to who you’re spending your time with. You may assume you will spend more or all of your time with your partner. A question to consider is have you ever spent this much time together? It’s important to discuss each other’s expectations. Even if you don’t yet know exactly how you want to spend your time, identify whether you would each want to have your own interests and your own circle of friends, as well as shared interests and friends.

Second, you may assume that you will spend more time with your grandchildren. It’s important to discuss your hopes with the parents of your grandchildren to check whether you all share similar expectations. If this is not the case, it can be a heartbreaking discovery at a time when you are already feeling the effects of change, so have this conversation well before you retire. 

Third, if you are planning to move house and possibly downsize, consider the changes involved. Will you be living in a new community? Will you have new neighbours, and be living at a new distance from friends and family? If you are planning to do this soon after leaving your work role, consider how much change you want to deal with at once. Even though you may view this as a positive development in your life, a lot of change at once can feel overwhelming. 

When it comes to identifying how you want to spend your time, it can be hard to know where to start. It can be tempting to fill your days with busy-ness.  Start by considering the following:

First, consider what role (if any) work will have in your life.

Second, check your mindset. We often view retirement as an ending. Yet if we potentially have 20 or more years ahead of us, we can choose to see this as a magnificent opportunity to start something new. 

Third, we live in an era in which we have so many options for how we spend our time, so explore the broadest range of options. This doesn’t have to involve an extravagant lifestyle. You may decide to retire, unretire, travel, continue learning, teach others, pursue a passion, start a business, write a book – all of the above. 

People ask, ‘what makes a successful retirement?’

Arguably, the key to thriving is to spend as much time as possible in ways that are meaningful to you. The challenge is to identify what energises you, so you are genuinely loving life. The good news is you don’t need to work this out alone. That’s where a coach can help.

We can’t control every aspect of life – we know there will be challenges at times, and the finances have a significant influence, but when you look back on your life at some future stage, how do want to feel about how you have spent your time?

What would a fulfilling life look like for you? That’s success – for you.

The Money & Life website is operated by the Financial Advice Association (FAAA). The views expressed in this article are those of the author and not those of the FAAA.  The FAAA does not endorse or otherwise assume responsibility for any financial product advice which may be contained in the article.  Nor does it endorse or assume responsibility for the information accessible via any links provided in the article. Please consider seeking advice from a qualified professional to ascertain how the information in this article and the links provided may relate to you.


Ros Handley is The Exec Retirement Coach, a qualified career transition coach who works with those who will soon have the option to retire. ​ Ros complements the role of financial planners by working with clients to identify what they want from life beyond their career. Using internationally recognised approaches, Ros supports clients with their thinking and planning. ​ Clients also have the benefit of Ros’ experience in successfully navigating uncertainty and life changes following a cancer diagnosis a few years ago. She shares strategies for moving forward feeling more confident, energised and ultimately, fulfilled. Register to receive Ros’ monthly eNews
Share the Post: