Retirement Gives You Freedom. Can You Handle It?

Are you ready for the freedom you will have in retirement? Will you have a purpose after leaving your federal career?

Do you know who you really are?

Most of us have been working all of our lives. We go to a party in the neighborhood and one of the first questions you will be asked is “Where do you work?”

We think of ourselves as being what we do to earn a living. “I am the labor relations officer for XYZ agency” or “I am the undersecretary of administration for xyz agency.”

In fact, we spend so much time and effort on our jobs, to many of us that is our life. Unconsciously, our value as a person depends on what we do at work and how we are performing in our job.

But what happens when you retire? When you go to the neighborhood backyard barbeque and you are asked “What do you do?”, will you tell your neighbors “I used to be the project manager for xyz agency” or “I used to be a GS-13 at the Department of xyz”?

Will you still identify yourself as what you used to do? If you haven’t thought about who you are outside of work, give it some thought while you are still working.

Having a job gives you credibility in American society. Some of your neighbors may envy your federal retirement system and will envy your ability to retire at a relatively early age. Will you be able to take advantage of it and enjoy it?

The federal government is a huge organization with lots of rules and regulations. If you want to get ahead, you follow the rules. When you get promoted, you make more money and you are seen as successful and prosperous–a person of value to society. Will you feel the same value once you retire? If you don’t know, think about it before you retire.

Work is such an important part of our identity that some people who retire make sure they still have an office, sometimes paid for out of personal funds. Being able to tell friends and neighbors to “call me at the office” is too much to give up. They have no identity outside of work.

Some government jobs, perhaps most, do not encourage creativity. The most successful federal employees are often those who work well in a highly structured environment. Remove the structure and the comfort of security is gone.

Retiring gives you a chance to redefine yourself. It will give you a chance to do things you have not done working 40 or more hours a week while working for someone else. But having that freedom is also going to scare some people. What do you do now? Who are you or who will you become? Can you handle the freedom?

Some of the most successful people in their careers will not be happy in retirement. Work is their purpose for living. Some people who have had jobs that were boring and repetitive may be happy not having another purpose beyond sitting around the house or playing golf.

You will have the freedom to do that but you need to know yourself. Unhappy people often do not live long lives. What will make you happy when you retire?

If you are unsure, write out your retirement goals. Whether the goal is to travel to Italy, start your own business or go back to college to get a degree for the fun of it, know your purpose and start from that point.

About the Author

Ralph Smith has several decades of experience working with federal human resources issues. He has written extensively on a full range of human resources topics in books and newsletters and is a co-founder of two companies and several newsletters on federal human resources. Follow Ralph on Twitter: @RalphSmith47