Two weeks ago, I wrote about losing and finding identity once full-time work winds down. A Harvard Business School prof labeled the transition "identity bridging."
Then I recalled reading about the six paths into retirement. They are the creation of Nancy K. Schlossberg, another American academic, who is also a counselor, author, and specialist in life transitions. Among her nine books are: Retire Smart, Retire Happy: Finding Your True Path in Life; Revitalizing Retirement: Reshaping Your Identity, Relationships, and Purpose; and Too Young to Be Old: Love, Learn, Work, and Play as You Age.
After years of studying retirees, Schlossberg — who herself had difficulty transitioning away from her job as a professor of counseling at the University of Maryland — found that we usually fit into one of six personality types.
In an article she wrote in Time magazine in 2017, Schlossberg described the six types this way:
You can follow any path or a combination of paths, and you can change course over time. Any of these routes can be right for you (with one exception), and thinking about retirement this way can help you get comfortable with your new identity.
• Continuers modify their activities while continuing along a similar path. For instance, a retired museum director occasionally curates an art show.
• Adventurers see retirement as an opportunity to pursue an unrealized dream or try something new, such as a retired teacher who turns her hobby of raising goats into her new life.
• Easy gliders see retirement as a time to relax, and they take each day as it comes.
• Involved spectators still care deeply about their previous work and receive satisfaction from following developments in their field.
• Searchers are retirees who are looking for their niche. We might retire, then adventure onto a new path, and then when that has played out, we might search again.
• Retreaters come in two versions. After stepping back and disengaging from their previous routine, some get depressed and become couch potatoes. That's the exception—the retiree you don't want to be. Other retreaters use a moratorium to figure out what's next.
For me, Easy Gliders is easy to identity with.
I consider cruising from one interest to another without a goal like being in some sort of dilettantish heaven. It's an unrestricted expression of freedom of which I might never tire. Easy gliding also reminds me of my Taoist-leaning friend, who happily avoids ambitious pursuits to go with the flow, trusting what will arise. He's a skilled glider. I admire that in him.
Likely, many of us are amalgams of several of Schlossberg's retirement personalities.
I'm also a Continuer (sometimes writing for pay, often no pay, but writing), an Adventurer (business ideas still hatch in my head, travel still beckons, the word "adventure" still causes a spasm in my readiness gland), an Involved Spectator (because I still follow the heavy hitters in my field of work, curious about how the art of persuasion is evolving in their hands), and Searcher (because I like trying on other roles, at least in my imagination, such as educator, speaker, and coach).
Where are you? Does it help to see yourself in one or more of these personality types? What does a type or role imply as you enter this stage of life?
And what if you are a Retreater? What if the grip of the couch is tight?
Perhaps, first, admit that predispositions are powerful things but not necessarily cages. A couch is not a cage. Then, perhaps tentatively test out other paths, just to see what's down there. It might require role playing. You might have to pretend to be an adventurer, a spectator, or searcher, even if it hasn't been part of your personality (yet). There's nothing to lose.
What might you continue to do? What might you watch regularly with interest (other than TV)? What could you try out without much of a commitment that might become a pleasurable pursuit?
These are paths onto bridges. The bridges are meaning makers. And life savers.