What is a life transition?

  • A bridge from one phase to another
  • A time of discovery or re-evaluation
  • A chance to reflect, imagine, consider options
  • A passage from one place, state or style, to another

Perspectives and priorities change naturally as we transition from one phase of life to another. Sometimes they are easy and graceful; sometimes not. Either way, they bring both opportunities and challenges, particularly when transitioning from a professional career to retirement, semi-retirement, volunteerism, or even a shot at entrepreneurism.

I recently gave a talk to a group of highly motivated retiring and retired folks and was inspired by their positive experiences and success at aging well. They had strong family connections (grandchildren especially), financial security, served as volunteers and had time for new interests, activities and hobbies. They were also free from bosses, still connected with friends, and were lucky enough to have energy and good health. And, let us not forget senior discounts and Medicare.

Yes. They were lucky, but had also planned well. They had worked hard, saved their money and planned for the next chapter, whatever it might look like for each of them.

According to research, key issues for seniors are control in the face of many losses and the desire for a legacy. Surviving losses is challenging and painful. We desire to create a legacy of a purposeful and meaningful life.

Many folks in the 60+ age group say these years are the happiest with less stress and worry. Their emotional life often becomes richer and more balanced, thus creating an enhanced sense of well-being. There is a tendency to live more in the present moment and spend time on things that matter to them.

The quality of any life transition, but particularly the shift into retirement or semi-retirement, depends upon many things. Genes, economics, health, and attitude are all important. But, the state of our relationships (self, spouse, family, friends) is key.

These changes are a process of reinvention and reflection. They are not an event. It’s often a time to focus on the “end-game,” goals, purpose, a bucket list and the legacy you want to leave.

Relationships often shift as we transition from one phase of life to another and good communication plays a significant role in ensuring smooth sailing through a sometimes rocky journey.

Of course, there will be some stress, difficult conversations and conflicts. We are changing, and that is hard for everyone, including ourselves.

So, what do we do to ensure a smoother passage? I need to lead off with honesty. Not only with others, but also, with ourselves. Without truth there can be no trust and without trust there can be no intimacy.

Maintaining good relationships also requires being adept at having challenging conversations. The commitment to resolving conflict quickly will help keep your relationships ‘clean’ and discourage lingering resentments and hurts.

It is OK to “reinvent” yourself and change the rules in a relationship. However, take care to be clear, intentional and respectful in doing so. Expectations must be understood by all parties.

I like Maryanne Vandervelde’s challenging questions for retiring couples in her book, Parallel Play:

  • How do we each define happiness at this stage of life?
  • How supportive are we of each other? How critical? To what extent do we accept each other as we are?
  • From 1 to 10 on the togetherness scale, what level feels most comfortable for each of us? Why?
  • On a scale of 1 to 10, in terms of isolation or frenetic activity, where do we each prefer to be?
  • Do you, or I, need better communication skills? A sense-of-humor tune up?
  • How many interests do we share in common? Have any been forced on either of us?
  • How do we rate our level of rigidity and how can we become more flexible?
  • What were our hopes and dreams as children? As young adults? What are they now?

Since legacy is built on a foundation of relationships, experience and accomplishments, I hope that your transition into the next chapter of your life will be rewarding and exciting. I encourage you to share your gifts and expertise to inspire and enlighten others – to realize your passion, make a difference and celebrate your own legacy.