The 6 Stages of Retirement

I recently came across a retirement model that I want to share with you. It was developed by Professor of Gerontology Robert Atchley in 1975. His model identifies 6 stages of retirement.

  1. Pre-retirement
  2. Retirement
  3. Disenchantment
  4. Reorientation
  5. Retirement Routine
  6. Termination of Retirement

Atchley divides Stage 2 Retirement into 3 paths that retirees typically follow: 1) the “honeymoon”; 2) the “immediate retirement routine”; and 3) the “rest and relaxation” path. Here’s how he describes each.

  1. The “honeymoon” path where the retiree acts as if they are on an indefinite vacation. They are very busy pursuing various projects and activities that they didn’t have time for while they were working. Travel is especially popular.
  2. The “immediate retirement routine” path is taken by those who maintained a busy schedule outside of work. They simply segue into this existing schedule after retirement.
  3. The “rest and relaxation” path is a period of low activity as compared to the “honeymoon” path. Persons who have had very busy careers with limited time to themselves frequently choose to do very little in their early retirement years.

After I retired in May 2010, I took the “honeymoon” path. In Retirement Journeys I refer to this as “Arriving in Retirement”, a bridge from work life to retirement life. My wife and I moved from the Bay Area to Arizona in June 2010. Our first few months were spent settling into a new house and community. We had many home improvement projects to work on. We returned to the Bay Area frequently. When I look back at our calendar, I am reminded of the variety of ways that we spent our free time. We attended financial seminars, concerts, car auctions, baseball games and community based meetings. In May 2011 we bought hybrid bikes and began riding once or twice a week.

However, the honeymoon did not last. Starting around the middle of 2011, I began to have doubts. Did I retire too soon? Did I leave too much money on the table? Did I miss the one chance I had to buy my dream retirement home and instead settle on the best worst alternative available? What could I do to replace the feeling of being productive that work provided? I began writing a journal to vent my frustrations. I beat myself up over my questionable decisions and expressed self-recrimination to my wife which annoyed her (to say the least). So I added making my wife unhappy to the list of things that I blamed on myself. Unbeknownst to me, I had worked myself into Stage 3 Disenchantment. (Coincidentally, I eventually changed the tone of my Retirement Journeys “Surviving” stage from surviving in retirement to surviving retirement.)

Phase 4 Reorientation says to “take inventory of <your> retirement experience and outline ways that will improve <your> retirement role”. I began my inventory in March 2012. That also marks the beginning of the end of my Disenchantment stage. (There was definitely overlap between these stages.) Number one on my inventory was to figure out why I was unhappy. Did I really regret the timing of my decision to retire? No, I didn’t miss work. Did I miss my paycheck? Yes, but thanks to strong financial markets, we were ahead of our long term financial plan so we didn’t need to go back to work. Did I have a case of terminal buyers’ remorse regarding our house? No. We began to make improvements to our house in 2011 which helped make it feel like our house. Did I miss the feeling of being productive that work provided? Yes (more on that in a bit). So what was it that was making me feel unhappy? I didn’t have to look too hard for the answer. I had to resolve a life-long issue that was easy to suppress while busy working but was now much closer to my consciousness now that I had more time for self-reflection. In March 2012 I read Forgiveness is a Choice: A Step-by-Step Process for Resolving Anger and Restoring Hope by Robert D. Enright. I read the book and worked through all of its exercises. Through this process I gained enough insight and perspective to face my issues, put them into context and understand who, what and how to forgive. My commitment and hard work helped me to resolve my issues and paved the way for me to give myself the freedom to be happy.

Next up on my inventory was how to find a way to replace the feeling of being productive that work gave me. My first step was to become a volunteer at a local history museum in August 2012. It was great to have a brick and mortar place to go to, responsibilities and a schedule. I broadened my duties to take on maintenance of their website which was totally new for me. In May 2013 I became a volunteer for Sun Sounds of Arizona. So in a little over a year I managed to reorient myself and was ready for the next stage.

2014 marks the beginning of my entry into Atchley’s Stage 5 (“mastering a comfortable and rewarding retirement routine – the ultimate goal of retirement”) which I refer to as Thriving in retirement. Important milestones included making some wonderful new friends thanks to meetup.com, being assigned my own weekly program for Sun Sounds (previously I was a substitute reader) and creating retirementjourneys.com and all that goes with that. For me a perfect day is a routine one – go for a trail run in my favorite location (Brown’s Ranch); relax  in the pool; work on a podcast, blog on the website; enjoy happy hour at home; and watch some TV (ideally catch a baseball game) later in the day. All shared with my wonderful wife. Most gratifying is the realization and acceptance that I am happy

Lastly, I want to leave you with this thought. Atchley’s retirement model helped me understand what I experienced and why; that my experience, no matter how personal and unique, is normal; and offers a preview what will come next in my retirement journey. It reassures me that somehow I am on the right track!

Next Steps (optional)

  • Determine which stage you are in
  • Review your journey. Which Retirement path did you take?
  • Did you experience Disenchantment?
  • Take inventory per Stage 4
  • Share some of your thoughts or lessons learned by adding a comment
  • Contact me if you are interested in writing a post or being a podcast guest to discuss your experiences
  • Share this post with others who may find it interesting

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