Finding Validation in Retirement


Throughout our careers, many of us dream of the day we can finally retire. We dream of endless peaceful days when we can do what we want, when we want to, all without the demands of deadlines and work stress. Retirement sounds great, doesn’t it?

Unfortunately, many new retirees find themselves without direction, without self-worth, and without validation. Our jobs sometimes help define who we are, giving us purpose in our daily lives. Without that job, many people struggle. If you are heading toward retirement, it is critical to make plans NOW for how you will maintain your sense of self-worth. Here are some tips to help you along the way.

Validation through Employment

When we work, many of us approach our jobs not just for the paycheck, but to provide meaning to the world around us. Knowing that we are contributing in some way to commerce or society is a powerful reward for employees across market sectors. Knowing that your contributions made a difference in some way can become quite addictive, especially when employers reward you for your efforts on occasion. Positive feedback and validation are some of the factors that keep us working right through our careers, even if our work is sometimes filled with stress and frustration.

What happens when it’s time to retire? We lose that regular positive feedback from our superiors. We lose the sense that we are doing something valuable, something innovative, something helpful. While it can be unhealthy and detrimental to receive all of your sense of self-worth from your job, the fact of the matter is that as Americans, we expect to work for 30 or 40 years before retiring. Even if we don’t intend to, our jobs become a critical part of our lives.

External Vs. Internal Validation

There is a difference between external and internal validation, and understanding the distinction is important for this discussion. External validation is the feedback one gets from others when outside forces tell you you’re doing a great job and that your contributions matter.

Internal validation, on the other hand, is the self-confidence we have that tells us that we’re doing something valuable and that we are helping others. It is the internal dialog that keeps us going – that we believe in ourselves and in our abilities.

Most experts agree that a balance between external and internal validation is the key to a healthy sense of self-worth. We tend to get a pretty good balance of the two validation forces when we work, but one or the other becomes scarce when retirement comes.

Missing Work

Ok, you’re about to retire and you’re getting excited by the possibilities. Are you planning to travel? How about tackling all those home projects you’ve been putting off because you were too busy at work? Or what about delving deeply into a hobby you simply never had time for while you were working?

Before retiring, it is important to think about what you might miss from work life. A good exercise is to think about the ways in which your job enriches your life beyond a paycheck and some great benefits. Is it the interpersonal relationships you’ll miss most? How about the sense that you’re providing a valuable product or service to someone else? Is it the regular compliments and rewards your boss bestows on you for exceeding sales figures? There are a lot of questions here for soon-to-be retirees to think about. Assessing what you love about work, what you’ll miss, and what you’ll replace your time with is an important exercise in maintaining validation and self-worth.

Contributing After Retirement

After we finally quit our jobs and enter the world of retirement, many of our external validations disappear. Despite our planning and preparation for the “leisure life”, retirement just isn’t as fulfilling for many retirees – certainly not as much as they thought it would be.

The real struggle here is to find something that gives you a sense of self-worth. You’re no longer contributing to company sales and growth. You’re no longer providing a valuable service to your clients and customers. Having hobbies or doing some traveling is great after you retire, but that may not be enough for some retirees. What can they do to find validation?

One of the primary means new retirees can overcome that loss of external validation is to volunteer with their favorite charity. Doing charitable work can replace whatever you’ve lost in terms of self-worth at your job. You can provide a valuable service to those who need it most, and you are making an important contribution to society at large. Charity work is a win-win for many retirees, and can be done in addition to your hobbies and travel – it is not meant to take up your entire retirement time, but it is a perfect supplement when you’re feeling less valuable.

Another way to maintain one’s sense of self-worth is to engage in something you feel happy working on. You don’t have to get external validation to maintain your personal value; rather, it is the drive and passion you put toward projects along with the satisfaction you can get from a job well done that improves your self-worth. As long as you are happy with what you are doing, whatever that is, you may find that you don’t miss your job as much as you thought you might.

Self-Worth Vs. Monetary Worth

Too many people equate success with monetary wealth. Wealth is one factor that can show one is successful, but internal self-worth is just as important. So, in short, don’t sweat being wealthy when you retire. All through your career, you’ve saved and made smart investments for the future. Retiring comfortably should be the goal, not retiring with unattainable monetary wealth. Remember, it is not how much you have but how much you contribute to the world around you that determines TRUE wealth.

Final Words

Faced with the loss of purpose, retirement can start to sound rather scary. Have no fear, though – with some planning and a bit of soul searching, you can find ways of occupying your time that give you a real sense of personal satisfaction. Validation is important to us all, and receiving that validation cannot stop once we retire. We simply have to find ways to replace work validation with personal validation, and that’s the key to a happy, comfortable, and rewarding retirement.

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