Empty nest syndrome

Empty nest is the description of how it feels to be a parent all of whose children have grown up and left home. They say that this can be a difficult transition in the life of the parents; that may bring forward the emotion of loss or of sadness.

It reminds me of that other transition which I always blog about: retirement. Both are transitions, both can involve profound change that leads to negative feelings. In the case of retirement this is typically a loss of meaning.

 But with the empty nest there are clearly some benefits to dwell on:

·      The house becomes instantly tidier as there are fewer people to make a mess.

(This is even before the Marie Kondo moment);

·      Financially there are fewer dependents in the house;

·      The consumption of food in the refrigerator is now controlled by the parents;

·      The car belongs to its owners.

Are these benefits enough to outweigh the negatives mentioned above? How do you reconcile these two opposite feelings: missing the children on a daily basis whilst engaging positively with the changes caused by their absence?

These are good questions to ponder.

Retirement: You won’t know what it is like until you get there.

Three myths of retirement

What is retirement, how does it feel to be retired?

Before you go through the process of retirement yourself you can:

·      observe and/or talk to all the retired people you can;

·      not think about it at all;

however you will likely still be hostage to some foundational myths about retirement. Here are three:

1)   Retirement is all about how much money you have. Well yes, it is probably good to have more money than less but it turns out that the emotional aspects of retirement are much bigger than this.

2)   Retirement is the phase of life where everything becomes easy. I don’t really know what “easy” might mean; but the truth is that all stages of life present problems.

3)   Retirement represents a dead end of life. I would say no to that: it’s as lively and challenging and exciting as you want to make it.

If you think about some of these myths more deeply you will get closer to understanding what you can make of your own retirement. It’s worth the effort, and a retirement coach can assist with this process.

Retirement: You won’t know what it is like until you get there.

Meaning and measurement in retirement

Thinking of your career, how many were the ways in which your success was recognised, and even rewarded?

Perhaps you received a promotion, a new job title, a pay rise, a bonus or maybe a worthwhile pat on the back.

In retirement such things don’t happen, or if they do it’s in a different way. You may have a struggle on your hands in the absence of such clear and tangible validation in retirement. But there is always an answer. 

If, for example, you engage in voluntary work then the reward can come in the form of a show of appreciation from those you have helped.

On the other hand, you may enlarge your circle of friends and gather appreciation from them for the friend that you are.

In another direction, you may simply enjoy the dawning of each new day and the possibilities it brings you.

In summary, a retirement coach can help you to frame your thoughts on this critical topic. 

Retirement: You won’t know that it is like until you get there.

Balance sheets and retirement

Balance sheets belong to the world of finance and accounting. They have a column for assets and a column for liabilities. What has this got to do with retirement you are thinking.

There are many ways to construct a parallel:

The assets are your achievements you are most proud of and the liabilities are your greatest fears for the future.


The assets are the things you want to keep treasuring and the liabilities are what you can safely let go of; the best example being attachment to your job pre-retirement.

I offer you the challenge to start to draw up your own personal balance sheet: think of what you want to hang on to and what you want to dispense with.

If you reflect on your own balance sheet for some time, I think the results that you obtain will be interesting.

Retirement: You won’t know what it is like until you get there.


Someone told me about five “features” that can characterise a friendship and they are 1) similarity 2) proximity 3) ability to communicate 4) expression of positive emotions about the other 5) frequency.

I agree with some and not others. More importantly, how can these features help us to understand our friendships: past, present and future.

In reverse order, I like frequency, and would argue that to see someone once a year would make it hard to develop a friendship. If being positive about each other is the opposite of shouting and screaming then I also agree with number four.

The third needs no discussion as long as we allow “to communicate” to have a very general sense that can go beyond talking and listening.

But I don’t much like proximity and similarity. The internet, through FaceTime and Skype, gives us the ability to talk to friends all over the world. So why would we not exploit it. The thornier one is similarity. I think it is natural to fall into friendships with like-minded people; but it might be worth the challenge of exploring a friendship with someone who is unlike you.

 Do you have friends who are quite different from you?

 If you don’t, what about the idea of finding some?

 Perhaps it could be a warm friendship, but with a hint of challenge.

 Retirement: You won’t know what it is like until you get there.

Who am I part 2

The first version of this article “Who am I?” posed the question: 

“This is one of the interesting challenges of retirement: how to define your role in the world: what exactly do you do? Who are you now?

Before you retired perhaps you had a business card with your name, details; and underneath were written some key words that described your role in the workforce. In retirement would you want to have a card that designated you as “retired”?

If that is your answer then read no further.

On the other hand, you could ponder three questions in retirement:

1.   What is your potential: what are you good at, passionate about?

2.   What is your goal: what are the desired outcomes to match this potential?

3.   Implementation: how will you reach your stated goal?

 It gets better. Do all this once, then repeat, experiment, have fun. 

Retirement: you won’t know what it is like until you get there.


So what do you want to do when you retire? What activities, projects, inactivities, work, passions will you throw yourself into? The choice is yours; but your list may be long, which could be a problem.

Psychologists have generated a vast literature on choice. A surprising piece of that work is the concept of “choice overload”. I hear you say what can that be; surely having more options to choose from is better than fewer, after all aren’t we good at deliberating and choosing?

Well, I have read about an experiment in which shoppers in a shop are offered 6 jams to choose from. Then at a later date, they get offered 24 jams. 24 is bigger than 6, that is good for choice right? However whereas shoppers readily purchased when 6 jams were on offer, hardly anyone purchased with 24 on offer. Choice overload.

In other words, excessive choice, whilst initially appealing, may end up demotivating the purchaser.

What is the answer to this dilemma when applied to those choices in retirement mentioned in the first paragraph? Limit the number of your choices. Experiment with your choices; and if you fail with one then try another.

Retirement: You won’t know what it is like until you get there.

Weekends and stress

Weekends are easy to define: they come at the end of the week. However, there is a big difference between the end of a working week and the end of a week in retirement.

As a worker, the weekend was your lifeboat to sanity, a chance to do whatever it was that you wanted to do, or had to do - but had no time for during the week - as well as a chance to de-stress. As a retired person the weekend is just another two consecutive days.

Then again it isn’t. As a retired person, the weekend is what you used to celebrate in the past and that workers celebrate in the present. Those workers will be all around you and you will be aware of this.

Perhaps that is all that a weekend needs to mean to a retired person. It is what others celebrate around you. Meantime, you can set your own routine: one that doesn’t need to consider that any day of the week is special.

I have seen a church in Italy that has a painting of a skeleton above which is written. “I once was what you are and what I am you also will be”. Sounds like a description of a weekend in retirement.

Retirement: You won’t know what it is like until you get there.

The shame of loneliness

If you feel lonely, and I mean chronically lonely, you probably want to reach out and connect to more people, and yet the quality and quantity of those connections will be a highly personal consideration. For example, how many people would you feel comfortable sharing your deepest feelings with is a question only you can answer.

Many adjectives pair with their opposite: good and bad, beautiful and ugly. But I can’t think of a natural opposite to “lonely”. That said, companionship and sociability may be useful cures for loneliness. Companionship could mean anything from a life partner to a friend to talk with at a café.

So let’s develop the idea of a cure for loneliness. I am not aware of any pill you can take. Moreover, the simple prescription to get out of the house and find friends, companions, activities may work for some, but not for others.

But in some cases there may be something deeper going on; and it’s called shame. Think of the child who enthusiastically wants to share an experience with a parent but, for whatever reason, the parent rejects the request saying “I am busy, go away”. This experience may cause shame with thoughts of the kind: I am not worthy of my parent’s attention.

By extension it may be that loneliness – in some cases – is based in negative feelings of not being good enough for other people and hence fear that they will reject you.

These are feelings that are worthy of further reflection and consideration; in order to generate a cure for a particular and personal case of loneliness.

Retirement: You won’t know what it is like until you get there.