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Illustration of an elderly man riding a lawnmower
Illustration by David Sparshott

How to Stay Fulfilled in Retirement When Work Has Defined Your Life

A book by Prof. Michelle Pannor Silver offers some ideas

In her new book, Retirement and Its Discontents: Why We Won’t Stop Working, Even If We Can, UTSC professor Michelle Pannor Silver interviews people who struggled in retirement because their personal and work identities were deeply intertwined. Without work, they often lost their sense of self-worth and purpose. In her book, Silver offers some ideas for staying content in retirement.

Working in place
There’s a popular concept called “aging in place:” by making changes to seniors’ homes to accommodate their needs, they can continue living contentedly in a familiar environment. Silver proposes the idea of “working in place:” using retirement to continue one’s career in an adapted manner. The professors she talked to, for example, shed their heavy administrative work and continued only the most meaningful projects, such as writing books and researching.

Is pay important to you?
The CEOs that Silver interviewed had excelled at developing their careers – but were not as competent at developing a life distinct from their work identity. All of them ended up re-engaging in the workforce – with consulting being a popular choice. How did the CEOs differ from the professors? CEOs viewed paid work as being personally fulfilling whereas professors kept at it whether or not they received a paycheque.

Channel your strengths
The elite athletes Silver spoke with struggled mightily with retirement at a young age, after focusing on a single goal for so long. One athlete channelled his competitive nature into a career as a professor, eventually becoming a top-ranking administrator – and also used his abundant energy to advocate for human rights. What’s the lesson for others? Take the skills that got you far in the workplace and direct them into other areas: your leadership abilities, for example, could find an outlet in the charitable arena.

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