Wednesday, April 15, 2009


While a lot has been written about the 5 stages of grief, the 3 stages of love, the 26 stages of death, and the 3 stages of pregnancy, I had to look up how many stages there were in retirement. Even all-knowing, all-seeing Google isn’t entirely sure how many retirement stages there are.

The most credible list I found included 5 stages: Imagination, Anticipation, Liberation, Reorientation, and Reconciliation. Mostly I liked the list because it appealed to my old technical writing infatuation with parallelism (all items in the list ended in “tion,” making the bulleted list parallel—aaahhh, bliss!!).

While lists are helpful, they don’t always explain individual differences. So here’s my own list of the stages of retirement I have experienced so far:

1) It’s All About Me Stage – People send you cards and have parties for you. You are the center of attention. Retirement seems kind of like having a birthday, but for lots of days instead of just one. You feel very important.

2) Deer-in-the-Headlights Stage – After reading eight books, walking four miles, and finishing an expert-level crossword puzzle book—all in one afternoon—you realize you will need to find other activities to keep you busy for the next 30 years.

3) On-line Banking Stage – You need to constantly reassure yourself that Social Security or your retirement fund is actually direct depositing money into your bank account. You may check several times a day in case they decide to take it back. You try to overcome the skepticism that for the first time since 1970, money appears, even when you don’t go to work.

4) Go-Someplace Stage – When people are asked what they plan to do following retirement, the No. 1 answer is “Travel.” So very soon after retirement, most people are compelled to climb into a car or an airplane and just go someplace. It doesn’t matter where. They just go someplace, usually a place where millions of other retirees have also gone.

5) Home Again Stage – Since travel wouldn’t be travel unless you came home again, eventually you arrive back where you started. It is at this point that you realize you weren’t just on vacation and that you’re not expected back at work on Monday morning. Actually, you’re not expected anywhere. To compensate, you might invite 27 people over for Easter dinner to prove that your life still has value.

6) Non-productive Wake-up Call Stage – One morning (usually Monday morning, April 13, at 8 a.m.), somebody (usually a helpful spouse) points out to you that perhaps you should do something more productive than just writing blogs and doing crossword puzzles. Immediately, you adopt the “I’ll show you” passive-aggressive attitude and begin your productive stage by vigorously scrubbing out his favorite red and white Playmate fishing cooler with Comet cleanser, thereby removing the natural fish bait scent he has worked years to develop. After that, you starch his boxer shorts, downsize his wardrobe into a Goodwill box, and change the sheets on only your half of the bed.

7) Dream About Old Job Stage – In this stage, you might wake up in the morning (usually Wednesday morning, April 15), the sheets a sweaty, twisted mummy wrap around you, dreaming that you are back at work teaching. You might dream that you decided to do a fashion show in one of your classes, and you, complete with microphone, describe each student’s clothing choice for the day. (“And here is an unshowered, baseball-capped Tiffany, who chose to wear an XXXXL 'Property of UCLA' gray hooded sweatshirt with her Joe Boxer ladybug-print flannel pants to class, thereby sending us the message not to expect much from her today and that she would rather be home in bed.”)

I haven’t experienced all the retirement stages yet, but I have the feeling I’ve just begun to morph and evolve into this complex creature, a retired person.

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