About five years ago, when I was still gainfully employed and in the midst of designing a plan for my retirement, aka my Third Act, I read that people tend to be thrilled in the initial phase of retirement, which lasts about eight months. They feel free and happy, and absolutely love that they no longer are being awakened by the shrillness emanating from their alarm clock, starting their day off wrong. They are dancing on the ceilings because they feel totally free, less stressed, and more joyful.
After those eight months of retirement honeymoon, the article went on to say, they then begin to wonder, with sometimes a fair amount of anxiety, about things like their identity and purpose and where this is all heading.
My first response was is there something special about the eighth month, when that free-floating, low-level panic emerges? I would have guessed that people start getting a bit nervous after about three months. In fact, I actually started thinking about what I would do in my retirement about three years before I retired, in part to avoid any such confrontation with that dreaded, existential angst.
I developed my Third Act plan over the course of 18 months working with a coach while I was still employed, and then had another 18 months to consider that ripening plan before I actually retired. So for me, the segue from working professional to retiree was pretty seamless. Because I had a clear direction, I never felt the loss of meaning. Rather I felt I was reaching for new dreams and goals that completely excited me.
As you consider your retirement, do you feel you need a sense of purpose in the Third Act of your one precious life?
If you have no idea of what you want your retirement to look like, is it smarter to stay gainfully employed?
In the first phase of retirement blush, I too had loved losing the alarm and sleeping a bit longer, loosening up my schedule just a bit and giggling at my tendency to maximize every minute of every hour of every day. I felt a new freedom of indulging in the occasional, lusciously decadent, afternoon spent reading an actual book.
The newfound spaciousness in my life was so absolutely joyful to me, as I no longer had to struggle with- on top of a busy day in the office- getting the laundry done, shopping for food and then cooking it, paying bills, or calling the insurance company and a repair company because the garage door crashed down, barely missing slicing my moving car in two that morning.
I had the gift of time to take care of daily life without my cortisol levels going bonkers and my shoulders tightening up into my skull. Amazing! My spousal unit and I could go into San Francisco for dinner and a show without advance planning and take a hike in nearby open space almost spontaneously. Delicious! We could go watch the sunset over the Pacific Ocean in Half Moon Bay! We could Bart to Berkeley to see a play without worrying about the next work day. My meditation practice opened up. I had time to invigorate my yoga practice. Brilliant! The gift of time was mine and I savored every minute of it.
Before I even retired, I started my weekly volunteer work at a local hospice group and began my eighteen-month program to become a health and wellness coach. Then, after retirement, I completed the program and board exams; joined a book club; methodically went through every room in my house and expunged furniture, tchotckes, clothing and random stuff that is taking up space, thereby lightening the feel of the house. I have a small garden, despite the ravages of the moles and gophers, and fixed up the backyard to make it a sweeter place to hang out.
As you think of your retirement, what makes your heart sing? What are you passionate about doing and becoming in your Third Act?
Are you itching to come out of the closet with your cherished but tucked away dream art project or fantasy job or ideal start up? If not now, when?
Do you want a new mission statement for your Third Act or can you let it evolve organically?
As I was approaching nine months in, I too found myself experiencing a dip. I needed to re-ignite my Third Act plan or I could get overwhelmed by inertia and underwhelmed by things that needed my attention but not urgently. I noticed there was a shift from the honeymoon of early retirement into moving into the long-term shift in my life permanently.
Now, I am about two and a half years into retirement. Designing my Third Act was an act of love and alignment of the values I held most dear.
When people ask me what I do, I may talk about my past work as an arts manager, documentary filmmaker, artist and massage therapist. But I always tell them: I am a certified and Board credentialed Holistic Health Coach, helping 55+ women and men who want to improve their health, design their own Third Act, or create a plan for a dignified and intentional end of life.
I tell them I am a hospice volunteer, working with patients as well as facilitating educational programs for the larger community. I am passionate about being an end of life doula, whether than means working with folks to create an end of life plan or being an emotional support person at the end of life. That is what really makes my heart soar and sing the loudest. I also facilitate weekly Death Cafes. I am a volunteer crisis counselor for the Crisis Text Line and I have a daily writing, meditation and yoga practice. I read voraciously and study Mussar, and am known to binge watch Netflix on occasion.
What is your vision for the Third Act of your life?
Is devoting the first year of your retirement to make a plan a good strategy for you?
What values do you cherish and want to align in your Third Act?
What makes your heart sing?