I’m not so sure about this… making sense of the transition into retirement

Often when we think about change we think about going from state ‘A’ to state ‘B’, e.g. from working to retirement. The shift into retirement should be simple, right?! So why is it that some of us struggle to navigate the change, especially in the first few months?

The first thing to know is that if you are feeling a little lost, overwhelmed or unsure, you are not alone! The transition into retirement can be a tricky thing to navigate.

Image: Journey into Retirement

Let’s explore what’s going on. To do this, let’s use William Bridge’s model (1991) and first differentiate between change and transition. Change is the physical activity, e.g. retiring from work or moving house. Change tends to be completed rather quickly, for example you can go from working to not working in one day.

Transition on the other hand, is our psychological response to that new situation. It’s how we adapt and process new information. The transition will typically take longer. We need to become comfortable with the new way of doing things - what our identity now will be, and how we will fill our days without the structure of work. It can be exciting but it is also not unusual for new worries to arise.

Bridges proposes there are three phases of transition that everyone goes through during change; an Ending, a Neutral zone, and a New Beginning.

What might this mean for you as you prepare for retirement? Consider the three stages below.


Before you can embrace the new you first need to let go of, and celebrate the old (your role and career). Even if you are really looking forward to retirement and can’t wait to walk away from work, it’s important to acknowledge that you are letting go of something that consumed a huge part of your waking hours for many years.

The Neutral Zone

This is likely followed by a period of feeling like you’re in no (wo)man’s land – you’re not quite sure how you feel. You’ve stepped away from what you know and are comfortable with (work) but you haven’t yet found your groove in retirement. It’s not unusual to feel confusion about your decision and what life after work has to offer. Thoughts that can come up in this stage include ‘oh gosh, have I done the right thing’, and ‘geez I’ve got more time on my hands than I anticipated’.

New Beginnings

Then goal is then to push through and reach the point when you think ‘yup, I’ve got this!’. When you can feel settled, energised and ready to tackle the opportunities that life in retirement offers.

Image: Celebrating New Beginnings in Retirement

What can you do to navigate the transition successfully?

You may like to try some or all of the following actions:

  • Take the time to reflect and celebrate your achievements –without doubt there have been many accomplishments and milestones in that time. What are they?
  • Farewell your colleagues – take the time to say goodbye and reminisce, laugh about the good and bemoan the bad together
  • Take the time to grieve - for the things you are losing, e.g. recognition you receive for your efforts, for colleagues you will no longer be seeing daily, and the part of your identity which is closely linked to your job. It’s okay to experience a down period, and in fact this is completely normal part of the transition
  • Go easy on yourself - recognise that it is okay to feel conflicting emotions about retirement
  • Be willing to explore the possibilities that retirement has to offer
  • Take action – dip your toe in the water and try new things. You don’t have to love all new activities, but it is helpful to know what you enjoy and what you don’t

There is no rule for how long it takes to move through the three stages. Some will whizz through grasping the opportunities that retirement has to offer with two hands. For others, it may be a more bumpy ride full of conflicting emotions.

What is critical, however, is that you don’t get stuck in the Endings stage or the Neutral Zone. To experience a retirement that is truly fulfilling, meaningful to you, and that lights you up each day, you need to keep moving forward and get to a point of feeling settled, energised and equipped to deal with whatever life throws at you!


If you are struggling, don’t be afraid to reach out for help. You may like to talk through the challenges with your significant other(s) and work out how you can best support each other. If, however, you would like to explore your particular circumstances with someone who can provide an objective perspective in planning for the non-financial aspects of retirement via structured, action-focused coaching , you may like to consider booking a one-on-one planning session. You can find all of the details on the For Individuals Page.


Bridges, W. (1991). Managing Transitions: Making the Most of Change. Hodder & Stoughton General Division; London, UK.