Navigating Christmas party conversations when you’re struggling in retirement

4 tips to keep the conversation light and you feeling good!


By Megan Giles: Retirement Transition Consultant

You’re at a Christmas party and someone asks you “so what are you doing with yourself these days?” or assumes “you must love not working anymore”. You know that you’re supposed to glow and reply with how fantastic life in retirement is. But inside you cringe. The journey into retirement is proving to be rockier than you anticipated and you haven’t yet found your feet.

This struggle makes you feel inadequate (after all you were known for your ability to ‘get things done’ in your job) and you constantly question how others can find the transition so easy. All you seem to hear is others exclaiming “I have no idea how I ever had time for work” or “I love this new gardening club I’ve joined”. You would love to respond that you’ve never felt healthier, energised or more connected. You would love to share clever anecdotes about new volunteering friends or the impossible yoga postures you are trying to master but you can’t bring yourself to embellish your current circumstances.

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If you’re feeling a little lost, overwhelmed or unsure, you are not alone! The research shows that the transition into retirement can be a tricky thing to navigate. You are letting go a significant part of your identity along with structure and the friendships fostered through work. Retirement represents a significant life change.

But there’s got to be a better response that “ummm…..okay”.


If you find yourself lost for words at a Christmas party (or any other social gathering) the risk that exists is the other person may either pity you or move on looking for a brighter conversation leaving you in a social wasteland with no one to talk to but your socially awkward neighbour’s cousin’s aunt’s husband.

In short it can leave you feeling even worse about your situation.

So how do you respond?

Here are four suggestions to consider before you hit the Christmas party circuit to ensure you are armed with an answer that makes you feel good and keeps the conversation flowing!

  • What is it that lights you up?

It may not be a part of your routine at the moment, but make a commitment to start a new hobby or activity in the New Year. I bet there is something you’ve been meaning to start… Do some research and you can then respond by saying how you “can’t wait to take up dancing/cycling/painting and I’ve found a great club to join. Classes start next month - I’ll keep you posted!”

  • Reframe the situation and share how you laying the foundations for a great retirement!

Reflect on what you have achieved in retirement to date. It may not seem earth-shattering but I suspect there are a number of boxes you’ve ticked. Perhaps you’ve decluttered the house, down-sized, organised your finances, spent more time with the grandkids, reconnected with your significant other or tackled the bewildering world of social media. Don’t discount these efforts.

  • Look to the lighter side.

As you enter this next chapter of your life away from the responsibilities of work, have a laugh with it! I’ve heard people say that they are “considering their options”, “mastering sleep ins” and “buying up big from the ALDI catalogue”!

  • Deflect and ask questions of others.

As human beings we crave social interaction and we love nothing more than to talk about ourselves. Simply respond with a short “fine” or “not bad” and then inquire of the other person. e.g. “how is it going with that manager you were struggling to work with last time we caught up”, “how are the grandkids”, “tell me about your recent holiday”, or “how will you be spending Christmas”. I suspect the conversation will flow easily from there with little reference to retirement.

Don’t get caught up in what is not working for you or worrying about what others might think.  You are on a journey. Stay positive, enjoy the festive celebrations and keep taking small steps towards a retirement you will love to live!

If you’ve already retired, I’d love to learn from your experiences. Please share in the comments below the challenges you have found, or what you’ve done to create a response that you feel comfortable with.


If you enjoyed this article you may also like to read “I ummm....” How to introduce yourself in retirement and  Is happiness really what we’re all after in retirement?

In planning for a holiday we always think “we need to go there” and “we should see that” but when Day One of our holiday arrives, we draw a blank…What were all of those things we were going to enjoy? In the busyness of life they’ve slipped our mind.

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