By Bev Bachel
Confidence—the feeling of self-assurance that comes from appreciating our abilities and accomplishments—often takes a hit in retirement, in large part because we’ve come to rely on our careers to define who we are and bolster our self-worth. Leave the career behind, and many of us quickly feel less confident … and even less capable.
That’s what happened to Sheila Peyraud. After retiring from a challenging yet rewarding career as chief technology officer of a large manufacturing company in which she routinely tackled challenging problems, she found herself at a complete loss.
“I would never have guessed that I had most of my ego wrapped up in my job, but when I retired, my identity disappeared overnight,” says Peyraud. “That made it clear just how much of my self-esteem was tied to my job. I had no idea. It was really a shock, and my confidence took a hit.”
Peyraud’s loss of confidence in retirement is common. According to an American Psychology Association study, self-esteem rises steadily until retirement, then declines just as steadily thereafter.
But it’s doesn’t have to be this way. Instead, with these strategies, those of us who are retired or nearing retirement can turn “I’m not” back to “I am” and “I can’t” back to “I can.”
Here are eight strategies to help reinvigorate your retirement confidence:
Strategy #1: Set new goals. Run a marathon. Build a cabin. Visit all 50 states. Read a book a week. These are just some of the goals people I know have set … and achieved. In the process, they’ve not only grown their confidence, they’ve proven to themselves (and others) that they have what it takes to succeed.
Strategy #2: Learn something new. Podcasts, including the Retirement Wisdom podcast, are a great way to learn. So is going back to school. That’s what Peyraud did; she enrolled in the University of Minnesota Advanced Careers Fellows Program (UMAC), a nine-month, immersive experience [program?] designed for “encore adults” as they navigate transitions in their work and life. Even though the program has ended, Peyraud continues to take one or two classes per semester, on everything from sociology to electrical engineering.
Strategy #3: Connect with others. It’s so much easier to “get up and go” when you have someone to get up and go with. That’s one of the things Peyraud valued most about her UMAC program; it gave her a cohort of professionals who wanted, needed and valued her support while offering their support in return. “I made some good friends along the way, and we continue to stay in touch and cheer one another on,” says Peyraud.
Strategy #4: Home in on your purpose. While Peyraud started out at a loss, she’s since gotten crystal clear on her purpose, which she defines as “being useful to others and continuous self-development.” The first of these she pursues through tutoring, mentoring, and an open attitude toward others; the second through additional University of Minnesota classes, podcasts (Tim Ferris’ and Brené Brown’s are two of her favorites) and random goals such as learning to play the piano.
Strategy #5: Stretch your comfort zone. Initiate a conversation with someone you don’t know. Attend an event by yourself. Travel to a developing country. Go rock climbing or scuba diving. While these things may at first feel uncomfortable—even frightening—they and other stretches eventually become part of your comfort zone, giving you the confidence to stretch ever further.
Strategy #6: Challenge yourself physically. Come up with a physical challenge that’s realistic for you. For one of my friend’s, it’s running her first-ever 10k. For another, it’s playing pickleball. For Peyraud it’s walking four to five miles a day plus strenuous gardening. “Along the way, I’m building my confidence and proving to myself that I have what it takes to succeed,” says Peyraud. She’s also keeping her body as strong as her mind.
Strategy #7: Engage your imagination. Research shows that our brains don’t differentiate between imagining doing something—delivering a TED Talk, for instance—and actually doing it, so amp up your confidence and your skills by engaging your imagination. Close your eyes and picture yourself with as much detail as possible. Where are you? Who is with you? What are you succeeding at? In what ways are people cheering you on?
“I was self-conscious when I first started taking classes,” says Peyraud. “I was often paired with students 45 years my junior and had to find ways to be useful to them—my organizational skills came in particularly handy—without being a know-it-all. I’ve also found that being vulnerable and admitting what I don’t know has enabled me to learn from my fellow students, everything from software skills to intergenerational thinking.
As a result, Peyraud is confident that she is and that she can.
Bev Bachel is a Twin Cities freelancer who is developing her own retirement confidence by writing blog posts for AARP and Retirement Wisdom.