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The Fear of The Retirement Unknown

Fear often manifests itself in a variety of other emotions. I am no psychologist or medical professional, but when I ask the question, “When are you going to retire?”, many times the response is reflected in anger, frustration, and annoyance. However, I find the underlying sentiment is one of fear.

A recent study by Zety found that “40% of our respondents who feared retirement agreed that it scared them more than death itself.”


The average participant in the Retirement Time Analysis is 57.7 years old. They want to retire around 66. They estimate they’ll live to 87. That’s just shy of 25% of their total lifespan. Imagine having to look at 21 years of your life…that can literally frighten you. It is a big reason staying at work seems to be so attractive to those approaching retirement.

Karl Albrecht writes in Psychology Today about The (Only) 5 Fears We All Share.  These anxieties are five basic fears we all share that all other fears can be manufactured from. They are extinction, mutilation, loss of autonomy, separation, and ego-death. Using Dr. Albrecht’s article as inspiration, let’s apply these directly to a post-career life. 


Saving and having enough resources to stop working usually points to a successful career. On some level others count on your leadership, knowledge, and direction. You’re in “demand.” Then one day you step away and occupationally cease to exist. Without a planned lifestyle strategy aligned to a life purpose and adaptable goals, it can be easy to lose a sense of being or self.


Dr. Albrecht applies mutilation directly to “losing any part of our precious bodily structure.” While that certainly can be real in retirement, I’ll broaden it to include the natural function and order that comes from a professional life. Schedules are defined and even predictable. Taking that away and not replacing it with a post-career timetable can be like losing an important part of your body.

Loss of Autonomy

Ironically, retirement can be a time of amazing freedom. Autonomy is a natural outcome because the demands of professional pursuits go away, and all time can be dedicated to your personal interests. Yet, failing to optimize the time at one’s disposal can make the retiree feel controlled by circumstances instead of the other way around.


The National Academics of Sciences has a report that highlights nearly 25% who are 65 and older are considered to be socially isolated. Conducting a Social Network Audit, deciding who is important to your relationship well-being might sound selfish. However, the concept is to help pre-retirees focus on those in their lives that will get attention because there is social value in that interaction.

In addition, the Retirement Time Analysis data estimates that wives will outlive their husbands by 5.2 years. Post-career planning together ensures life’s shared goals are done while the two are still together.


Face it, a demanding career with a high level of responsibility can be an ego-trip for anyone. Dr. Albrecht talks of the “shattering or disintegration of one’s constructed sense of lovability, capability, and worthiness.” If your main purpose in life is tied to your occupation only, at some point in life physical and even cognitive challenges will make you change and adjust. If you lack the correct retirement mindset, ego-death will come a calling.

Facing Your Fear of the Retirement Unknown

I do not expect this quick article to solve any fears you have about moving into retirement or post-career life. Nonetheless, let me leave you some questions to challenge and test some of your current emotions.

  • What is your purpose in life? Think beyond work and career.
  • What are my personal goals?
  • What are the personal goals of my spouse or partner?
  • How much control of my time do I have today? Do I manage my time well?
  • What can I do to be able to share myself with others, if there is no work or career?

After answering those questions, ask this final one.

  • If I invested the time to know my purpose in life, personal goals (for me and my spouse/partner), manage my personal time, and share of myself – would I still want to or need to work?

Whether you answer yes or no, you are better prepared to manage the last 25% of your life out of opportunity and not fear.

Learn more about the lifestyle possibilities of your future self.

Individuals and couples take the Retirement Time Analysis for free…here.

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