Facing Retirement

I am at the age where many of my peers are moving into retirement. Many have confided in me that it is a frightening thought. When you think about it, most have been working in the same career for well over forty years. There is the fear of what to do with your time and the worry of not having enough money to last through retirement.

I spoke to a man recently who is close to my age (69) and who has been retired for several years. He has loved retirement. In questioning him about it he made a profound statement. He said, “If you get your identity from your work, retirement will be very difficult.” He clearly had not gotten his identity from his work because he is loving life.

Have you ever given much thought to what defines you and where you get your identity? When we equate our worth as human beings to our performance and achievements we put our identities at grave risk, particularly as we enter into retirement. Many conclude their lives are not worth very much anymore.

Tim Keller suggests:

“we are the first culture in history where men define themselves solely by performing and achieving in the workplace. It is the way you become somebody and feel good about your life.” Keller adds that he believes “there has never been more psychological, social, and emotional pressure in the marketplace than there is at this very moment.” This is particularly true for those facing retirement.

When we find our identity, our sense of worth, from someone outside of ourselves, we allow them to participate in the shaping of our identities. Once we conform to the standards of this audience, we let them determine how well we are doing in our assigned role and define how successful we are in life. And what will this audience think of us when we are no longer working?

Who is this audience that I have empowered to determine my value and worth as an individual.

Charles Cooley provides some great insight into this complex issue. He was a prominent and highly respected sociologist who lived from 1864 to 1929, came up with a landmark concept called the “looking-glass self,” a human development theory which remains valid today. In its simplest form, the theory states:

A person gets his identity in life based on how the most important person in his life sees him.

For a child, of course, it is the parent. We all know how important it is for parents to encourage and build up their children because we have such an impact on their sense of worth as they develop. However, as the child grows up and becomes a teenager, the parents inevitably discover they are no longer their child’s number one audience. Most parents, for better or for worse, have been almost completely replaced by the child’s peer group. Most teenagers value their peers’ opinions more than anything else. Few of us adults would argue that peer pressure is not the most powerful force in the life of a teenager.

For an adult, particularly an adult out in the workplace, the opinion valued the most will typically come from a colleague or peer. We greatly value what other men and women in the workplace and in the community think of us. They are our audience, and we perform for them. We yearn to hear their applause.

But what do you think would happen to a man if Jesus Christ became the most important person in his life? If He were the audience whom we sought to please the most? It would truly change everything, for we are of great value to Him, and He loves us with an everlasting love. And his love does not depend on how well we perform or our level of achievement.

This is what happened to C.S. Lewis when he converted from atheism to Christianity. In Christ he found a new identity. He described it as “coming to terms with his real personality.” Furthermore, Lewis said, “Until you have given yourself up to Him, you will never find your true self.”

Richard E Simmons III is the founder and Executive Director of The Center for Executive Leadership and a best-selling author.


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