Many people tell me as they approach retirement that their jobs no longer provide the mental stimulation they crave. They may have been in their current job for many years and they can “do it with their eyes shut”. Their job may have become routine and pretty much the same every day. Lack of opportunities for promotion are a reality, lateral transfers are not part of the culture and being assigned to a project team for a bit of variety just doesn’t happen in their workplace.
On the one hand, they think “Well, I am lucky to have a job at my age” and “Where will I find another job in today’s market?”, and, on the other hand, they are thinking “Is this all there is to life?”. This internal conversation in a person’s mind can lead to frustration, mild levels of anger, low mood, and a feeling of dreariness and boredom can descend on them.
So, what to do about it. Here are some options to get you started.
1. Find a new outside interest
It’s time to challenge yourself with something new. Life can become very routine so finding a new outside interest that is mentally challenging will spill over into your thinking whilst at work. This could be almost anything from deciding to learn salsa dancing and practising steps whilst at your desk (ideal if you have one of those desks that can be raised) to finding an engrossing book or exploring Chinese cooking. It really could be anything and planning to explore a few things will keep your mind occupied. You can always drop what you don’t like; just because you try something doesn’t mean you have to finish it. The upside could be you find something you become passionate about and, at the same, you are likely to be meeting new people.
2. Talk about it with a friend
We all know the phrase “A problem shared is a problem halved” so talking about it with a friend will help. Men, in particular, are not good at this. Start off perhaps with a plan just to touch on the subject and see how your friend reacts; there is no need to go “all in” right at the start. Humour also helps as does raising the issue when doing a shared activity; maybe over a beer or with your lunch buddy. You could get a perspective that you hadn’t thought of or you might even find they are harbouring similar feelings.
The trend in all these suggestions is changing something in your routine and there is no doubt that a little more exercise for anyone lifts their feeling of well-being. It is all about getting more of the endorphins in your brain circulating around. Endorphins are only one of many neurotransmitters released when you exercise. Physical activity also stimulates the release of dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin. These brain chemicals play an important part in regulating your mood. Raising your levels of serotonin boosts your mood and overall sense of well-being. It can also help improve your appetite and sleep cycles. Go for a walk and notice how you feel afterwards. Plan to do a little more each day; there is no need to wait for New Year’s Day to set some new resolutions!
4. Make a Plan for the Future
Life is too short to be stuck in a job you feel isn’t going anywhere. For some the option to fully stop working isn’t an option until the retirement age when they can tap into the Pension. Exploring options with your employer such as moving to part-time or mentoring could a ‘circuit breaker” for you. For some people, though, finishing work is an option particularly if you are not enjoying what you are doing and it is financially possible. I talk to many people who continue to work due to a fear of not knowing what they will do once they finish; their job is their life and perhaps they have very few, if any, outside interests. The prospect of not working is very scary. If that is the case for you, it is time to start thinking about making a plan. There is no need to rush things but starting to think about and visualising the future is highly beneficial. Having a psychological plan for transitioning from work to your “Next Stage” is vital; besides you are easily likely to have 20 to 30 years ahead of you. Starting to crystallise daydreams into a coherent plan for the future provides people with a renewed focus, a confidence in the future and a purpose in life.
There are two possible trajectories at such a point in life.
1) The Lack of a Plan where you drift into retirement often leads to a meaningless and mediocre life, or
2) Preparing a Plan with a professional life planner to develop a robust and comprehensive plan that will redefine who you are, help you determine what are your “Personal Enduring Visions” (those two or three things that will give you a longer term focus and purpose), goals to get you there and a plan for your time as you will be the “Director of your own Time”. These should be exciting and busy years and having a plan will give you focus, purpose and confidence in the future.
There are options so don’t feel trapped in a job that is offering you little in the way of a challenge or mental stimulation. Take charge and take the first step in making a change today.