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Aug. 10, 2022, 10:01 a.m. EDT

Serena Williams feels ‘no happiness’ retiring — just like many people who leave careers they love

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By Nicole Lyn Pesce

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“Not wanting to be alive is very scary, and I have felt it first hand,” Phelps told MarketWatch in 2017. But he’s found new purpose as a mental health advocate, including his recent documentary film project “The Weight of Gold” for HBO Sports.

So what can you do to make the transition to retirement more joyful and meaningful, too? 

Ease into it, if possible

If you have the ability to retire on your own terms, Aoyagi recommends slowly scaling in that change. This can include reducing your work hours gradually from 40 hours a week to 30 hours to 20 hours, which is less jarring than going from full-time to no-time overnight. 

“Smooth that transition and not have it be so abrupt,” he said. Going from a rigorous work or training schedule to just being “done” with work can “create incredible psychological stress, and it’s even traumatic,” Aoyagi said, citing the post-Olympic depression as a primary example. 

Best New Ideas in Retirement: You’re probably not ready to retire — psychologically

Shapiro at Santa Clara University recommends experimenting with what might be enjoyable in retirement while you’re still in your “mid-years” in your 40s and 50s. “Start checking out things that would be fun or provide meaning in your life,” such as volunteering. 

Stick to a schedule

Make sure your days and weeks are structured with people to see and things to do. “What many people look forward to in retirement is being on a beach on a boat doing nothing, but that will only ‘work’ for a couple of weeks, maybe six months if you’re lucky,” Aoyagi said. “Ultimately, for 40 years of your life, you thrived on structure, so you are probably going to want at least some of that in retirement.” 

So the experts recommend scheduling meet-ups with friends, including former colleagues, or taking advantage of this free time to do things you have wanted to do, but didn’t have the time during your career — such as learning a new skill. “Psychologically, the most crucial aspect of success as a retiree has to do with having a schedule,” said Shapiro. “If you don’t, the days just kind of get away from you, and then you spend your life going from one doctor’s appointment to the next.” 

Stay connected with friends and colleagues

As noted above, retirees can suffer feelings of loneliness and isolation once they are no longer going to a job every day. And social networks can disappear if most of your friends were at your former place of employment, or you move to a new community after you retire. 

“Human contact is really essential, and it’s been exacerbated horribly by COVID,” said Shapiro. He recommends picking up the phone and checking in with former colleagues, friends you’ve fallen out of touch with, and family members. “Get back in touch with people, have coffee, have lunch — that is amazing,” he said. 

Explore new hobbies

Finding a new sense of purpose can make your retirement more meaningful. And one way to hit upon that new passion is to have fun doing all of the things you were too busy to do before, whether that was learning a language, trying a new sport, learning to paint or sculpt, going back to school or trying a new type of exercise. 

“One friend of mine always wanted to be in a rock ’n’ roll band, but he got married, had kids and became an engineer,” said Shapiro. “But now at age 70, what is he doing? He’s in a rock ’n’ roll band with a ‘kid’ drummer who’s 60, and they play local restaurants and bars. It’s fabulous, and he’s having so much fun.” 

Give back to the community

Volunteering is a great way to check a few of these off your list: it can give you structure, a social network and a new sense of purpose. Plus, a 2020 study found that people over 50 who volunteered more than 100 hours a year (about two hours a week), had a lower risk of death and physical functioning limitations, as well as more optimism and purpose in life , and less depression, hopelessness and loneliness than those who didn’t volunteer.

Read more: This is the ‘secret sauce’ to retirement satisfaction

Carter, from the Coalition for Food and Health Equity, notes that Williams’s fellow A-list athletes like LeBron James and the late Kobe Bryant both found great purpose and satisfaction off the basketball court through philanthropy and business ventures. Or some former athletes become coaches and sports commentators. 

So even if you are not a pro athlete, perhaps there’s a way to use the skills you’ve honed throughout your career to help the next generation in your community, such as being a mentor, or tutoring in whatever subject you specialize in. “Even though the job ends, that doesn’t mean your engagement with the things you loved in your career has to end,” said Carter. “It just means it might look a little bit different.” 

Speak with a licensed therapist 

Williams writes that her therapist has been the only person she’s felt comfortable discussing this situation with, and the experts that MarketWatch spoke with also recommended sharing your concerns with a licensed mental health clinician to work through your feelings and come up with a coping strategy. Or, at least, to reach out to family, friends and co-workers, and make sure you have a support system through this transition. 

“What you’re feeling is just so very normal, and you shouldn’t ignore those feelings,” said Carter. “Most people do not set goals –– nor set realistic goals –– when it comes to thinking about what is in store for the next season of your life. So it’s important to talk to someone about setting and reaching those goals.”  

Learn how to shake up your financial routine at the Best New Ideas in Money Festival on Sept. 21 and Sept. 22 in New York. Join Carrie Schwab, president of the Charles Schwab Foundation.

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