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    Sherlock Holmes and the Hunt for Lost Identity

    “As to reward, my profession is its own reward…” Sherlock Holmes refuses compensation for his services as he invites his latest client to recount the details of her sister’s death in the Adventure of the Speckled Band.

    Now here’s a guy who loves his job. He considers his work to be so rewarding in and of itself that he refuses payment for it. In fact, In The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, the times in which Holmes accepts money beyond reimbursement for his expenses are few. He’s one of the greatest sleuths of history, tracking the most dangerous criminals against society, and he lives for his work.

    Some of us are like Sherlock Holmes in the way we conflate jobs with our identity, what we do with who we are. Each of us draws a different level of satisfaction and fulfillment from work, yet many believe that work is a crucial part to who they are and what defines them. This link between work and identity got me thinking. What happens to a Sherlock-type when the word “retirement” enters the conversation?   

    Do you think Sherlock Holmes could ever really retire? I don’t; not in the traditional sense of the word anyway. Picturing him on a European tour in a Hawaiian shirt just seems wrong. What does that term “retire” really mean, anyway?


    The dictionary equates retiring with a “withdrawal” or “retreat” from one’s occupation. It’s also in there as “seclusion.” Yikes. This definition may have been relevant for a blue collar worker in the 1930s looking at the time as a release from a life of hard labor. But, I suspect Sherlock is more like the 76 million baby boomers out there who have no intention of withdrawing or retreating. In an AARP survey, 80-85{1cd8e41884a47db8d1ba9858ee640ae032d38e6ad43af2ac78fd7095779c3cb5} of boomers reported that they plan to continue working, at least part-time, after they retire.

    Dear Webster’s: We’re going to need a new definition. A more contemporary way to look at “retirement” is a time for one to grow, develop, and contribute, a time where to be free to pursue the kind of “work” that’s most fulfilling, whether it be paid or unpaid.  

    This is not to say that all retiree’s think this way. There are those lifelong workers who are unhappy or unfulfilled in their work and focus more on what they are “retiring from” than “retiring to.” They see retirement as release from the grind, and give little thought as to what their lives will really be like without the structure, interactions, challenges, and recognition, of spending their days at work. When the day finally comes and the retiree wakes up to a new schedule of “free time” it’s no wonder that many report feeling a loss of identity, loss of feeling of stature, loss of self-esteem and fear when facing this life transition.   

    What can we do to facilitate a successful transition to our new definition of retirement?

    Research has shown that the most powerful predictor of preparedness in retirement is…wait for it, “thinking about retirement.”  How simple! Carol Anderson, CEO of Money Quotient found in her study that if you could just get people thinking more deeply about their retirement, goals, and their definition of fulfillment, they would, in nearly all cases, be more effective in preparing for these issues.”

    Many jumped to the conclusion that the “thinking” could be achieved with more financial education, more products geared towards retirement. In practice, though, being overwhelmed with even more information was actually an ineffective solution. Instead the thinking needs to be personal and reflective towards a vision for the future that is meaningful to the individual. Forget the products, it needs to be personal.

    The upshot was that those who thought about their vision for the future in great, rich, detail were more practically, emotionally, and financially prepared. A good place to start, if young or thinking about scaling back at work, is to close your eyes and imagine you have just woken up on your first day of “retirement” what will you do? How about the next day? What will the week look like? In fact, map out a calendar week Monday through Sunday. The more detail, the better. Mentally rehearsing how you want to live and what you will spend your time doing will get the creative juices flowing help in determining what will be personally satisfying and fulfilling. One of the benefits of this exercise it that people can identify things they are needlessly putting off until they “have time” and can integrate into their lives right away.

    Sherlock Holmes says “my mind rebels at stagnation.” I can’t see him withdrawing or retreating. So, when thinking of “retirement,” instead of “end,” how about “beginning.” Instead of “finish line” what about “embarking on a new path?” And for those who haven’t identified what is personally fulfilling, “retirement” could be that opportunity to go and seek it out life’s mysteries.