Understanding the Stages of Retirement: Part 1

I first came across the concept of retirement “stages” developed by a professor of gerontology named Robert Atchley on Kathy’s Retirement Blog.

Before I wrote this post  I did some limited research about Atchley’s stages. I read several articles and one academic paper which talked about the validity of Atchley’s work.  For those of us planning or already retired  this information is very informative and I wish I had learned about this before I retired.

My husband retired 5 years before I did. At the time his retirement was not a choice. I remember him taking about a year to settle into his new life outside of work. I thought that since I had a well planned retirement date, that my transition would be much smoother. I was wrong. Everyone needs time to adjust to a major life transition.

After rereading Kathy’s post which was written at the one year mark of her retirement I could see some similarities with my feelings six months into retirement and how this fit with Atchley’s  six stage model .

Stages of retirement:



Phase 1: Pre-retirement 

Phase 2: Retirement

Phase 3: Disenchantment

Phase 4: Reorientation

Phase 5: Retirement Routine

Phase 6: Termination of Retirement

(In this post I am going to talk about the first 3 stages of retirement.)

Stage one is the planning stage. Dr. Atchley broke this down into two parts. The first part is when one is actively planning to retire. Determining the year, attending human resource events about retirement planning and of course talking about all the great things you will do when you retire.

For my friends in teaching we used say I can see the light at the end of the tunnel.

The second part of stage one is the near retirement when all the planning is done and one is just waiting for the last day to arrive. It is a time when one is stepping away from work.

My last year as a teacher I did many of the things described in this stage. I started to disengage. I no longer served on committee’s, didn’t go to staff meetings and cleaned house. Although I enjoyed my students immensely that last year; I found myself stepping far away from all but a few of my fellow teachers. I was letting go.

The second stage is when you actually retire. This stage is about 6 months (it can be far less time or far more time). There are three general categories of typical behavior that occur at this time.

Find this image at:http://www.vintageadbrowser.com/travel-ads-1960s/15

Find this image at:http://www.vintageadbrowser.com/travel-ads-1960s/15

The “honeymoon” be described as being able to play. You go on vacations, eat out, party, etc…. The focus is on leisure activity. After all those years of only being on vacation for a few weeks a year, it is common for people to take advantage of the time they now have to get out and see the world.

Some people fall into the “immediate retirement routine“.These are people to jump right in and start going to the gym 4 days a week, taking classes, volunteering.

I can see myself in this category to some extent. I started going to gym, scheduling studio time, I work at being a SAQA regional representative, write this blog and generally look for activities to keep  myself  busy.

After years of work I can remember how my husband really took a break that first couple of months. I wish I had known that “rest and relaxation” typical and normal. Nap

(Remember my word of the year is nap.)

I am also enjoying getting to sleep in and sitting on my back patio reading a book for an hour or more each day. This is not depression.  It’s a reasonable response to letting go of the stress built up over a period of years.

The third stage is disenchantment.

tumblr_m2fya96AaU1r3g7pto1_500 This does not mean it’s the stage where you wished you were still working and you run out to find a job.

A more accurate description would be a period of  “disappointment or uncertainty”.

It is normal when you are new to something to need time to figure out the right balance.

I know that when I came back from the holidays I went to the gym and immediately over did it. I was so sore and I had to step back and determine what works for me. Many people have a rich fantasy life about what they will do when they retire, but until you actually retire you don’t know the reality.

I am heading into stage three. I can feel myself slowing down. Some of the projects I committed time too are not as rewarding as I thought they would be and I am reassessing where I should spend my energy. Although I am going to be going on three trips in the next 4 months, I already know that filling my life with endless travel is not for me.

Stage three is when a little air goes out of your balloon and you start to return to earth.


It’s a time when some people may  feel “down” or like me they feel the need to step back.  It is a necessary period before you can enter a more productive period.

I wish I had understood the stages one needs to go through before settling into this new life when I wrote a post called “What am I going to do?”  It’s clear to me now that finding out what you really want to do to have a fulfilling retirement takes some time.

I am going to write about the last three stages in my next post.

Your comments are very welcome.