What to Expect during the 4 Phases of Retirement?


I just retired but maybe I should work part-time or volunteer with all my free time? It doesn’t have to be an either or choice. You can do both. You can also choose to do neither. I am officially in year three of retirement and now I can say I have done a little of both.

When I first became a widow, it helped to know that someone had identified stages in grief. I could label my crazy emotions and know that I was not alone on that journey of life after loss. You can read more about that here: Saying Goodbye: The Five Stages of Grief.

When you google the phases of retirement, you can get results for 3-6 or more phases of retirement. Things like pre-, early, middle and late don’t tell you very much. Some phases focus primarily on financial planning and services. I found the Ted Talk given by Dr. Riley Moynes on May 26, 2022 interesting and I could best relate to his thoughts.

The question he posed is “How do you squeeze all the juice out of retirement?”

Phase 1 – The Vacation Phase

Assuming you did the pre-retirement thing and financial planning correctly, this is the initial phase where you wake up each day smiling. You can do whatever you want, whenever you want. There is no longer a set routine. You grin and whisper the word ‘Freedom’ over and over. Life is great.

You have met with a financial advisor and secured income sources. Social Security doesn’t start until 62 at the earliest, and Medicare is not available until 65. Having health insurance and a retirement income from alternate sources like a pension or investment plans will let you relax in this vacation phase.

Budgeting by reading the updated version of “Your money or your life” will also get you prepared to enjoy an early retirement.

After I retired early in New York, in part due to the COVID pandemic, I spent that first long January renting a cottage near the beach in Florida instead of scraping snow from my car before driving to work 5 days a week. Something about being away in a sunny, warm climate while everyone back home was trudging to work through the snow certainly enhanced the feeling of freedom and vacation life that we all think retirement should be.

Dr. Moynes says this feeling continues for about a year or so.

Many retirees also choose to move after they stop working. Not all retirees downsize though. Is it time to purchase another home or an RV, or maybe move closer to the kids?

Phase 2 – Disillusionment

In his Ted Talk, Dr. Moynes says this is the time when we feel loss and lost. He identifies that we lose the Big 5: routine, identity, relationships, sense of purpose and loss of power. It is also the time when we encounter the 3 Ds: divorce, depression and decline (both mental and physical).

Oh no! This phase even brings a feeling of fear and anxiety.

For my dad, after he retired as a school administrator, he engaged in stamp collecting and taught part-time at the community college but missed having a sense of purpose with work. All that free unstructured time wasn’t ideal. He applied to teach Chemistry in a private high school and found this rewarding. The extra income on top of his pension was a bonus as well.

Some people feel a sense of loss or loneliness especially if their job was a place that brought happiness and a sense of purpose. Rather than letting those negative feelings take over, this is the time to enter phase 3.

Phase 3 – Trial and Error

“How do we make life meaningful again?” is the question at this phase.

Through trial and error, we find what we love to do and do well. This is the time to try out different activities. Do you want to be on a board to help make decisions? Try a part-job in a field you were always curious about? Do some traveling or maybe write your memoir! It’s a time to try out new hobbies and connect with other retired people.

This is the time to experiment with different activities so that you do not slip back into phase 2, depression.

Trying new things has been my motto since I became a widow and I have continued with that attitude into retirement. In the early months, I definitely wondered about working again. Feeling too young to give it all up, I considered working part time as a teacher or subbing.

Living still in New York, I put my name on the substitute teacher list and asked only to sub in my old school. Sure enough I got the phone call.

They needed me.

I would probably have continued to sub in the school where I taught for 20 years, except that I moved.

That is one way to stay connected to others and avoid losing all of the Big 5 – the relationships and identity is still there. You can validate a sense of purpose and a routine but it’s probably not the same. So you either stick with it or try something else.

Oh, I am having fun in the trial and error phase. I tried a job that I always wanted. Working with horses as a guide which you can read more about here: HORSES

I rode horses in high school so it had been a while but when I saw a job as a guide to swim with horses at the beach in Florida, I jumped right in. In the water that is! I got myself a wetsuit for the winter months and beach shoes. I loved that job assisting people on their guided tour in the Palma del Sol bay swimming and riding horses. I loved working with the little kids on a big horse for first time having the thrill of their life. So much joy and fun in the sun.

Feeling the need to learn something new, I signed up to take a 200 hour teacher yoga training class with a group of fellow yogis over the age of 50. We met once a week and learned the poses of yoga along with anatomy and philosophy in a wooded, tropical retreat only 10 minutes from my house. Upon graduation, I started to give private yoga lessons to young people on request. I am gaining so much from learning, doing and teaching yoga so I am sure that will continue into the future.

Some people suggest writing a memoir and wouldn’t you know I did that too. I found a good website that helped make the commitment to write your story part of your daily routine. Finding someone to read and edit my book was challenging. I personally had a story I felt I needed to tell and have been thrilled that so many people have read my book and given such positive feedback.

I am continuing to experiment with different activities so I feel like this is my phase. I love to travel and have another big trip on the horizon. I enjoy exploring my new state and spending time with family and friends visiting different places. Last year I met a group of women who meet together for beach walks, dancing, cards, book clubs, lunches and movies. I have met some nice people and continue to meet weekly with groups as part of my new routine.

This year, I am focusing more on involving myself in my community and neighborhood. Pete and I enjoy using our golf cart on our neighborhood course and play 9 holes at our golf course. We took lessons last year and have fun being outside together and while our game may not be improving, I do now have several cute golf outfits to choose from when we get a tee time.

Joining the Pickleholics, a beginner group who play pickleball in our community, has been fun a way to be active and meet the neighbors. Someone asked if I’d like to join a weekly Bocce ball group so I said yes. Then a new friend from Bocce ball invited me to play mahjongg one day. At mahjongg they asked me about my book and all bought a copy and then invited me their book club meeting. I joined a book club here and several of our members read my book and offered me such supportive feedback. You just have to keep getting out there because you never know where it may lead.

I met a several energetic ladies at the BUNCO group and got invited to do line dancing lessons on Friday afternoons which has turned into so much fun. I even donned my cowboy boots when my good friend from up north was visiting and we went to the local bar that offers line dancing lessons. Wow, can those people dance!

Of course I dabbled in volunteering as well. We have an animal rescue shelter just a few miles away. Pete and I went through the training and have gone out to walk the dogs a few times. It’s a little sketchy walking them around the grassy lake (no sidewalks) which occasionally gets alligator visitors but they do like to have people come out and play with them.

The local chapter of Rotary club has an amazing program where volunteers read a book once a month to a classroom and /or read to one kindergarten student once a week. I chose to commit to once a month reading to a third grade classroom in an underprivileged school. It is something that I have really enjoyed doing and the kids seem to look forward to my visits. The Rotary club even provides brand new books for each child in every class that we visit.

To read more about volunteering with the Books for Kids program, click here: BOOKS FOR KIDS

Phase 4 – Reinvent and Rewire

Just in case you are exhausted reading about my trial and error period, don’t worry: there is one more. Reinvention.

So you have tried all types of different activities and now, if you are lucky, you get to the part where not everyone will get to – Happiness.

This is where you figure out what your purpose is – or maybe your mission. You find something to do that brings you joy. Hopefully you had fun trying to find your passion.

 You may find yourself settled into your new routine and lifestyle. You are doing things you love and that make you feel fulfilled. Each day you wake up excited to be enjoying your life with your new sense of purpose and identity.

Of course, this last phases is best embraced assuming you have kept financially, physically and mentally stable. Just fair warning that as we age, we are more susceptible to mishaps with our health, so spending time each day exercising, eating healthy foods and taking care of yourself should be a priority. If you do, then just chill out and enjoy this well deserved time of retirement. I know I am!


17 Responses

  1. Great analysis! I am a perpetual Stage 3 kind of person, bt I am starting to see some signs of Stage 4 settling in. Like you, I don’t think that I spent much time, if any, at Stage 2. Perhaps our excessive travels were the reason, but I think it’s more of a personality type.

  2. Interesting! I retired early to do the things I love but could never find time to do when I was working. We also moved from London to the French Riviera. I think I went straight to 4.

    1. I love that. I’m glad you have settled into a happy phase 4. I think I will appreciate more of a routine soon along with doing all the things I love. Thanks for reading!

  3. I am in the reinvent and rewire phase for sure…all of this is so true. Never really gave it much thought until I read this, but I definitely have moved through these phases. It’s a good time retirement!

    1. It is a good time I agree. Still so much more to life after work and I love reading about all your adventures- thanks for visiting my blog❤️

    1. I am sure you will. Not everything you try will be great but eventually we all find a new normal that resonates – thanks for reading!

  4. Thank you for sharing useful article for the retired people. I am also retired person and the solution given by you will be useful to me. keep writing.

    1. Thanks so much for visiting. Good to know we are not alone in our experiences both good and bad.

    1. Thanks. Yes it’s hard to relax and enjoy whenYou are worrying about money. Thanks for reading!

      1. Problem is that there are no life lessons taught in schools. People usually learn about money and importance of saving much later in life. Many times it’s too late.

      2. So true. More real life living should be taught before kids graduate. They’re not all getting the best information at home!

  5. My husband retired early at 60 because of health issues, and we immediately moved to a small seaside holiday town from the city. We felt if we stayed in the city, he would take on offers of work again. The move was the best one we made in retirement. We already had had a holiday house in the town, so we were familiar with it, and we knew people there. The laid back lifestyle where you run into people you know constantly, can walk to the beach or access a bush track is wonderful. I continued working from home for a few years, but eventually that stopped. I continued to offer my skills voluntarily as a Journalist to local volunteer groups, and still do today as I’m better at that than baking cakes, and know my expertise makes a difference. I also continued writing by starting up my travel blog as I have travelled extensively since the 1970’s. Apart from that, there were no new hobbies, just opportunities to explore and enjoy the old ones more – birdwatching and fishing for him, bushwalking, family gatherings, beach walking and travel for us, and photography, writing, for me etc. Oh – and grandkid .. finally we have one to love and enjoy! We have never had any real plan in retirement other than to keep fit, keep travelling, keep in touch with old friends and make new ones. We are more than a decade into our retirement now and into our 70’s, and pretty happy. PS: Husband’s health issues melted away with less stress and a more relaxed lifestyle

    1. Wonderful. You seem to have a very fulfilling retirement life and I hope we will both be able to do as well as we age. Health issues seem to keep popping up for us so the staying fit is a challenge. Definitely should be a priority. Thanks for reading and your thoughtful comment.

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Runaway Widow
Join me, Kristin, on my journey to adjust to the sudden death of my husband and learn to live as a young, middle-aged, remarried widow.

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