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Academic for life

Why you should consider reinventing yourself after retirement

It is important to move beyond your previous experience and challenge yourself in this new phase of life.

BY WERNER J. BECKER | MAY 14 2024

We go through many phases in our lives, and each transition is often a time of excitement and renewal. We enter our teenage years, learn new things, and have many new experiences. We may attend university, get married, start a new job, have children … the list goes on and on.

Retirement can be a similar new phase in our lives. You may have had your “nose to the grindstone” for decades, and now suddenly have more time to pursue other interests. For some, this extra time can be problematic, but it will not be if you have a positive attitude and “reinvent yourself.” By this I mean doing something different, or even becoming someone different.

Sure, it will be satisfying if you can use some of the skills you have learned at work over the years to continue working part-time and contributing to society in that way. You may also enjoy spending more time with family, but your family members will have lives of their own and may not want to spend as much time with you as you might like. You are still responsible for your own happiness, but if you are retiring, and this includes partial retirement as well, you will have much more time to do things other than work. What should those things be?

First, you will want to exercise, both physically and mentally. The brain needs a healthy body for support, and if you have been very busy over the years with a sedentary job, you may have neglected this important aspect of life. Exercise is good for literally everything, and now you will have time to do enough of it. You will also want to “exercise” your brain, because if you don’t use it, you will lose it. Remember, I am giving you this advice as a neurologist. Find something refreshing and rewarding that you enjoy doing.

In my case, although I still work part-time, I spend some of my new-found time writing. I have always enjoyed the creative aspects of writing, and for now my genre is creative non-fiction. I had extensive diaries and electronic photographic collections from four great northern river rafting trips. Not everyone gets to experience the Canadian northern wilderness firsthand, so I published my first book in 2021 to share my experiences. The title says it all: Rafting the Great Northern Rivers: The Nahanni, Firth, and Tatshenshini.

Things will not always be easy for your reinvented self. If you change directions like I did, you will go from being a respected professional in your field to a “nobody” if you move into an unrelated area. Challenges are good for you, but you will need to be comfortable with rejection. For example, I have written a memoir titled The Making of a Doctor. One publisher has already rejected it, and it has been sent to a second. We will see what happens.

It helps my self-esteem that I still have a foot in my old activities. I see neurological consultations on a limited basis for assessment and recommendations only, not for ongoing clinical care. I serve as a volunteer on the boards of Migraine Canada and the Pain Society of Alberta. Not only does this make use of my experience in the field, but it also puts me in contact with many other people, some of whom are refreshingly younger than I am. I am also vice-president of the University of Calgary Retirees Association which provides opportunities to meet many interesting people.

I think, though, it is important to move beyond your previous experience. It is exhilarating to learn and grow in a new field. Don’t sit on your hands! Stay active, learn new skills, and above all, continue to contribute to society.

I have a second book in press entitled Rafting the Snake: A Journey Through the Yukon’s Snake River Wilderness. It should be out later this year. Watch for it!

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