There's strength in retirement

Research shows it’s easier to engage our inherent strengths at work than at leisure - in fact it’s three times easier.

09 May 2018

Research shows it’s easier to engage our inherent strengths at work than at leisure - in fact it’s three times easier.[1]

If we’ve approached retirement believing it’s all about leisure, it’s likely that we won’t be engaging our inherent strengths. It could be our clarity of thought, sense of fairness, leadership, bravery, kindness, or persistence. 

Why does this matter? There are handsome ‘pay-offs’ from engaging our inherent strengths - it gives us pleasure and energy. At best, we become so absorbed in what we are doing that we work effortlessly and time flies. We are ‘in the flow’.

In retirement it matters even more. Engaging inherent strengths matters for retirees because it sweeps the old, negative stuff out of their lives. We all know that retirees have time on their hands to dwell on regrets and hurts, and wondering if they have enough money to last them. Concentrating on strengths sweeps away the negatives and replaces them with a ‘go-forward’ attitude, giving retirees a more optimistic view of the future.[2] And we all know the future is a place of greater focus as we age!

Yet for people who have been absorbed in work it can be difficult to know how to direct their pattern of strengths to find satisfying pursuits when they retire. It’s easy for them to feel that they used ‘their all’ at work. They may need to rediscover their strengths, and test out new ways of using them. New environments and new skills that relate to our strengths are a rewarding discovery in retirement.

Ben felt uncomfortable with the thought of drifting into retirement and quickly offered to assist at a local centre. After a couple of weeks, Ben felt crankier than he had for many years. He realised that the centre was run by a person who was comfortable with chaos and who lacked the systematic and logical approach Ben was accustomed to apply effortlessly in his former workplace. By not first considering his strengths, Ben walked himself into an irritating new experience.

Sasha knew one of her strengths was ‘social intelligence’. She was the ‘social glue’ of her workplace. In retirement she joined a number of volunteer groups and deliberately focussed on assisting them work well together, acknowledging each of their skills and by knowing what each person needed from their participation.

It’s very rewarding to make our strengths work for us in retirement. It not only feels good, it also keeps us engaged and focussed on the present, rather than on our past.

When you retire, you can still make a difference, on your terms - using your strengths, being energised and having fun. It makes your retirement a unique journey.

 ‘This article has been reproduced with permission from Gabrielle Leahy of Retire & Flourish Pty Ltd’

[1] Csikszentmihalyi, M., 2008, Harper & Row, Flow: They Psychology of Optimal Experience, University Chicago

[2] Gilbert, D., 2007, Vintage, Stumbling on Happiness

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