When It's Time to Retire: Notes From the Afterlife

David Loxterkamp, MD


Ann Fam Med. 2018;16(2):171-174. 

In This Article

Life After Work

I am listening intently to colleagues and friends who recently retired. Every month I return to the "Life After Work Group," a meeting of men in their early 70s that began 5 years ago. They are strong, proud, and decent men; they earned their retirement and are modest about their accomplishments. Our conversations have become a staple in their less-full lives. They reassure me that less full does not mean less fulfilled.

And I have lunch with retired doctors who have relocated to the area. They are at odds with their stripped-down status, a transitional limbo between celebrated careers and their freedom from it. There are living incognito. Perhaps they hope that I will see them for who they really are, whoever they really are.

To live without the vestments of a career is test of faith. Who am I if not a wage earner, head of a household, or leader of men? Do I know what feeds my soul or have the courage to pursue it? Will my friends and outside interests fill the idle hours? There is no reset button. We own the home, the cars in the garage, a retirement plan, and investment portfolio. We have survived our teenagers and they are (mostly) on their own. We can barely remember the leaner years when we were newly wedded, starting a family, purchasing a home, paying the mortgage, growing a practice, building its walls, testing the waters of friendship, and investing in the larger community. We cannot even hold on to the present, for the ground is trembling beneath us and our balance is getting worse.