What would Fireman Sam be if there were no fires?

What would Fireman Sam be if there were no fires?

Reluctance to retire is an interesting and common phenomenon.  Even when we have enough money to retire and our health is suffering, we can still be reticent to finally leave our career behind.  Let me explain.

The importance of life transitions

One of the principles of financial planning is that “money goes in motion when life goes in transition,” (Mitch Anthony).  And those transitions are really important. When a client comes to us for a financial transaction, we need to understand the human life transition that they are going through.  If, for example, they need a mortgage then they are obviously buying a house.  If someone needs pension advice it’s because they are planning to retire.

The emotions that we feel during these human life transitions can have a huge impact on the decisions that we make with regards to any financial transaction.

  • As coaches and planners, we need to make sure that we understand those life transitions – and the emotions that drive them.

Retirement can be a tricky transition

When coaching clients through retirement (which involves a huge change in their relationship between themselves and their role) they tend to focus on their work as a trade off between giving their ‘time’ in return for ‘money’.  That trade off continues until they eventually realise they have enough money in their pension pot to finally retire.

But so often, people actually struggle to retire.  Those who were desperate to give up work can suddenly become reluctant to hand in their notice.  Something else kicks in and stops them.  This is because:

  • Our relationship with work is far more complicated than the mere exchange of time for money.

Imagine work as a wheel that keeps turning.  We work for so many reasons, including money, self esteem and social contact.  Similarly, there are many reasons why we want to stop working (e.g. retirement, a change in family circumstances, poor health etc.).  But often we stay on the wheel longer than we need.  For some, it might be a fear of the unknown.  Others sometimes worry that they’ll lose their professional identity if they stop working.

The problem with professional identity

When we retire, we don’t just leave our job behind.  Sometimes, it can feel like we’ve also lost a bit of our identity.

Think about that for a minute.  We are so often defined by our profession – your own surname may even be a derivative of your ancestor’s trade or employment.  We even teach our children to define people by their occupation – Bob the Builder, Fireman Sam, Postman Pat, Dora the Explorer etc.

If you are held in high esteem within your work society, (be that for your knowledge, experience or craft) it’s likely you are well respected and have earnt that reputation over many years.  Giving that up can be difficult – especially if you don’t feel you have a strong sense of identity in other areas of your life.

It can be easy to lose your sense of purpose.

And as tribal beings, we all need to feel we are productive to society in order to feel self esteem.  As financial planners and coaches, it’s important that we are mindful of this and help our clients if they are struggling to come to terms with their transition.

What to do if your client worries about losing their professional identity

Part of our role is to guide and coach our clients to help them understand the transition to retirement.  If they do feel a loss of professional identity, we can help them to re-engineer their identity and self esteem in a new area.  It might be:

  • a continuation of their existing identity, but in a coaching or mentoring capacity
  • turning their hobby into a substitute for their professional identity
  • helping them to see themselves as a ‘person’ rather than an ‘occupation’

Because ultimately, that’s the key.  After all, what is Fireman Sam when he’s no longer a fireman?

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