Overcoming the Guilt of Being Retired – 6 Ideas for Letting it Go

Retirement Guilt

Recently, I’ve been experiencing some “down time” on the voyage.  My side hustle gigs have slowed down considerably, I didn’t get a contract that I desperately wanted, and I find myself with an abundance of TIME on my hands.

Most people would say, “Isn’t that what retirement is supposed to be about?”  Having nothing but time to do what you want?

Now that I find myself in that situation, a new monster has reared its ugly head – GUILT!  There is a nagging voice in my head that I should be doing something more “productive.”  Somehow, sitting reading a book in the middle of the day could be considered lazy.  How can I work on a quilt in the middle of the afternoon when I should be “working!”

I  have been working hard to fight off those nagging “shoulds!”  I should be doing the laundry.  I should be cleaning something.  I should be doing almost anything that would be considered worthwhile around the house, rather than what I WANT to do.

And just to pile on a little bit, there are always those pre-retired friends, who feel the need to express, “You’re sooooooo lucky to be retired!  Some of us don’t get to sleep in late.”

So what’s a Voyager to do?

Setting Ourselves Free

Recognize that you are deserving of your good fortune.  You’ve worked hard for many years and have made prudent financial decisions which allowed you to retire.  There is no need to apologize for those decisions.  Embrace your well-earned life style.  It’s quite OK to get some rest after 30+ years of racing with the rats! When someone says, “You’re so lucky,” just smile and agree with them!

Change your definition of productivity – When you were employed by someone else, you were paid to produce some type of product.  In my case it was well-taught little people.  Now I am my own “employer,” and I get to decide what the “product” is.  Perhaps it’s a clean house, or a weeded flower bed, or a well written article. Or as my own boss, I can tell myself to “take the day off!”

Volunteer:  Share your time, talents and treasures with others.  If you must combat the guilt of being somehow better off than other people, perhaps you could share your good fortune by giving of your time.  Pick any group which appeals to your heart, and it is not difficult to find an abundance of volunteer opportunities!

Embrace being unbusy.  It takes a little bit of study and practice to intentionally decide that it is OK not to go full-steam ahead all the time.  After all, we burned the candle at both ends for an entire working career.  For me, the practice of yoga helped with the first steps.  And Josh Becker’s post at Becoming Minimalist makes note of some practical advice.  It is important to let go of activities that don’t suit you.  It is not necessary to have a jam-packed calendar.  Set it Free. “Take time to let your soul breathe!” (His quote, not mine!)

Identify your own values – For Jeremy and I, it was a conversation over a glass of wine – “Now that we are retired, what is it that we truly value?”  Of course, many of our lifelong values have remained steadfast, and a few have been adjusted or added as we refined the list.  It’s not an easy conversation, and calls for some introspection over time.  But once identified, I found it freeing to compare what I was doing with whether or not it aligned with our values.  For example, we have determined that we value “Personal growth – creating, learning, exploring.”  Creating a new quilt clearly fits, and becomes even more valuable in that light.  Pat Doyle over at Retirement Transitions recently wrote about the stages of adult development.  Ownership of your own values is an important part of stage 4.  Go check out Pat’s post.

Plan something each day to bring you joy.  It started as sort of a New Year’s Resolution.  In my journal each morning, I plan something for the day that will bring joy.  Such a simple suggestion, and the effects have been so positive.  It seems that joy and guilt are sort of mutually exclusive.  Planning a joyful activity gives legitimacy to the pursuit and puts it high on my ‘To-Do list.

Recognize that this is not a dress rehearsal.  None of us know how long the Encore Voyage will last.  Don’t wait.  If there is something you want to do, it might be best to do it soon!  Be spontaneous!  Those other “should do’s” will still be there later!

So how about it Voyagers.  Do you endure feelings of guilt because you no longer trudge off to a nine-to-five job?  I’d love it if you’d share your thoughts and experiences!




29 thoughts on “Overcoming the Guilt of Being Retired – 6 Ideas for Letting it Go

  1. Miriam

    Hi Lynn, this post resonated deeply with me. Despite the fact that I’m not yet retired I’ve given up on the 9-5 office jobs and am finally embracing doing what I love. I’m still plagued by moments of guilt and feel like I “should” be doing something more productive. But I’ve come to realise that productivity has many different forms. Love your thoughts and ideas here, great post.

    Liked by 3 people

  2. Retirement Reflections

    “Recognize – Change – Volunteer – Embrace – Identify – Plan – Don’t Wait!” This sounds like an excellent ‘retirement mantra’ to me!

    Liked by 5 people

  3. Kate Crimmins

    I don’t think I’ve ever had this guilt. Maybe because I worked up until age 64 and felt I absolutely deserved the time. Your suggestions are right on though. If you need to be doing more, look for it but don’t overload yourself with projects/volunteer work just to be busy. Chose what you love.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Encore Voyage Post author

      You are right, Kate. Having “retired” at the age of 51, I probably get this feeling because most of my peers are still working. I’m all for doing what you love, and I’m working on trying to not fill every second! ~ Lynn

      Liked by 1 person

  4. snakesinthegrass2014

    The first year after I retired early I literally did nothing but read, watch bad TV, and took long walks. Guilt crept in as I reached the anniversary date, and it was around that time when I found a part-time job back in my profession. So luckily for me it was a fleeting moment. I still have lots of time for nearly all of my pursuits, which in turn makes it a really good balance. Your pointers are quite helpful, Lynn. – Marty

    Liked by 4 people

  5. Joanne Sisco

    I know “the guilts”. Even 7 years later, they occasionally rear their ugly head in my direction. Your 2nd point was a good one – change your definition of being productive. I’m now getting more comfortable telling myself that the best thing I could do right now for my productivity is ‘nothing’ – read, watch Netflix, have a nap. Recharging the battery is a valid need 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Debbie Harris

    I must admit to having slivers of guilt but also as Donna says, moments of pure gratitude. That I can do what I want at my age and enjoy my new life with my husband still amazes me. I love your advice to look at it differently. Great post Lynn 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  7. patwdoyle11

    Hey Lynn, First, thanks for the shout out! And yes, I too feel guilt. I was raised on guilt! I have always listened and responded to the should. It was part of who I was – I met expectations. I am also an early retiree and many IRL friends are still working, some in second encore careers! So moving past the guilt of being productive all the time is a work in progress. And while I agree with all your points, the ones that have really worked for me are linking my activities to my personal values (and stop comparing myself to others), practicing gratitude (I am extremely fortunate in so many ways!), and finding the moments of joy. Sometimes, a day spent on the couch reading a book or taking an afternoon nap is that joy. May you find joy in each day! Pat

    Liked by 2 people

  8. Anabel Marsh

    Quick answer – no! Largely to do with your first point. I worked for many years, paid into my workplace pension and now i’m drawing it. I’ve earned it! I have days when I do very little and days when I work very hard at my volunteering posts and I am, as you say, my own boss. The think I struggle with is your last point – not for me, for my husband. None of us can guarantee how long we will live and that we’ll still have a chance of retirement if we postpone it. But he still loves working (and I want him to be happy, of course) so he’s not going to be convinced!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Encore Voyage Post author

      My hubs is exactly the same way. An architect by trade, he constantly reminds me that Frank Lloyd Wright did not hit his stride until the age of 70! That said, because we started our own business, we at least get to pick and choose the projects! ~ Lynn



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