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If you are retired or nearing retirement, be careful you don’t become a PIP! I am not referring to Gladys Knight’s Pips on the Midnight Train to Georgia. Rather, PIP is an acronym for Previously Important People. In American culture, we place a great deal of emphasis on our work as our identity. It is understandable considering how much time we spend at work and the connection our work provides with other people. When meeting someone new, we usually ask “What do you do for a living?” What happens when the work is not there? This can create an identity crisis leading to depression, anger, or dissatisfaction with life. I see it occasionally in senior living when a retired professional just can’t let go of who they once were. After looking forward to days of leisure, they have nothing fulfilling to do in retirement. To avoid this, I have long advised people not to retire FROM something, but instead retire TO something.

If you are nearing retirement, try developing a plan two or three years ahead of time. In this plan, explore all new possible ways to explore your passions. Start by defining who you are in a greater context. As an example, I am a senior living executive, a licensed nursing home administrator, and a board member. I am also a father, a husband, and a son. I am a Christian, a southerner, an introvert, and a Gen Xer. I am a pianist, a reader, a writer, and a lover of all things Star Wars. I am sure you can create your own list, and like mine, it could go on and on. The point is, we are defined by more than just our work.

Next, look at your list and determine what is important to you. How do you want to be seen by others? What are you enthusiastic about? I am proud of my work, but it is very important to me that I am known as a family man. My faith is also something that is meaningful to me and while I often fall short, I want others to know that I am guided by my beliefs. One of the things I love about being a southerner is southern food. It’s not always the healthiest, but I love the history and soul of southern cuisine. You might be passionate about art, music, travel, or volunteering for a certain cause. How do these fit into your image? Be bold and think beyond golf, because you most likely will not spend every day for the next 20 or more years playing golf.

What does all this have to do with retirement? It tells me that there are important things about me that will not change once I stop working for pay. I can put effort into building up those other areas of myself. I might volunteer more at my church or participate in mission trips. I will certainly travel and spend time with my family. I may take cooking classes focusing on southern food. I might do more serious writing. I may even work for fun! I can share my experience through consulting, working part time, or even try something completely different. I know a retired couple hired by a cruise line to teach passengers how to play bridge. I know of another retiree who became a substitute teacher of children with learning challenges. Others work at Walt Disney World or in customer service just to meet people and enjoy themselves. What’s most important is making a commitment to living your best life.

Want to be a retirement VIP rather than PIP? Having a plan is crucial. So is spending time with people who are also enjoying life. Be careful not to end up in conversations about current ailments or who just died. Cut yourself off from the negativity which can come with social media and news outlets. Do something with purpose. A quote from Ralph Waldo Emerson sums this up quite well for me. He said, “The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well.” I challenge you to live well to the very end!