Life without a business card

Our society encourages us to seek goals built around wealth, power, status and fame. Often our career is the vehicle

Our society encourages us to seek goals built around wealth, power, status and fame. Often our career is the vehicle that we use to pursue these ambitions. This means that our identities are often defined by our career and how successful we have been in it. Many of us don’t realise how much we are defined by our career – until we retire. It can be quite a nasty shock when we can no longer mention our position in an organisation or pull out a business card with what we think is a nice title, when someone asks us “what do you do?”

Many of the retirees that I have spoken to complain that this loss of identity, when they leave their career, can be a difficult issue to adjust to. Often the higher up the corporate ladder a person has climbed, the more difficult it is to deal with this perceived loss of identity and prestige. Our ego doesn’t like not being important and it can make us quite unhappy.

Retirement gives us the opportunity to redefine who we are and to create a new identity which more easily reflects the real “me”. With the life experience and wisdom that maturity hopefully gives us, it’s not that difficult to confront this identity challenge once we can accept the fact that we needn’t be defined by our career or the title on our business card. We are far more than this one dimensional picture.

This process gives us the opportunity to think about our core values and personality traits. It’s often a good time to jettison some of our less appealing characteristics, which may have been useful in the corporate world, but do not make us a more pleasant person to spend time with (descriptions like ruthless, intimidating, intolerant, arrogant and egotistical are character traits that we can do without if we want to have others to like us).

Our real identity is built on qualities like – our core values, honesty, tolerance, empathy, compassion, generosity, sense of humour, passions. When we start to focus on these elements of our personality, we can get past the need to be defined by our work and find a more honest and better balanced identity.

Hopefully after you have been through this exercise, you’ll like the person that you see in the mirror every morning.


Have you retired and felt a loss of identity? Who are you? Who is the real you? Tell us below.

  1. Robyn Green

    I totally agree. When I retired I moved to the country. Being female, no one asked ‘what did you do for work” yet everyone seemed interested in my husband’s former career. I was no longer an MD of a company, no longer a day to day grandma or mother (distance) and experiencing the upheaval of the beginnings of menopause. Quite an adjustment! But slowly I inched my way through the new terraine and now….I am loving life as simply ME. It’s a great place to be to realise I am defined simply as the woman in front of you. Once I let go of the fear of being invisible I embraced the change. Each day simply is what it is, and what it is is GREAT!

  2. Alan Bell

    My business card now reads, “Baby boomer growing old disgracefully”. I celebrate every day I am still alive. Do not delay what you want to do in life or you may find it is too late. Life can change in an instant through circumstances beyond our control.

  3. Serena Wilson

    It’s the dreaded question , WHAT DO YOU DO ? Personally I say what do you like to do . It’s not important to me how a person earns their money , but how they enjoy their life I find far more interesting. When I was first unemployed I hated this question , I felt worthless at first , then a good friend pointed out that I did alot .I did yoga , I cared for my family, I wrote poetry, I did dance classes and so much more . So that was how I answered the question. What do you do .People are not defined by where they work , but how they live their lives. 20 years later I tell people what I do .

  4. Ann Burgess

    What do I do, well I am alive and living life the way I want to live it, happy days!!!!

  5. Janet O

    I don’t believe I ever felt I lost my identity when I retired but I did miss the professional conversations . Love My life now though and often get those professional conversations with my kids as they embark of their lives.

  6. Trish Doherty

    Get over it, new stage of life to explore new adventures and sometimes new friends. Time to do the things you want to do willingly like, volunteering, helping family when needed and spending precious time with your spouse.

    • Sue Thurn

      I hate the expression, ” Get over it”! It is insensitive and some are not as resilient as others. Yes, whinging is a fruitless exercise and hard to tolerate. That is hard to ” get over”!

    • Trish Doherty

      I quess I sounded harsh, sometimes we have decide what we can try and change and what we can’t and move on. Sometimes they just need a hug!

  7. Jan Adermann

    Before I had an identity, which I was happy with, did a variety of things through my working life, respected still, now retired back to being me. Having battled cancer may have contributed to not being too concerned about my identity, I give thanks every day for being on the right side of the grass. It works being thankful.

  8. Raylene Kleineberg

    I never lost my sense of identity as it was as long as I can remember, to be a loving daughter, wife, mother and grandmother, strong in my belief that it was deep within my core to be that. I thank God everyday for my life and the fact that I have lived long enough to reap the rewards of that love given and received back. I have found outside joy and satisfaction in volunteering my spare time to charities and friendships.

  9. Good article Paul. Fortunately my work is my hobby and my hobby is my work – sharing wine and a love of wine with others continues to bring contentment.

  10. Stephenie Dart

    I’m not quite retired yet, but can’t quite see how I’ll lose my identity when I do. I’ll still be the person who chose nursing as a career, I’ll still be the person who achieved a great deal (in a variety of different settings/roles) in that career. I’ll still have all those other facets that make me the person I am ( a beautiful till-death us-do-part marriage; children; grandchildren; family; friends etc etc). My life will change somewhat, but i can’t see that my identity will be lost …. will find out in 2 or three years

  11. Peter Warren  

    Looks like you’ve spoken to the wrong retirees, Paul 🙂 ………the majority here appear to be perfectly happy in their own skin and don’t need feel the need to create a new identity 🙂

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