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Military Retirement: How to Transition to Civilian Life


Similar to the transition you experience going from military to civilian lifestyle, retirement brings a significant life adjustment. Have you considered the emotional aspects and how to plan wisely?

Today, people are working well past the age of 65. Some military veterans may not be ready to retire just yet because they like what they do, prefer keeping busy, or need the extra money.

If retirement isn’t in the cards just yet, it never hurts to begin preparing for when retirement does happen and a new phase of life begins. If retirement is already knocking on your door, you may want to start emotionally preparing yourself now. That means going beyond just making sure you have enough income.

Dealing with Retirement

Retirement is an issue we all must face, but most of us don't give significant thought as to how our life will change once we stop working. Because we often intermingle our identity with our work, it can be quite shocking to rediscover "who we are" after retirement. Military personnel may find it especially challenging to venture beyond standard-issue military mannerisms, but there's good news here.

Instead of looking at this new phase of life with worry or fear, consider it a chance to do the things you’ve always wanted to. Learn how to better prepare for retirement by asking a few relevant questions, such as:

  • How do you plan to live when you retire? Do you prefer a house, condo, or apartment?
  • Where do you want to live? Will it be near your children, or in another state? What about the city, a rural area, or expat community? Do you prefer a warm or cold climate?
  • Are you married? How does your significant other feel about your answers to these questions?
  • Will you need to be close to a VA hospital?
  • How much do you plan to spend during your retirement, and do you want an allotment for your children?

If you are married, retirement will be a big adjustment for you and your spouse. Each person may have a different idea of their "dream retirement." Additionally, spending more time together can put stress on a relationship, as you will need to adjust to each other's new schedule.

If you are single, it doesn't hurt to begin thinking about how you will want to spend your newfound freedom. You might want to consider moving near friends or family, or into a senior community to foster relationships and stay active. With so many questions to answer after retirement, thinking about these beforehand can help psychologically with the change.

What Determines Your Identity?

Change is a part of every life, and that includes your definition of who you are. Retirement is a significant life transition that will impact you both psychologically and physically. According to retired counseling psychology professor Nancy Schlossberg, there are different ways to approach retirement and finding one's new identity. These include:

  • Being a searcher: This is someone who tries various activities once they are retired, similar to how a high school graduate may explore subjects before settling on a college major. Searchers may seek out diverse veteran volunteer opportunities, take on new projects, or try a new hobby with a military focus.
  • Becoming an adventurer: People who fall into this category seek an entirely new adventure after serving. For instance, a military police officer may become an artist, or a missile technician may become a small business owner. This type of person considers retirement as a way to make an exciting change in life.
  • Being a continuer: Continuers take a previous career skill set and modify it for use after retirement. For example, a Navy Pilot might become a flight instructor or a commercial airline pilot. In these roles, we maintain some form of our work-related identity, but it manifests differently.
  • Becoming an easy glider or retreater: Other identities include easy gliders who don't have a set schedule between activities, and retreaters who stay at home deciding their next path.

Purpose and Retirement

Having an emotionally healthy retirement requires patience, adjustment, and consideration of many elements in life. Don't forget to be flexible and realistic with yourself when setting goals and determining your new lifestyle. If you need help navigating your retirement journey, Relationship Managers at AAFMAA Wealth Management & Trust know how to help meet your retirement goals.