Retirement and Self-Esteem

Retirement and Self-Esteem


I’ve always been a groupie of certain comedians, including David Letterman for many years, and have recorded gobs of late night shows, including Saturday Night Live, so I can watch them whenever I need some laughs. I need more and more laughs all the time as an antidote for all the terrorism and political craziness in our country right now.

David Letterman in Retirement

I didn’t like it one bit when Letterman started talking about his retirement, but I accepted it and assumed he would continue to perform somewhere other than the Late Show for many years to come. Not only has he made little to no appearances, but he has grown a full-face Farmer John-type beard, which probably prevents many invitations to perform that might otherwise come his way. Even his beloved young son, who hates the beard as much as I do, can’t get him to shave it off. His son says the beard makes him look creepy, and I agree. It also makes him look very retired and not likely to return to work.

In May, Letterman received a Peabody Award for his long-time late night show, which changed the landscape of late-night programming forever. During his acceptance speech, he remarked, “If you want to have something affect your self-esteem, retire.” He went on to tell the story that he and his wife had recently been invited by the Obamas to a state dinner at the White House. He was excited about the honor and feeling like a big shot, when toward the end of the dinner one of the guests with whom he had been chatting — the assistant chief of staff to the prime minister of Norway — said, “Excuse me. Why are you here?” And Letterman said, “You know what? I think I picked up somebody else’s mail.” The aide to the prime minister of Norway said, “So you’re here by mistake?” And Letterman said, “Yeah.” And the aide said, “Oh.”

So there you go, Letterman says, “You get invited to a state dinner, nobody knows why. That’s the sum total of being retired.”

Well, this is not exactly the sum total of being retired for everyone, but I’m afraid it might be for Letterman who doesn’t seem to have done much thinking about what he was going to do after retirement. Research on the relationship between retirement and a drop in self-esteem has demonstrated that this can be a significant problem, but it certainly doesn’t have to be! To read more about the relationship between low self-esteem and retirement, Google the topic itself, and keep an eye out for a blog site called Dynamic Aging Institute, and blogger Dudley Tower, Ph.D.

One Client in Retirement

I recently checked in with a client I worked with in 2014 to see how she was enjoying her retirement — or not. We did some coaching sessions after she had taken an early retirement from a big corporation in which she had held powerful leadership roles for almost three decades. She had loved her work, and wasn’t sure how she would do in retirement after such a challenging career. She had many interests and passions, so I wasn’t at all worried about her in retirement, just curious. Below is a summary of her update email to me:

Since we last met, I have been doing a variety of volunteer activities:

  • Tutoring at an under-served elementary school
  • Doing intake for Community Court
  • Working the phones at the Homeless Prevention desk in our community
  • Being on the Board of the non-profit I mentioned to you when we last met
  • Doing short-term respite care for a number of foster kids
  • Keeping up with reading, yoga, traveling, hanging out with friends

Plus: doing a little consulting and generating a modest paycheck.

“It’s all good.” she says, “I am quite happy with the variety of things I do.” Sounds like she’s Making a Good Life Happen®!
I don’t think her self-esteem is suffering one bit, do you?

Our dear Bonnie Bonetti-Bell was the force behind our Career/Life Coaching services, until her passing in 2019. As a principal of our firm, Bonnie had an innate talent for seeing the best in people. Moreover, she helped others see the best in themselves. Bonnie is fondly remembered and deeply missed.

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