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Maintaining your identity after retirement

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Every day for the next 17 years, 10,000 baby boomers will reach age 65.

Some are starting to look forward to saying "I'm retired". Others who have already taken that step now wonder 'what's next?'

When work and structure have been such a big part of an individual's life retirement can be difficult. There is a major void to fill if the golden years are to be all they should be.

So rule number one for a retiree:  Find a new purpose and a mission in life.

John Scripps retired just five months ago after working for more than 50 years. He didn't want to just sit around. So he volunteers at the Hoover senior center.

"If you don't use it, you lose it," says Scripps. "There's just a lot of things that you can get involved in here and just keep on keeping on. I couldn't stop. I just couldn't do it."

Scripps never considered looking at retirement as the end of a career or of his identity.

Instead he considers retirement to be: "I think the better part of your years," he says. "Just get out and about. Be with people. Be about people. Don't stop. Because you will stop if you stop. I'm afraid of that. I don't want to do that. I'm going to keep on until I can't keep on.

Dr. Andrew Duxbury, a geriatrician at UAB, gives a 'thumbs up' to Scripps' philosophy.

"If we do not do that, we stagnate," Duxbury explains. "In retirement, some people get stuck. And they feel like they become stagnant and they don't move. Others start to realize that retirement is not so much that you've stopped being and doing. But rather you have separated what it is you do, from your source of income."

Duxbury says having that identity and self worth is critical especially in the golden years.

"(Seniors) must sum themselves up and understand the tapestry of their lives. Because if they don't do that they will find no meaning in their life over its entire arc and they will end up in despair."

Mary Gray retired a decade ago. She admits there were times when she struggled.

Gray decided it was time to rediscover her identity.

"So I said 'Mary, what are you going to do'?" Gray explains. "I wasn't the type of person just to sit around. So I volunteered. I didn't want to stay home. I needed something to do so these opportunities came up that I took advantage of."

For Gray, her mission is simple.

"I'm going keep on until I can't. I'm a keep on keeping on."

Duxbury says, "We all know the only thing constant in life is change." and that "The people who are able to be flexible, think outside the box will do better with life after retirement. Of course, some people are more resilient than others."

Doctors want to remind retirees about losing touch with those who were once a part of your everyday life. They say it's important to start and have new relationships.

You might do that by engaging in volunteer activities, going to a health club or even stopping by the local coffee shop.

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