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Category: Retirement / Topics: Advice, Guidance & Mentoring Optimal Aging Planning Retirement Social Issues

The Four Phases of Retirement

by Richard Bergstrom

Posted: February 4, 2023

There is a good chance that you will live 1/3rd of your life in retirement! This was true for my great uncle, who retired from the Ballard locks in Seattle at age 65 and lived to 100!…

I recently listened to a TED talk by Dr. Riley Moynes, author of The Four Phases of Retirement. He suggests that “everyone says that you have to prepare financially for retirement, but what they don’t tell you is that you also have to get ready psychologically.” He cites that 10,000 North Americans will retire every day, which will continue for the next 10-15 years. “This is a retirement tsunami, and when these folks come crashing onto the beach, a lot of them are going to feel like a fish out of water without a clue as to what to expect.” 

His walking group discussed the question, "How do you squeeze the most juice out of retirement?"  After interviewing dozens of retirees and asking them that question, he concluded that there are four phases to retirement:

  1. PHASE ONE is the vacation phase, where we get to do what we want when we want. It’s a time to relax, have fun and experience freedom. But after a year or so, it loses its luster, and boredom may set in. One might begin to ask, “Is that all there is?”
  2. PHASE TWO is when we may feel lost. We lose our routine, identity, relationships, and purpose. We may deal with divorce, depression, and decline. We may experience fear and anxiety, and depression. Most of us may say, “I can’t go on like this.” That prepares us to move to phase 3.
  3. PHASE THREE he calls the trial-and-error phase, when we may be asking, “How can I make my life meaningful again? How can I contribute? The answer is to do things you love to do and do well. Trying these things can bring disappointment and failure, but it’s important to keep trying, or you may slip back into phase 2. Not everyone breaks through to phase 4.
  4. PHASE FOUR is the most gratifying phase in retirement. It is a time to reinvent and rewire by answering tough questions like, “What’s my purpose?” and “What’s my mission?” How can I squeeze all the juice out of retirement? He maintains that in this phase, it's essential that we find activities that are meaningful to us and that give us a sense of accomplishment. In his experience, he maintains that this almost always involves service to others. He cites examples of how he and others gave back to their peers. For example, he mentioned the story about the “Old Coots” who set up their advice-giving canopy at the local farmer’s market. Beyond that, he offered some personal examples of how he and some friends established classes to teach various skills, resulting in enrollments topping out at 90 groups and 2100 people.

Moynes suggests that all the losses experienced in Phase 2 can be recovered in Phase 4. He concludes his remarks by encouraging listeners to enjoy their vacation in Phase 1, be prepared for the losses in Phase 2, experiment and try as many things as possible in Phase 3, and squeeze all the juice out of retirement in Phase 4.

In reading the comments on the TED talk’s YOUTube page, it is apparent that not everyone moves sequentially through those four phases. Some enjoy the vacation phase for a very long time, while others go directly into a sense of loss (phase 2). Still, others who have given thought in advance to their retirement know precisely what they want to do in giving back. The point is that if we are to prepare for the experience of retirement, we need to plan for our life, not just our finances.

That is our mission in Re-Ignite. It is the message of our book, THIRD CALLING. And it is the subject of our online course Re-Ignite U. We invite you to join us on the journey. We recently launched "The Center for Transformational Aging" to continue the discussion. For more information, visit us online at

Search all articles by Richard Bergstrom

Richard Bergstrom is president of ChurchHealthRe-Ignite in Edmonds, Washington

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Posted: February 4, 2023   Accessed 123 times

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