Men, Retirement and the Loss of Role

Age in place

Often when you are at the end of something, you’re at the beginning of something else.

~  Fred Rogers


Aging in Place

I’m at that stage in life where many of my colleagues are retiring. The women I encounter seem all too ready to start new adventures—the men are seemingly a bit lost…Retirement for men has been called “the Roleless Role,” and for many boomer males, this time is disorienting. I work with many professionals with titles and when they are no longer associated with it, esteem, identity, power, and meaning melt away like ice on a hot sidewalk.

I have watched this particularly with doctors, for example on weekends you can find the occasional MD watching sports in the “Doctor’s lounge” at the hospital. There they are still “Dr. ________ (fill in the blank). At home, they are now subject to being asked to take out the garbage. For some, especially old-school guys, this is uncharted territory.

Men’s Retirement Uncertainty an Honest Confession

Recently I posted on FB an image with the line:

ON AGING: Successful Longevity requires problems remaining to be solved.

“Dale” a FB friend and prior colleague (nurse) who is a thoughtful guy replied: Ah, the sense of purpose…(contextually).

My Response: You Got It.

Then he came back with a deeply thoughtful response concerning his own circumstances:

I reflected on this again Patrick… (as I often do) ….one of the difficulties I am having in this portion of my life, is that the expertise and experience of my younger days are being ignored and often rebutted by those who used to listen and care for my opinion. Therefore, those problems I addressed and confidently (added a solution) or as a younger person, are no longer part of my purpose. That (somewhat crippling) reality is helping to search for a new purpose.


Dale is living in one of the most beautiful resort areas in the country, has a wonderful family life, pets, extended friendships, a lakefront view, has had a stellar career as an ICU nurse (one of the best I’ve ever worked with). He vacations frequently and is very busy with home improvement; creating a retirement dream life. His scenario is earned and would be the envy of most anyone, he’s living a life that is richly full.

And now he is encountering a new stage in life. The house and yard projects will distract for a while, but sooner or later that nagging lack of Purpose creeps back into consciousness and must be contended with.

The Mythical Call:

aging in place

8 Stages of Life

Erik Erikson was a famous 20th-century German American psychologist. He is famous for his works in developmental psychology and psychoanalysis. He popularized the concept of identity crisis and the theory of psychosocial development. According to his theory of psychosocial development, an individual typically passes through eight stages during their life. These eight stages are as follows:

Infancy: Trust vs Mistrust

Toddlerhood: Autonomy vs Shame and doubt

Preschool years: Initiative vs Guilt

Early school years: Industry vs Inferiority

Adolescence: Identity vs Role confusion

Young adulthood: Intimacy vs Isolation

Middle adulthood: Generativity vs Stagnation/Self-absorption

Late adulthood: Ego integrity vs Despair


These may be outdated for some, yet they still hold relevance for many. It’s the last two stages that my colleague is wrestling with:

Stage 7–Middle adulthood: Generativity vs Stagnation/Self-absorption: Individuals between 40 and 65 years of age fall in this category. Generativity is when they inculcate a sense of care and responsibility in passing on their learnings to the next generation through parenting or mentoring. If the individual is bitter or unhappy, they may stay restless and isolated without making any positive contribution to society.

Stage 8–Late adulthood: Ego integrity vs Despair: This stage involves individuals who are of age 65 years and older. If these individuals feel satisfied and take pride in what they did in their lives, they flaunt their wisdom and accept age with grace. Those who believe they underachieved or have regrets fall into despair (Source:

I’m not worried about Dale; he will find his way to a new purpose and meaning-making. I do fear for many other Boomer males who are not as introspective and self-directed. This is a real essential stage in men’s lives. Purpose will outlive pills every day of the week…

“Who were you when you were somebody?”

I had a recently retired friend share this anecdote: Upon meeting someone new, the new acquaintance asked, “Who were you when you were somebody?” A sobering moment for my friend and a poignant insight to the mind of (at least one) retired man. Defining ourselves by our careers is typical of retired men—and becoming more typical of women. We are all more than our last job. 

~ Carla Mitchell 3rdLife Founder (Linkedin Comment)


Unlock The Power of PURPOSE with

4 Steps to Purpose in Retirement

-If you are what you do (work) then who are you when you no longer are doing it? Avoid letting your work define you.

-Develop “social capital” or networks of friends/associates outside of work.

-Avoid the breadwinner role. Cultivate more meaningful roles after retirement, like consultant, educator, mentor, or volunteer.

-Make your marriage a priority, work on improving it every day. Happy wife, happy life!

Ram Dass: On Aging
“I’m nobody. Who are you?
Are you nobody, too?”
Source: The Call, Success is the Quality of Your Journey by Jennifer James
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