Registed Nurses' Association of Ontario

Who am I after retirement?

Author: 
Rhonda Seidman-Carlson, RN, MN

I was really looking forward to retirement. I was excited to live with no particular time clock and to explore new adventures.

I planned my retirement carefully, and let my coworkers know more than six months before my final day on the job. By giving so much notice, I felt it would give everyone -– including me –- ample time to adjust to the reality that I was actually retiring after 43 years as an RN.

That worked well until my goodbye party. While I held it together that day, the full force of the pending change in my life hit me later that evening.

I had a very difficult few months after that. I never second guessed my decision to retire, but I found myself asking: "so who am I if I am not a full-time professional?” So much of my identity was tied up in being an active and committed nurse with an exciting and meaningful career. Who was I without that?

"So much of my identity was tied up in being an active and committed nurse with an exciting and meaningful career. Who was I without that?"

To find that answer, I spoke with newly retired friends and colleagues –- both nurses and non-nurses -– as well as some who were preparing to retire. I asked them how they coped, and what they learned about themselves as retired people. I noticed a pattern: the ones who were most successful in their retirement had found new and different meaning in their lives. I just needed to figure out what that looked like for me.

After a while, I came to an important realization. While I was leaving a full-time career, I was not –- nor would I ever be –- leaving nursing. Being a nurse was and is an integral part of who I am. That will never change regardless of my work status. Instead of looking past nursing, I realized I needed to find ways to stay connected with my profession, while still being true to my goals for retirement.

Staying connected was relatively easy for me, after meeting countless dynamic colleagues and friends during my years as a nurse leader and RNAO member. Unfortunately, I found that while there were numerous groups and associations for retired teachers, there was no such group specifically for retired nurses.

Surely I could not be the only retired nurse trying to find their “new” self. Someone needed to start a group to mentor and support retired nurses, and I decided to take up that challenge.

"Someone needed to start a group to mentor and support retired nurses, and I decided to take up that challenge."

Realizing I would need some support and structure to make this happen, I looked to RNAO. With the association's help, and help from a few colleagues, the Retired Nurses' Interest Group (RetNIG) officially became an RNAO interest group in June 2017. We are a small but mighty contingent of about 100 nurses, but look out: we're active and we're growing.

Beyond the interest group, I've also found other avenues to dip my hands into health care as often as I feel the need to. Even though I am no longer working full-time, I have plenty of energy and experience to share. So I formed a small consulting business, and I continue to teach nursing.

But retirement can't just be about professional endeavors. In this new chapter, I must also learn new things and tackle new challenges. Between cycling, aqua fitness and joining the Canadian Federation of University Women, I have settled very nicely into retired life.

A successful, fulfilling retirement won't look the same for everyone. By connecting with so many retired colleagues, I have learned that each person has to find their own new life when they retire. That's the key: do what makes sense for you, and be true to yourself. There is no “right way” to be a retired person!

Rhonda Seidman-Carlson is a longtime nurse leader and past president of RNAO. Since retiring from her role as vice president and chief nursing executive at the Scarborough Hospital in 2015, she has founded RSC Health Consulting and launched RNAO's Retired Nurses' Interest Group (RetNIG). She is currently member-at-Large (sociopolitical affairs) on RNAO's board of directors.

Read more about nurses' experiences in retirement in the cover story from the November/December 2017 edition of Registered Nurse Journal.

Learn more about the Retired Nurses' Interest Group (RetNIG).