Reflection, Retirement

Retirement Guilt: The Art of Not ‘Shoulding’ Upon Yourself

My husband and I took a mid-week, overnight trip, about a two-hour drive away from our home. It was a last minute decision to explore another part of Vancouver Island. We had a great two days away and really enjoyed ourselves. During the drive home, my husband mentioned that he just couldn’t shake the feeling of guilt in being able to simply drive off into the sunshine…on a weekday. He felt there was something else that he should be doing (reality check: there really wasn’t).

Good old guilt! It can become so ingrained in us that it continues to whisper “you should, you should, you should” or “you shouldn’t, you shouldn’t, you shouldn’t” even when those messages are not pertinent.

I began to think about guilt and how it has manifested itself in my own life over different periods of time. What is “retirement guilt” and just how big of a phenomenon is it? I Googled the words and found pages and pages (and pages) of entries. This potential aspect of retirement was definitely not mentioned in the glossy Freedom 55 brochures!

Guilt can be defined simply as: “A feeling of responsibility or remorse for some offense, crime or wrongdoing, …whether real or imagined” ( Or as one definition, offered by the Urban Dictionary states, “An unfortunate side effect that results from being overly exposed to morality” (…definitely an interesting point of view!

With real or imagined wrongdoings ranging from: shirking responsibilities, not doing something meaningful, leaving the workforce too early, not earning a paycheque, spending too much money, not measuring up, missing something, saying ‘no’ (when others believe you now have all of the time in the world to say ‘yes’)…a retiree could totally drive him/herself insane.

But is guilt also a gift? In the right dosages, does it help propel us forward, get unsexy tasks done, reflect more deeply, get off of the couch and be better people? Without guilt would our houses be messier, our emails unanswered, our chequebooks unbalanced, our dogs all have much shorter walks and would we simply eat all of the Boston Cream donuts that we desire?

Being no stranger to guilt (I’m Catholic), I am surprised that I haven’t yet been overcome by guilt since retiring (really, it’s so unlike me). Perhaps it is my retirement honeymoon phase, and a tsunami wave of guilt is lurking around the corner waiting to catch me unaware.

I believe, at least partly, that yoga has been a contributing factor to easing initial retirement guilt for me. I can hear the many mantras of my yoga teachers now:

  • Practice mindfulness
  • Put yourself in the present moment
  • Leave the past behind
  • Practice non-judgment
  • …And….don’t forget to breathe!

Certainly, there are more detailed, complex strategies in which to deal with guilt, but the above seems like a good start and not a bad list to live by.

Thinking back to Richard at the steering wheel, I wonder if the guilt that he was feeling, wasn’t actually gratitude. As retirement is a privilege denied to so many, humbly accepting the gift of retirement can be surprisingly overwhelming.

It is the above mindset of turning guilt into gratitude that was my biggest take-away in reading through the pages of Google entries on retirement guilt. Other frequently mentioned suggestions (all heavily paraphrased or ad-libbed below) include:

  • Acknowledge your shoulds–check them against reality–then let them pass
  • Know your fears and deal with them head-on (e.g. if money is a big fear zone, set and regularly review a realistic budget, track expenses and make adjustments where necessary)
  • Take stalk of what you can control and what you can’t
  • Readjust your expectations
  • Practice forgiveness (of yourself and others)
  • Make amends (again with yourself and others)…and move on!

Got guilt? What are your strategies for letting go?


29 thoughts on “Retirement Guilt: The Art of Not ‘Shoulding’ Upon Yourself”

  1. Enjoy! If anything I have learnt…life has no guarantees, live each day to the fullest. Have no regrets……..we never know what tomorrow may bring.


  2. I’m not sure I feel guilt about being able to retire relativity young, it’s more like I’m afraid someone will find out and make me go back to work! Actually, the only time I feel uncomfortable is when I’m talking to a friend whose retirement is nowhere in sight, despite her being around my age. I try not to say too much on the subject, but I’m having so much fun being free that’s it’s hard not to.


    1. Hi Patricia – Thank you for your comments. You can follow my blog by hitting the “subscribe button” on the black section (left hand side of the screen). As I am using a self-hosted Word Press account, my understanding is that I do not have access to the same “Follow Me” button as users have (if I am wrong about this, please let me know and I will add it right away)!


  3. I never felt guilty…maybe I should have. I just didn’t. I remember waking up on the first day of school the fall of our retirement. The absolute feeling of freedom and joy filled me to the brim. I think I know why.

    It could be that in the end the job wasn’t any fun anymore…at least for my husband. The job had become a place for younger people. Financing for schools in our state had gone to pot and the hours were killers.

    So realizing that what we had earned would allow us to move on was very liberating.

    Don’t feel guilty. You deserve your life…embrace what you have. Be grateful.


    NOTE: If you could fill in your Google+ page with your website and just the minimal information, people would be able to find you much easier…and you are worth finding!


    1. Hi Barbara – Thanks so much for dropping by and sharing. I greatly appreciate your advice and am checking out Google+ now!


  4. Hi Donna! What a great post and I was only thinking about this when I was on my cruise recently. I find that even though I’m retired I still ‘should be doing something’ and feel guilty if I just want to sit around and read a book. I like your suggestions and will definitely be putting them into practice. Thanks for sharing with us at #BloggingGrandmothersLinkParty. I’ve shared and hope to see you next week.


    1. Hi, Sue – It’s funny how this guilt still tends to creep in for many of us. Putting it in perspective, for your example, reading stimulates our thinking, helps us to acquire knowledge, improves our vocabularies, and boosts concentrations…just to name a few benefits. Thanks for being a co-host. I have greatly enjoyed working with this group!


  5. I will celebrate my 1-year retirement anniversary in 5 days. I still feel like I should be doing something all the time. It’s difficult to shed those habits developed over many years. Thanks for sharing at #BloggingGrandmothersLinkParty. I’ve shared your post on social media.


    1. Congratulations on your 1st-year retirement anniversary, Carol. It is amazing how time flies…and how slowly we can be to shed some habits that no longer serve us. I’ve greatly enjoyed co-hosting with you and am already looking forward to our next link-up!


  6. Awww Donna. No need for guilt. I’m sure you and your husband worked diligently for this time on your journey. I know for a fact that once I’m able to retire there will not be one ounce of guilt. I am going to be elated and you should and your hubs should be as well. #BloggingGrandmothersLinkParty. I’ve shared your post on social media.


    1. Thanks, Clearissa – This is excellent advice. I am greatly enjoying teaming with you and the other co-hosts at Blogging Grandmothers. I look forward to our upcoming link-ups!


    1. Thanks, Lori. I greatly enjoyed co-hosting this link-up together. I am already looking forward to our next one!


  7. Well, that’s an interesting take I hadn’t thought about one bit. Of course, I didn’t retire, I quit to take care of my first grandbaby while her parents work. I had only been teaching since the youngest of my 4 daughters left for college so my retirement $$ was not going to be affected. But I guess I do feel torn between feeling I should still be teaching and enjoying caring for my granddaughter.


    1. Hi, Pam – ‘Retirement guilt’ hits different people differently…and some not at all. Perhaps because you left work to take care of your grandchildren, your post-teaching life was already filled with meaning and purpose. Thanks for stopping by and sharing this.


  8. I’m back again! It was hard at first not going to work but I’m used to it now and longing for hubby to hurry up and retire so we can go and do whatever and whenever.


    1. Hi, Dee – Thanks for stopping by again…I LOVE it!
      All couples feel differently about retirement. Both my husband and I wanted to retire together (so he retired a little late, and I a little early). Retiring together has worked out well for us.
      Sending good vibes your way for your husband to retire soon! 😀


  9. My husband and I will be retiring within the next couple years, at least that’s our plan, and I can definitely imagine myself having retirement guilt. I appreciate your post very much; it helps me to realize that I won’t be alone and that those feelings are most likely unfounded! I had thought that I was officially “done” working a year ago, but guilt figured in to my going back to work (though only 2 days per week). I felt if my husband was still working, I needed to be helping to get us ready for retirement too. Thank you for sharing this info with us!


    1. Hi, Teresa – Thank you so much for your kind words. That is EXACTLY the reason why I blog, i.e. to share with like-minded people who are either going through/have gone through/or about to go through similar experiences. To ‘know that I am not alone’ in my retirement transition, and this chapter of my life is incredibly important to me. I look forward to following your posts further.


  10. Thanks so much Donna for sharing your thoughts with us at #BloggingGrandmothersLinkParty. I understand exactly how your husband feels as I always feel like I ‘should’ be doing something instead of realising that in Retirement I have the power of my time. Have a great week and here’s to enjoying life!


  11. Great food for thought. I’m not sure feelings of guilt when relaxing are just for retirees. I’ve always felt guilty when sitting down reading a book etc in the middle of the daysas there was always a job to do – gardening, cleaning, maintenance on the house. It’s the same feeling, just when you’re retired you have more time available so spread it round a bit more – or pick up more activities. I must say, the older I get, the better I get at relaxing. Practice makes perfect.


    1. Hi, Christine – Thank you so much for stopping by. You raise an excellent point. I believe that it is common to ‘feel guilty’ when ‘relaxing’ or ‘taking a break’….even when we are not retired. Ah, the power of the ‘shoulds’! I greatly appreciate your wise comment.


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