I began the book with the observation that many Type As are anxious about the prospect of retiring. The open space of retirement is daunting, especially for driven and achievement-oriented people, or even for those Type As who just like to be busy and occupied all the time.
I have addressed the challenges of retirement for Type A personalities in two ways. First, I discussed how you can play to your strengths, that is, use your natural abilities and inclinations as a Type A to pursue your passions and find purpose in life during retirement. In your work life, you enjoyed being busy, productive, and accomplishing goals. I have shown you how in retirement you can likewise choose goals that are personally meaningful for this new stage of your life and harness your tremendous energy to pursue them. You have always thrived on having some structure in your life. Full-time retirement requires some structuring, and you have the talents and tools to create it. I have shown how you can use your inherent skills as a Type A and the extra time you are afforded in retirement to make a positive impact on yourself, others, and the community.
The second prong of my retirement strategy for Type As, expanding yourself, has to do with expanding your comfort zone in retirement to include taking your time with and enjoying the process of your activities. You can learn to fully experience and even relish the simple things in life, such as playing with the grandchildren, going for a walk after dinner with your spouse, or preparing a meal. You can find more joy in everyday activities if you allow yourself. It is perfectly all right and in fact quite good for you to take time for yourself, pace yourself, and just plain relax. I have given you tools like Vipassana meditation that will help you develop inner calm and greater self-awareness. You can learn to savor your experiences, which will deepen your enjoyment. Increasing the time you spend engaging in pleasurable and meaningful activities, along with rest and relaxation, will help you fill the space that is created by the lack of full-time work in retirement.
The existential vacuum
I will now offer one additional perspective to ponder as you move into retirement, which was suggested by Dr. Viktor E. Frankl, a survivor of four Nazi death camps, including Auschwitz, in his seminal work, Man’s Search for Meaning. Along with his fascinating personal story and many insights into the meaning of our existence, Frankl’s book describes what he calls an “existential vacuum,” which he believes pervades modern society. Frankl writes:
Man has suffered a loss in his more recent development inasmuch as the traditions which buttressed his behavior are now rapidly diminishing. No instinct tells him what he has to do, and no tradition tells him what he ought to do; sometimes he does not even know what he wishes to do … [This] existential vacuum manifests itself in a state of boredom (p. 106).
Frankl goes on to say that, in an effort to fill this existential vacuum, we need to stop asking what the meaning of life is, because it varies from person to person. According to Frankl, it is not even useful to try to decipher our own personal meaning, since it also varies from moment to moment. (By advocating this, I’ll admit that Frankl is discounting what I advocate, which is the importance of developing a purpose. Still, I recognize the value of his point.) He says that rather than struggling with the meaning of our existence, we should simply “think of ourselves as those who were being questioned by life—daily and hourly” (p. 77). By this, he means that we should just let life unfold and respond to it in a meaningful way as it presents opportunities and challenges.
Frankl states: “… it [does] not really matter what we expect from life, but rather what life expects from us” (p. 77, italics added). He is saying that it is best to simply make yourself “available” to life. He goes on to state: “Our answer must consist…in right action and right conduct. Life ultimately means taking the responsibility to find the right answer to its problems and to fulfill the tasks which it constantly sets for each individual” (p. 77).