Achievement in Retirement

It has been a while since I posted to this blog.  Life gets in the way sometimes. However, I have accomplished something: the publication of the long-promised book “Where Shall I Live When I Retire? It is available from in both print and ebook form. If you are mulling over the decision to age in place or to downsize and move to a new home, read this book.  Click here for the link.

Although it feels good to have this long term project finished, there is a void. There is nothing to fill the time. I need a new challenge.  That got me thinking about achievement, and what it means for retirees.

Back in the 1980’s, a psychologist named David McClelland studied worker motivation. He proposed that people at work were motivated by three primary needs which arise out of life experience:

  • Achievement: These people need to master complex tasks, to meet goals that offer challenges, and to accomplish those goals.
  • Affiliation: the need for friendly harmonious relationships, to be liked and held in high regard.
  • Power: the need to influence and direct others, to make an impact, a need to lead.

McClelland’s theory states that most people hold a combination of these needs, but that one of them will be dominant.

When we retire, how do we satisfy these needs?  I suspect that many people who struggle with the adjustment to this new stage of life are having trouble with at least one of them. I know that I am achievement-oriented, that I need new challenges to keep me going. Those challenges need to be achievable but not too easy.  The book project involved researching the content, which was interesting but not particularly challenging (the internet is a wonderful thing). The challenge came from researching and learning how to format and upload an e-book and negotiating the self-publishing process for the print version.

It seems to me that the affiliation need may be the easiest to fulfill in retirement.  It involves getting out and meeting people, and getting involved in activities. People who have a strong affiliation need are probable ‘people’ people, and seek the company of others easily.

Power needs are probably the most difficult to satisfy in retirement. As one executive told me once “I don’t have the corner office, the support staff, the title or the big paycheck.” People who have a need to lead, to be in charge may find their niche on a nonprofit board, or even going back to work and running a nonprofit or starting a new business.

Which of these is your predominant need? How are you satisfying it?  As for me, I have some ideas for new projects. We’ll see where they go.


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