Re-Imagining Retirement: Loneliness  

Sharon Rolph

In all truth, I’ve never struggled with feeling lonely over the years. I liked being unique and had a strong authentic streak in me. And felt I dealt with it once and for all, in my early 20’s. One Friday evening I was crocheting a new ripple afghan when this critical voice in my head said, “It’s Friday night and you should be socializing, after all, that’s what young people do – to meet others, like in bars and such.” Wait a minute, I thought! I’m doing what I want to do! I happen to like my own company. So, never mind!

However, after reading the former Surgeon General’s book Together by Vivek Murthy, it felt like loneliness was something I should step up to the plate to help resolve. However, during my research I realized that my feeling invisible is another form of loneliness. I hadn’t really felt heard, seen and lacked a true sense of belonging.

I chose a “regular” career of working diligently, responsibly and reliably, as was the culture back then, to fit in. Yet it had little to do with my potential. And, potential was something that intrigued me from a young age.

What does this have to do with loneliness? I felt invisible most of my career as it actually was my choice and strategy to feel safe in a sexually abusive home. (Loneliness Factor #1). Some of you can relate, right? 

Other Loneliness Factors you may relate to: #2 I was a middle of five kids, so it’s common for middle kids in families to feel ignored.

Loneliness Factor #3 I was a lifelong learner and going to college made me different in my family. Can you relate?

Loneliness Factor #4 is, in retirement, because I’ve always been single, without kids or family close by, could possibly create a lonely lifestyle. Can you relate?

Also, the emotional transition that happens in retirement — when you leave your purpose, achievements, accomplishments and feeling productive, vibrant, active, engaged and valuable while problem solving and contributing — may introduce you to another Loneliness Factor. When you leave work and have all this free time on our hands, can become a heavy burden.

Spousal death or divorce may become a Loneliness Factor.

Changes in health, abilities or family moving away, are more possible Loneliness Factors.

Life, without a purpose, can be a Loneliness Factor. If your purpose WAS your job or service; in retirement, what will it be now? Can you relate?

So how does my fascination with potential fit in here?

For retirees, I see time freedom as a huge untapped potential begging for a new purpose; a time to pay it forward. Purpose increases life satisfaction, appreciating life, character strength, handling risk, patience, persistence, confidence, self-image and courage. The benefits are huge: meaning, contentment, fulfillment, happiness, longevity and better health. Purpose also increases our ability to overcome bad habits, stress, criticism, fears and negativity.

Honestly, since retiring, I became an author, podcaster and queen of courage on Instagram. Yet, just recently have I started to recognize how feeling invisible has impacted areas of my life that, as yet, has room for my potential to grow.

Resilience heals loneliness in two powerful ways: mental strength (controlling your thoughts) and spiritual health (having hope, courage, curiosity, positivity and being true to yourself). Good topics for a later column.

As a result, I’ve been designing a private membership community to hold weekly events that provide content, community and coaching where we can support, encourage and learn from each other. The Loneliness to Resilience Community provides tools to heal, thrive, embrace your true self, overcome challenges, and reclaim your voice. (Find out more here.)

Now, it’s time to wrap your arms around yourself again and love yourself.

— By Sharon Rolph

Sharon Rolph is an Essence and Retirement coach who lives in Edmonds and aspires to be an international speaker. Her new book, Fresh Courage in Retirement: finding purpose, Essence and fulfillment, is available through herself and Amazon. Learn more at, where she offers a free ebook: a Call to Courage: 3 Tips to Awaken & Ignite Your Inner Spark.

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