Approaching retirement as a musician Jump to main content

Approaching retirement as a musician

Tina Speed, counsellor and therapist who also has many years’ experience of working within the music industry, considers the impact of retiring earlier than expected on musicians.

The effect of the coronavirus pandemic on the working lives of musicians has meant that some of you are asking questions such as: ‘can I keep myself and my loved ones safe while working’, ‘how do I maintain my professional networks in a sector that no longer looks the same’, ‘should I look at possible alternative sources of income’? For some, the answers to these questions have led to early retirement, without having the time to prepare for it. Here are some thoughts on how to manage your retirement and to keep well in the process.

Take stock of how you’re feeling

Being able to name your emotions is needed to give them due recognition and attention, but bear in mind that with so many changes to navigate in our daily lives it can be difficult to tune into how we’re feeling. Our instinct to compare ourselves to others can also make it difficult to acknowledge what’s going on for us. For example, seeing others in critical situations might evoke feelings of guilt over our own professional struggles and fears, or seeing contemporaries discover new ways of working might trigger uncomfortable resentments.

Acknowledge what’s happened

Retirement is a process that involves leaving parts of our lives behind. While it’s helpful to look for the positive consequences of change, it’s also important to give yourself permission to feel sadness over what you’ve lost. This sense of loss can feel especially acute if you feel that you were not ready to make the transition to retirement. Allowing yourself time to adjust to a new situation can take some of the pressure off and prevent you from feeling the need to put on a brave face. Take comfort in the fact that your retirement should be measured by the satisfaction levels you reach rather than how quickly you get there.

With any significant life decision there is also usually a moment to mark the occasion, like the applause at the end of a standout performance, but an unexpected career change during a time of social distancing and lockdown may have taken away the opportunity to recognise what you’ve accomplished across your musical life. It might be difficult to reflect on your experiences and successes while the hurt of giving something up is still fresh but, when the time feels right, there should be a time to celebrate, for you and for those who’ve been on the journey with you.

Take back some control – steps to a healthy retirement

The decision to retire is considered one of the ten key life changes in a person’s life. Making this decision, while in an unfamiliar landscape and with no sense of what the future is going to look like, is unreasonably difficult. It might also affect your ability to stand confidently behind your choice. In addition to this, you may have felt as though the decision was driven by external factors, making it difficult to feel a sense of ownership and acceptance over what happens next. Whatever your circumstances, finding ways to take control over your retirement can lead to a more satisfying, new way of living.

Having time to plan for retirement has been recognised as having a positive effect on our wellbeing. If the opportunity to plan hasn’t been an option for you, below are some areas to think about in planning for an empowered post-retirement stage:

ask how can you organise your time outside of the distinctive schedule of a musician?
how can you maintain bonds forged with those you’ve worked with while developing new networks?
how can you maintain your activity levels in new ways, helping you to stay healthy?
Good will:
are there new ways you can help others using your specialist skills?
what did your career provide that you want to keep in your life in some form?
how can you ensure financial security alongside access to things you enjoy?

Find a new sense of self

Music is a vocation. A career in the music industry is characterised by a special talent but also a passion to share that gift with others. For a performer, the move away from centre stage can affect our levels of motivation and energy. Some recent research suggests a connection between a sense of purpose and the overall quality of our lives. The resulting advice is that we should look for alternative sources of challenge and excitement that we’ve likely experienced in our working life. This might include finding new ways to connect to people through music or something else that sustains and satisfies an instinctive drive.

The close relationship between our professional and personal identity can also leave us feeling unsure of ourselves in retirement. In an occupation that’s as demanding as it is fulfilling there’s not always time to reflect on who we are beyond our role as a musician. Perhaps now is the time to get to know other parts of yourself better: your qualities, interests and needs. It may also be a time to find a new way of being with the people in your life and your surroundings. You may find that there is balance to be found between an ending and a new beginning.

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