In the wake of last week’s tragic news of the suicide of NFL star Junior Seau, there is a lot of talk regarding how the violence of the game may impact one’s decision-making and long-term mental health. 

But a surprisingly insightful radio interview of former Baltimore Ravens head coach Brian Billick on 104.3theFan in Denver touched on a problem that many people face that should serve as a lesson for advisors who are helping clients transition into retirement.

The issue surrounds the psychological transition in going from the life of a superstar athlete to one of relative obscurity after the spotlight is turned off. 

We can understand that difference when talking about a 12-time Pro Bowl linebacker, but the reality is that same psychological dynamic is present in many of our clients.  Regardless of the occupation, many of our clients (and many of us) receive a significant part of our self-esteem and self-worth from our jobs. Our jobs make us feel important, give us a feeling of contribution to the world and that we make a difference. Whether we do that job in front of 75,000 screaming fans on a Sunday afternoon or for a dozen clients and co-workers Monday through Friday, if you take that away, many of us will feel lost.

The fact is, for many people the transition to retirement is a psychologically traumatic event. Especially for Type A personalities, high-powered executives or even simply those who identify highly with their jobs, the transition away from that job can lead to an identity crisis as they struggle to figure out who they are now that they are no longer doing and being what they’ve always been and done.

In a paper that appeared in the April, 2011 issue of American Psychologist, PhD’s Kenneth Schultz and Mo Wang discuss research that indicates “the extent to which retirees identify with their work roles has been shown to be related negatively to retirement transition and adjustment outcomes.”

In layman’s terms, when someone identifies highly with their work role, the transition to retirement is more difficult and their satisfaction with retirement is less.

Schultz and Wang continue on to say, “If a person's career is important to his or her self-identity and there is high commitment to the specific career role, it is less likely that the person will retire from his or her career job.” 

On an intuitive level this makes sense, and applies very well to athletes whose minds are still willing but whose bodies are no longer able.  (Does anyone remember the Brett Favre retirement circus?) Equally important for us to remember however, is how this applies to the millions of workers who are laid off in their late 50s and have trouble finding a new job. Not only are many of them not financially ready to retire, many are not emotionally ready either.

No one knows if any of this played a role in the Junior Seau case, but scientific research has shown it to be an issue. Is it your job to play therapist when you sense something like this with one of your clients? Certainly not. But I would suggest you can both do your clients a tremendous favor and build deeper relationships by being aware of these issues and gently raising these issues when talking with clients who seem to strongly identify with their jobs. 

How can you raise this issue? Simple things like saying, “You know, I’ve had several clients who were in positions similar to yours when they retired and they found the transition to be really rough. What do you plan on doing to keep yourself active and engaged after you retire?” 

They may not have a great answer, but you’ve planted the seed and positioned yourself as a resource if they find themselves struggling.

Let’s hope you never have to deal with a situation as severe as the Seau case, but I’d be surprised if you went your whole career without experiencing this at least a handful of times. Hopefully by being aware, you can improve not just your clients’ financial outcome, but also their psychological outcome.


Keith J. Weber, CFP®, CPRC, is a speaker, author and founder of Weber Consulting Group, LLC, a financial advisor training, coaching and practice management consulting firm focused on providing relationship development skills to advisors.  Keith has recently launched the Rethinking Retirement Institute to provide tools to advisors and consumers.   Keith maintains the CFP® designation and is also a Certified Professional Retirement Coach.  His latest book, Rethinking Retirement, was released in July, 2010.  For more information visit, or connect with Keith on LinkedIn.