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Taking Risks—In Art and Retirement

Updated: Feb 24, 2020

“Increase your intensity. Be bold!”

These were the words of advice that my painting instructor—Debbie Mosher—was imploring me to embrace. I was being too timid—too conservative—in the range of colors I was using for my first try at a ‘monochromatic’ painting (as I understand it, using variations of a single color). However, her advice seemed even more meaningful for how I approach my life overall! What would retirement life look like if I (and others) were to take risks, increase our intensity and be bold?

I did a search of an academic database to see what ‘experts’ have to say about risk and retirement. Perhaps not unsurprisingly about 95% of the articles were about financial risk taking (or financial risk aversion) in retirement. There were a couple of articles related to risky (e.g., excessive) drinking following mandatory retirement but what about healthy risk-taking? In other words, exploring new interests and life possibilities?

In thinking more about this I recalled research by Drs. Galit Nimrod and Doug Kleiber (see footnote for the reference below). They wanted to determine what role new activities had in people’s lives in retirement. They interviewed 20 people who had retired between six months and 12 years prior. They found the majority of their study participants had taken up at leastone new activity since retirement, with volunteering, educational (e.g., classes), creative (e.g., writing, painting), social (e.g., dinner groups) or physical activities the most frequent types of new activities. Nimrod and Kleiber looked across the benefits retirees reported from these new activities and categorized them as contributing to either ‘Self-Preservation’ or ‘Self-Reinvention.’

Self-Preservation: New activities that contributed to ‘self-preservation’ were consistent with older interests, skills, or relationships. “These activities suggested a new path for an old activity, a close substitution for activity that is no longer available, development of new skills in order to pursue old interests etc. The main contribution…may be a sense of renewal.” Nimrod and Kleiber suggested that many of these new activities were linked to former occupations and interests. They provided the example of a retired theater teacher who became ‘Queen’ of a chapter of the Red Hat Society (a woman’s social organization).

Self-Reinvention: Nimrod and Kleiber found some activities represented “a brand new direction/role and suggest a revised perception of the self and identity.” An example from their study was a recently retired lawyer who decided to take up cooking. He noted: “I started watching some of those cooking shows on TV, and…I went to a few cooking classes… and gradually started collecting recipes and learning how to cook and I guess I’ve gotten pretty good.” Nimrod and Kleiber found it was mostly people who described themselves as ‘workaholics’ who took up new activities that contributed to ‘self-reinvention.’

Regardless of whether the new activities were to preserve a sense of self or for reinventing one’s self, Nimrod and Kleiber noted that these activities were significant because they created opportunities “for a more challenging and meaningful life.”

Thinking About Your Retirement Planning and New Activities:

  • To what extent are the things you are planning for in retirement consistent with older interests, skills, or relationships (i.e., self-preservation)? Or representing a chance to ‘reinvent’ yourself?

  • Regardless of whether these new activities are for self-preservation or reinvention, how can you ‘be bold’ and add ‘intensity’ (i.e., enhance the ‘meaningfulness’) to the new activities you’re adding to your life in retirement?

Tip: If you are unsure what may be of interest to you in retirement, check out the 'Interests Inventory’ worksheet, under the Retirement Resources link.


Nimrod, G., & Kleiber, D. A. (2007). Reconsidering change and continuity in later life: Toward an Innovation Theory of successful aging. International Journal of Aging and Human Development, 65(1), 1-22.

If you want to take a closer look at this article, feel free to email Dr. Sue:

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