05/24/2010 12:05 pm ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

Don't Call It 'Retirement', Call It 'Renaissance!'

"I'm so tired of my job ... I can barely get up in the morning ... If I have to sit through one more budget meeting ... Everything I've worked for has been cut, what's the point? ... I know I should be grateful to have a job, but..."

"Malaise": A weariness, fatigue, discomfort. A sense of feeling unwell. Outside of medicine (and the Jimmy Carter administration) it's a word not much heard -- but a condition today more and more seen.

Murmuring from friends and colleagues has gotten ever louder in the past year. As in the late 70s, we are facing social, political and economic conditions that are discouraging and challenging. As a result, against our wills, we are being forced to confront personal and professional changes that may be dispiriting or frightening.

For those approaching retirement age, some of the distress may come from the realization that the "good times" of the last few decades, and the "limitless opportunities" that accompany youth, may have faded. All that looms ahead is the inexorable march towards the gold watch and the assisted living facility -- or, worse, "the alternative".

Some gentle prodding usually reveals a brighter picture. Almost everyone has a "bucket list," a list of things he or she has always wanted to do, but hasn't had the means or the time. One friend can't wait to write the novel she's been plotting in her head. Another wants to go back to school and study the classics. Travel is on the top of many wish lists, as is learning a new language or skill. A bank clerk wants to study massage. A nurse wants to buy and refurbish a model T. An engineer wants to nurture a hydroponic garden. A surgeon wants to be a magician.

Hidden interests, put aside while folks focus on the responsibilities of midlife, can be eased back to the front burner and pursued.

In fact, instead of seeing retirement as an end to a productive, rewarding professional life, we can actually view it as a "renaissance" -- a rebirth of opportunities. Many retirees welcome the chance to explore new literal and figurative vistas, to learn and grow. Yes, the golden years may bring in less "gold", but many find the senior years provide more personal satisfaction. Framing retirement in the prism of an exciting new future as a renaissance could be a good treatment for midlife burnout and malaise.

But, as it is for any successful change, preparation is the key. Here are some tips to make the mental transition to a golden renaissance easier and more positive:

• Identify your interests and skills. Do you have favorite activities or hobbies that you could see filling up your day? Do you have pursuits or projects you've always wanted to dive into but didn't yet have the chance? Let yourself dream!
• Research how to become involved in your desired pursuits. Costs, locations, supplies, contacts, applications, etc. Incorporate these practical aspects into your action plan and budget.
• Develop a timeline that includes a growing role for your extracurricular interests as you approach your renaissance date.
• Start with small steps as you explore new opportunities and absorb new skills. Be kind to yourself if your learning curve is slower than you may have expected and your achievements aren't perfect. You've already proven yourself in the workplace -- renaissance activities don't need evaluations and grades.
• Relax and enjoy. You've earned it!