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“To optimize your wellness after retirement, make sure to stimulate yourself mentally”, with Dr. John Duffy and Beau Henderson

Stimulate yourself mentally. Continue to read, and to learn, and to be inspired. I worked recently with a retiring man who always wanted to play music, but never in his life had done so. He began taking guitar classes at the Old Town School of Folk Music here in Chicago, and recently sent me a […]

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Stimulate yourself mentally. Continue to read, and to learn, and to be inspired. I worked recently with a retiring man who always wanted to play music, but never in his life had done so. He began taking guitar classes at the Old Town School of Folk Music here in Chicago, and recently sent me a video of his playing. He’s good!

As a part of my series about the “5 Things You Should Do to Optimize Your Wellness After Retirement” I had the pleasure of interviewing Dr. John Duffy. Dr. Duffy is a Chicago-based clinical psychologist with nearly 25 years in private practice. He is also a media expert (including countless radio appearances and more than 80 national TV appearances), a podcaster, and author of the #1 New Release “Parenting the New Teen in the Age of Anxiety” (Mango Press, September 2019).


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share with us the backstory about what brought you to your specific career path?

I’ve always wanted to be in the helping professions. That said, my parents suggested I study accounting in college, and I followed suit. After almost seven years as a CPA, I returned to graduate school for clinical psychology, and it has changed my world. I am in the midst of the most gratifying, dynamic career I can imagine, and enjoy every day of it. The fact that other people benefit from my work is just the greatest thing.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?

Of course. You might think it would be getting a phone call, out of the blue, to appear on the “Steve Harvey” show for the first time several years back. But that’s not even close. The most interesting story involves a young woman who was perpetually suicidal for quite some time when I worked with her as a teenager toward the start of my career. She sent me a letter recently, thanking me for helping her, and believing in her. And she is married (something she thought was impossible back then) and has two beautiful children. She never expected a happy, fulfilling life, but she is living it. I love hearing back from people with stories like this.

Can you share a story with us about the most humorous mistake you made when you were first starting? What lesson or take-away did you learn from that?

Yes, I was doing an intake with a woman, asking the series of questions I had laid out on my clipboard. She asked if I was going to ever look at her, and just talk to her like a person in therapy, not buying, as she put it, “new tires for her car.” Big mistake I have never repeated since. I’m super grateful for her honesty.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

My wife Julie told me one night that I had to follow my dream of doing this work, and since then, she has been my supporter and partner in every facet of it, from running my practice, to writing and editing my books and videos, to collaborating on our podcast. We are a team, and I would still be anxiously floundering in the wrong career, instead of thriving in the right one, without her.

What advice would you suggest to your colleagues in your industry to thrive and avoid burnout?

Protect time for yourself and your family, every day. And make sure you have other interests outside this work, or you will burnout. And finally, this career allows you many different options, and I have exercised several of them, from clinical work with a variety of populations, to writing, to media like radio, television and podcasting. Mixing it up like this has kept my career interesting, fresh and dynamic every step of the way.

What advice would you give to other leaders about how to create a fantastic work culture?

Keep what you learned in grad school that you must, but also allow yourself to find your own voice and create your own style for doing this work. Follow your instincts, and allow yourself to be human and experience emotion with your clients. And be sure to check in with other professionals from time to time.

Ok thank you for all that. Now let’s move to the main focus of our interview. Retirement is a dramatic ‘life course transition’ that can impact one’s health. In some cases, retirement can reduce health, and in others it can improve health. From your point of view or experience, what are a few of the reasons that retirement can reduce one’s health?

Retirement is an ending to an important part of life, and grieving is typically part of the retirement process. Without allowing that part of the process, one can unwittingly get stuck in the midst of it, depressed, sad and/or anxious. We also don’t survive retirement well without a plan for life after retirement, a plan that provides meaning and purpose to the remainder of life, a life that tends to last significantly longer with each passing generation.

Can you share with our readers 5 things that one should do to optimize mental wellness after retirement? Please share a story or an example for each.

1) Stimulate yourself mentally. Continue to read, and to learn, and to be inspired. I worked recently with a retiring man who always wanted to play music, but never in his life had done so. He began taking guitar classes at the Old Town School of Folk Music here in Chicago, and recently sent me a video of his playing. He’s good!

2) Consult with people in the field you worked in. As a retiree, you carry a lot of expertise, and often interest, in your field. That doesn’t disappear on the day you retire. So, stay connected there. Offer your consultation and mentorship to other people in the field. This will help them in their careers, continue to provide you with a sense of purpose, and stimulate your mind and sense of creativity. I worked with an engineer a while back, and he spends a few hours a week teaching and mentoring soon-to-be engineers at a nearby college.

3) Stay in touch. Many recent retirees tend to isolate, and I’ve worked with a few people who speak to others rarely over the course of the day. So, ask out new friends, groups, and social connections, people who stimulate and interest you, people with whom you enjoy talking and joking and debating.

4) Volunteer. You likely have a lot to offer other people with your time and energy. And research suggests that volunteerism carries a lot of mental and emotional benefits, not just for those being helped, but for the volunteers themselves. I work currently with a woman in her seventies who volunteers through her church, a nearby wildlife preserve, and a food pantry. She is nearly as busy and occupied as she was when she was working full-time, but she loves her days. It is so good for her emotional well-being.

5) This may seems like it belongs on the list below, but it actually belongs on both: exercise. Older, retired people are realizing more and more in recent years that age is a number, and that they can keep their minds, and bodies, in very good shape until quite late in life. I work with one man, sixty-eight-years-old, who has never really spent any significant time taking care of his body. Today, he eats well and exercises — he recently bought a Peloton bike and a street bike. He is in the best shape of his life, and claims (correctly) that working out not only makes him feel better and younger physically, but emotionally as well.

In your experience, what are 3 or 4 things that people wish someone told them before they retired?

1) Make a plan. Too many people feel lost almost immediately after retirement without some idea of what to do next.

2) It can be lonely sometimes. I’ve worked with far too many retirees who learned this hard lesson after-the-fact.

3) Plan for the financial part. So much stress can result in the lack of a sound financial plan going into these years.

4) It can be the greatest time of your life. Some people put off retirement perpetually because they fear it may be awful for them. But with careful thought and planning, I am finding that the retirement years can be the most vital, creative and enjoyable parts of one’s life.

Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story?

“Inspiration” by Wayne Dyer. It was a reluctant impulse purchase at an airport at a time when I wasn’t feeling particularly inspired, by either my life or my career. I read the book voraciously, highlighting and dog-earing and post-it noting. Then, I read it again. Within a year, I had written my first book. “Inspiration” provided me with a fresh mindset that broadened my thinking about myself, the possibilities in my life, and the ways in which I might touch the lives of others in a positive and beneficial way.

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

These are anxious times, with the onslaught of bad news on a national and international basis, too much time on phones and social media, and an increase in violence and, I would argue, disconnection. I would love to start a movement of emotional availability, person-to-person. I think if we are more emotionally open and available to one another, whether they be down the hall or on the street, only good can come of that. And a lot of the bad news would dissipate with that sense of connection. People with differing political opinions, for instance, would be able to listen to one another and compromise. And I believe we would be able to prevent some of the violence, including mass shootings and school shootings, if there were more of a sense of collective connection between us. This may seem like the stuff of pipe dreams, but I have seen it on a micro-level, in families and small organizations. I see no reason we cannot make it work on a national or global level in the same way.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life?

Mine is the Serenity Prayer, especially the line about changing the things we can. We each have more influence and agency to make an impact on ourselves, our mindsets, and the world than we may believe. I like the idea that we can begin to exercise that agency with more vigor and with positivity and kindness at the core.

We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂

Bruce Springsteen. I think h embodies some qualities that are not just American, but human. His life story suggests to me that we can suffer mightily, and still experience a great deal of joy. And we can spread that joy to, literally, millions.

What is the best way our readers can follow you on social media?

My tag is @drjohnduffy on both Instagram and Twitter, and Dr. John Duffy on Facebook. My website is drjohnduffy.com.

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We wish you only continued success in your great work!

Thank you!!

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People look for retreats for themselves, in the country, by the coast, or in the hills . . . There is nowhere that a person can find a more peaceful and trouble-free retreat than in his own mind. . . . So constantly give yourself this retreat, and renew yourself.

- MARCUS AURELIUS

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