You may have arranged your finances so that you have a comfortable, even affluent, lifestyle. Perhaps you've selected the ideal housing arrangements. Your insurance program has been revamped, your investments stabilized. You even have some recreational activities or hobbies to keep you interested.

Your children are successfully launched on their own careers and perhaps are now married. You and your spouse are still talking to each other and looking forward to your new freedom together.

So you collect your gold watch or charm bracelet, perhaps shed a few tears as you bid farwell to friends -- and then you march happily off into the world of retirement. The world is your oyster, right?

Well, maybe not. Unless you're psychologically prepared for all the changes that accompany retirement, this could turn out to be a very unhappy time indeed.

During all the years of your life you have had a number of different identities -- sometimes several at a time. You've been Tom and Amy's daughter, or Charlie's brother, or Sally's husband, or Harriet's cousin, or Max's son-in-law, or Nancy's and Kevin's and maybe Ryan's and Christine's, mother.

But the one identity that has been most constant, that has been with you for perhaps 40 or even 50 years, is one conferred by your work. You've been the butcher, the baker, the candlestick maker for all your adult life.

Suddenly you're going to lose that identity. You will give up a specific descriptive title that has served to indentify you for all these years and join the great amorphous mass of the "retired" -- a title that carries no descriptive connotation at all and defines nothing except your age.

In addition, you have now become a "taker" instead of a "giver." In the brief passage of 24 hours, you are no longer adding your mite to the store of either the world's wisdom or its goods. You are no longer a productive member of society and this is an unexpectedly difficult concept to accept.

Of course this is not really true. People go on leading productive and useful lives long past "normal" retirement age, even if they have retired from the active work force.

But you've been brought up on the American work ethic, in a world where a person's value to society is measured in terms of the dollars with which society rewards him or her. It isn't easy to change to a different set of values.

Probably the single most important characteristic of a successful transition into retirement is a sense of your own worth. If you have an appreciation of your own value as an individual, of your place in the world aside from your job identity, then you can continue to be a full -- and fullfilled -- person after retirement.

What's the point of this philosophical discussion? If you're in your middle years and looking ahead to inevitable retirement, start now to separate yourself as a person from yourself as the plumber, or the dentist, or the computer programmer.

The most troublesome worm in the apple of your retirement Eden is a feeling of uselessness, of no longer having a place in society. Make-work activities are not an answer and can accentuate the distress.

Solving all the practical problems facing you in retirement will be wasted effort unless you are at peace with yourself. I'm neither psychologist nor psychiatrist, but in my book that means recognizing and accepting your own value rooted within you not derived from your career nor from your relationship with anyone else.

A couple of years ago a friend retired. He and his wife had several hobbies they were interested in, and they had an assured and comfortable income.

Within a year he was back at work -- with a very honest explanation: "It's an ego trip; I felt worthless staying home every day." comes from your job, don't retire! You'll only be unhappy and will make everyone around you equally miserable.

If you really want to retire (or will be forced to at some time), then it is essential that you be happy with yourself as a person.

William Shakespeare made the point this way in Sonnet 84: "Who is it that says most? Which can say more than this rich praise, -- that you alone are you?"

CORRECTION: An incorrect deadline for filing third quarterly estimated income tax payments in Maryland was printed in last week's Washington Business section. The correct date is Oct. 15. Estimated federal income quarterly payments as well as Virginia and D.C. payments are due today.