When you meet someone for the first time, how many minutes pass before someone asks “what do you do?” Many people for better or worse see their lives from the point of view of their job. Too often, you are your job. At work, we interact with co-workers, face and conquer challenges, get recognition for a job well done, are admired, in control, and have a genuine feeling of importance. All of these things can be deeply satisfying and become part of the person we are.
So when we decide to retire – either our choice or the company – we enter an unfamiliar place. As the rock group Seisonic so sagely says, “every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end.” Living retired, rather than having specific to-dos each day, we are free to choose what we want to do or even do nothing at all. Deadlines no longer fill our waking hours but neither that feeling of a job well done upon completion of an assignment. 10-12 hour days where we were so busy we hardly had time to get a cup of coffee are replaced with 16 hours of “free time” that needs to be filled, each day, every day. And there is no one to fill the schedule except for you.
Venturing into retirement without a plan risks poisoning a life where you finally have the freedom and time to do what you really want, to become the person you have always wanted to be. And yet that is what many senior citizens do. Retirement planning too often starts the day we retire.
Many retirees find the first six months of retirement to be just what they expected. Finally, some time to catch up on reading, complete those tasks around the house that have gone unaddressed for years, to do some traveling to those places you have always wanted not worrying about weekend travel since the whole week is yours to enjoy. Little things keep your attention occupied and you have the genuine feeling of being busy, sometimes VERY busy!
However after that initial retirement introduction, when the to-do list is done, now what? To successfully and happily retire, you need to have some retirement goals and purpose in your retired life that goes beyond just keeping busy.
Activity with a purpose
(1) Identify meaningful endeavors that on a daily basis engage your skills and mind. I am not talking about something that is completed in a week or month but something ongoing. Short term projects keep you busy as they are intended – for the short-term. What you want to find is ongoing purposeful activity – something that you are excited about, something you are passionate about, so you will look forward to getting each day under way. This grand purpose could be writing a book, it could be volunteering on a continuing basis, you might want to learn how to work with textiles and create personalized pieces of art for gifts or even sale, learning a new language and then traveling to the country where you can immerse yourself and really learn the culture, playing the piano has always intrigued you and between lessons and practice, you can expect to keep busy for years to come, or even blogging about something that you are an expert in or are passionate about. Find something that will not start today and be done tomorrow but instead has a long-term horizon.
(2) Continuing lifelong learning – learning is for a lifetime. It engages our imagination and broadens our horizons, making us much more interesting people to be with. And don’t let the fact that you are retired scare you. Finally you have the time and now even the freedom to study what you WANT not what you need to earn a degree. Remember how much fun you had as a kid memorizing the names of all those dinosaurs? Or the burning interest you felt when learning about various painters and their unique styles of artistic expression? Retired life is the perfect opportunity to follow those passions. Local junior colleges offer a myriad of courses. Some universities allow retirees to audit courses for a nominal fee. Keep on learning.
(3) Stay connected – the internet offers tons of ways to connect with others with similar interests. The fastest growing users of social networks are those over 50. According to the Pew Internet and American Life Report, 47 percent of internet users age 50-64 and 26 percent 65 and older use social networking. Having someone as passionate as you about dogs or travel or collecting plates or growing roses keeps it interesting and you always have something to talk about. And should you feel the urge to dig deeper to learn more about anything – ANYTHING – information is just a Google or a Wikipedia away. Multimedia adds a whole new experience as you can view videos and recordings along with descriptive text. There is some truly amazing stuff out there.
In retirement living, it is not too challenging to stay busy for the short-term. The challenge is keeping busy and engaged and challenged and excited for the long-term. Once you leave the working world, the responsibility is yours to find meaningful, purposeful activities that stimulate your mind and body. If you succeed, you will steal all of the positive elements from the working world while leaving behind everything that gave you sleepless nights.
Don’t forget to pick up a free copy of my Navigating the Retirement Jungle, available upon request by mailing to firstname.lastname@example.org.