Written by Louise Nayer
As I walked down the serpentine road of City College of San Francisco, going to class, I always met students and colleagues. Some students would shyly walk past me as I smiled; others would say “Hi Professor Nayer!” and sometimes we would hug each other.
Faculty and staff, many whom I had known for over twenty years would stop and we would chat about children, grandchildren, classes, illnesses, deaths, and births. So many little chats over so many years.
When we retire, we lose those voices. Many of those we talked to we will not see again. How do we continue to be engaged with people when we leave our work places? Even though people can never be replaced, how do we create a new community? Many studies point out that human connection is by far the biggest marker of happiness. Older people who have left the workplace can feel isolated without that constant connection to people at work. Some get depressed and feel their life is meaningless. However, there are myriad ways to plan so you can have a retirement connected to others.
Before I left my teaching job, I knew I wanted to write, so I joined the San Francisco Writer’s Grotto. I rented an office space two days a week and knew I would have a place to go with a writing community. Was it easy? Not at all. At first when I joined The Grotto, I looked around at all the strange faces. Where were my friends? I felt lonely, disconnected, like walking into a new middle school and wondering if I would be liked or say the wrong thing. But slowly, that changed. Now, years later, I love this new community. I’m excited to wake up on my Grotto days and see my friends. Others, like my husband, go back to their place of work one or two days a week, to volunteer or to work part-time.
It is important to be patient with yourself and realize adjustments take time, as you find a good volunteer opportunity, a class at a nearby community college, a gym with exercise classes, a garden club or a hiking club or whatever you fancy. If you are not a very social person, it’s important to force yourself to have face-face lunches, dinners, and connections to people, along with email and phone calls!
For some, having more time with children and grandchildren gives people that needed engagement to others. My friend Dixie and her husband moved from California to Ashland so they could help their daughter who had twins. Was the move easy? No. Packing up a home full of memories and leaving the state where you have lived most of your adult life can be daunting and terrifying. But over time, they are both thrilled that they moved. They love Ashland for all it has to offer, and they help their daughter with the twins every week.
It can take a few years to settle into “retirement” and figure out ways to surround yourself with people you care about. But there is no void. There are always ways to connect—from tutoring at the local school, to volunteering to helping students write college entrance essays, to hiking clubs or to a sick or disabled neighbor who needs help with groceries. You’ll also have time to call family members or old friends who you haven’t seen for a long time.
Pets can be wonderful, too. My husband and I got a puppy that is now one year old. It has been a very challenging year as we are 68 and 74 and a puppy has endless energy. But now, our dog, Ella, a member of the family, has many moments of sprawling next to us on the couch. Pets can offer great solace, plus in walking dogs you get to meet your neighbors.
Finding a new community or filling your day with connections to others might be challenging at first, but over time and with some effort, everyone can find wonderful ways to reach out and engage with others.