Finding new purpose in retirement

In those last couple of years in the workforce, many people daydream about how they’ll spend their newfound free time during their fast approaching retirements. Some people imagine becoming professional jetsetters, traveling to a new faraway destination every few months. Others fantasize about recommitting to an old hobby, or doubling down on a latent passion that they hadn’t had the time to pursue while they were working full time. Some even consider heading back to school to learn a new skill or to start a new, second act career.

Nearly every soon-to-be retiree could tell you about their hopes and dreams for their most fulfilling retirement, but very few are actually prepared to manage their time once the retirement fantasy becomes their new reality. The truth is the transition into retirement can come as quite a shock to your system. After 30-something years in the workforce, you’ve likely grown accustomed to a certain routine, even if you weren’t a huge fan of the 9-5 daily grind. While sleeping in, watching hours upon hours of daytime TV, and sipping margaritas by the pool may have been common fantasies you had while sitting in board meetings, you’ll probably find that there is such a thing as too much R&R after indulging in them for a week or two (or forty). Eventually, you’ll probably crave a new goal to work towards. Fortunately, there are many ways to find new purpose in retirement. 

When you’re ready to get back out there and start conquering those big retirement goals, however, you might be in for even more reality checks. As appealing as a life of constant travel may have sounded just a few months ago, it might not be an attainable goal if you haven’t been stockpiling frequent flyer miles for the past twenty years. And while reapplying to your alma mater to get a BS in computer science may have sounded like a great idea when you were struggling to update the company’s WordPress site last spring, you might change your mind when you find out how much tuition prices have increased since you graduated.

If your own goals for retirement suddenly seem out of reach, or if your priorities have changed upon further consideration, the last thing you want to do is throw your hands up in defeat, resigning yourself to spending your days on the couch. Instead, you’ll need to reassess and come up with a new blueprint for this next phase of life.

Making the most of your time in retirement is all about prioritizing the aspects of life that bring you a sense of joy or purpose. And for many recent retirees, especially those who found meaning in their careers, those aspects may not be immediately apparent or obvious. Finding new avenues for fulfillment can feel like a full-time job in itself, but if you approach this quest for self discovery with the right perspective, the happiness you find in retirement could surpass what you had imagined.

Here are just a few ideas for discovering new purpose and accomplishing new goals in your retirement journey.

Head back to school

Going back to school doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to commit to a full degree, though that certainly is an option if you have the desire and the funds. Community colleges are relatively affordable and offer plenty of interesting courses that you can take to pick up a new skill or enrich your knowledge of a subject that interests you. If you’ve always wanted to read music, learn a new language, or try your hand at ceramics, retirement is the perfect time to hit the books once again. If you don’t have a specific class in mind, but you know that you’re ready to learn, explore the upcoming course catalogue for inspiration. The class description for a world history survey or a creative writing workshop might catch your eye, or you may find yourself suddenly interested in taking that calculus course that you avoided so ardently in high school.

Become an avid reader

Even if you’ve never been much of a reader, now that you’re retired, there’s no excuse not to dedicate an hour or two  at the beginning or end of each day to reading. There are countless titles out there that were written specifically for retirees who are looking to reignite their search for meaning and purpose. We’d recommend starting with Hyrum W. Smith’s Purposeful Retirement: How to Bring Happiness and Meaning to Your Retirement or Ernie J. Zelinski’s How to Retire Happy, Wild, and Free, both of which come highly recommended from hundreds of reviewers on Amazon. Of course, there’s no need to limit yourself to self-help books; there is plenty of inspiration to be found in novels, short stories, memoirs, newspapers, and magazines.

Even if your readings don’t inspire you to take on an entirely new life quest, you might identify your next travel destination, learn a new skill, or continue to deepen your understanding of the human condition. In short, reading is never a waste of time, and we don’t think you’ll regret making it a priority to do more of it in retirement.

Step outside of your comfort zone

As tempting as it might be to commit all of your newfound free time to the hobbies you’ve been cultivating thus far in your life, we’d recommend taking some time to explore new options that take you outside of your comfort zone. Personal growth is attainable at any age, but it’s hard to broaden your horizons if you never try new things. As uncomfortable as you might be with the idea of auditioning for a role with your community theater or taking a week-long hike, you’ll never know what you are truly capable of unless you put yourself out there and take those shots. You might find that hiking just isn’t for you, but you might also learn that your skills on the stage could put Meryl Streep to shame. The more often you take on new challenges, the more comfortable you’ll become with uncertainty, and the more likely it is you will find a pursuit that you’re passionate about. As the saying goes, you miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.

Once you’ve made up your mind to seek out new opportunities, there are plenty of resources that can help. Meetup is a great platform for finding groups who take part in events, excursions, and other opportunities. Local coffee shops and community centers often have bulletin boards where you can learn about exciting projects you can join up with. We’ve collected a few ideas for getting involved in your community in this article.

Get back to work

If you considered yourself a workaholic in your previous career, you might find yourself feeling particularly restless in retirement. Many people find meaning in their careers, and it can be tough to feel that you are no longer making an impact through your work. If this sounds like your predicament, you might consider joining the ⅓ of people over 65 who will reenter the workforce at some point after retiring. Whether you decide to begin your own business, consult in your previous field, or take on a part-time or seasonal job, you have plenty of options, and there’s no reason you can’t find a second-act career that satisfies your ambitious nature.

Become a mentor

Using your time, experience, and expertise to help others is an incredibly fulfilling experience, regardless of which stage of life you’re in. After retiring from the workforce, becoming a mentor for newcomers to your previous industry is an excellent way to maintain your skills and keep your mind sharp. Whether you elect to work with a single mentee or with a multitude of young professionals, relatively small acts of service–like reviewing resumes or conducting mock interviews–won’t demand a large investment of your time but can go a long way toward building the skills and confidence they need to launch successful careers.

Volunteer in your community–or abroad

Giving back doesn’t always have to involve intellectual labor–there are plenty of other ways to be a force of good in the world. There are likely countless organizations in need of volunteers within your own community. Most cities–whether large or small–have churches, food banks, homeless shelters, and women’s shelters that have a consistent need for help. On a global scale, the philanthropic opportunities are infinite. Some organizations, like Projects Abroad and Globe Aware, have dedicated “voluntour” itineraries designed to cater specifically to traveling do-gooders over 55. Make sure to take your own physical abilities into account when researching your options as some of the tours offered can be fairly physically demanding.

Travel insurance is usually factored in to the price of your trip, and the cost of your volunteer trip will be tax deductible.

Consider meeting with a retirement coach

Life and career coaches are known for helping people navigate new challenges at home or work. Retirement is one of the biggest transitions you will ever experience, so it is surprising that more people don’t consider meeting with a retirement coach who specializes in overcoming the challenges commonly encountered in this particular phase of life. If you’ve explored some of the aforementioned avenues and are still having a hard time identifying your goals and priorities in retirement, a retirement coach may provide much needed advice, strategies, and other tools to refocus your energy and efforts.

You can find credentialed coaches in your state by using an online database like the one provided here on Retirement Options’ website. Many coaches have backgrounds in financial planning, executive training, or psychotherapy, and they usually charge for their services on an hourly basis. While meeting regularly with a retirement coach can add up quickly, this investment could be a worthwhile addition to your budget if you’re having trouble setting goals or staying motivated on your own.

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