Planning for a Sense of Purpose After Retirement
Demographers who are studying the effect of the pandemic on retirement in the U.S. have found that while some older workers decided to stay on the job longer because they liked working from home, or because the worker shortage led to a job they really wanted, many others decided to retire at this time—earlier than they had planned.
The pandemic isn’t the only factor that is changing the classic pattern of retirement. Before the pandemic, 20% of people older than 65 were still working, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. These days, retirement is more of an individual decision. Workers should consider not only their age, but also their financial situation, their health, their family obligations, such as caregiving, and their life goals.
Retirement is a major life milestone, right up there with graduation, marriage and becoming a parent. It can mean a shift in our family relationships. And it can also alter our sense of purpose in life—even our self-esteem. What’s the first thing people ask when they meet someone new at a party? Often as not, it’s “What do you do? Who do you work for?” Finding an updated answer to that question can be an important “task” of our later years.
Here are things we can do to enhance a sense of purpose during our retirement years:
Plan ahead. You know the importance of having a financial and health care plan in place. Add to that a strategy for enhancing your life with meaningful activities. Check out pre-retirement planning courses for some ideas, and start a wish list of things you would like to do.
On the other hand, allow for flexibility. Should you stay in your home or move to a senior living community? Relocate to a different area, perhaps to be near children, or for recreational opportunities? As you move closer to your target retirement date, health and family considerations may require you to pivot.
Consider retiring in stages. Leaving your job altogether isn’t the only strategy. You might reduce your work hours gradually, move into consulting work, or take a less stressful part-time job.
Build new relationships. For some retirees, leaving the workplace means leaving their major social context behind. Retirement provides more time to spend in activities with family and old friends, and it’s also a great time to expand our social network by forming new connections.
Give from the heart by volunteering. Paid employment isn’t the only rewarding work. Consider working for an important cause, serving as a mentor, or enjoying unpaid work for cultural institutions. Plenty of organizations could use your help. This is also a great way to make new social contacts. During the pandemic, more online volunteer opportunities have been available.
Learn new skills, take up new hobbies. Many retirees report that they have “reinvented” themselves after leaving their career of many years. Retirement offers the luxury of time. At last you can pay more attention to those things that have always seemed interesting. Write a novel or your memoirs, learn a language, join a gym, take a class, pick a topic to research online—the opportunities are limitless.
Create a schedule. After the first few weeks of sleeping late and lounging around the house, many retirees find that it is easy to lapse into inactivity. Plan to apply some of the same kind of discipline to your days that you always have. Working out a routine is a great way to avoid the pitfall of depression.
Increase rather than decrease your level of physical activity. Banish the thought of setting up residence in your lounge chair! One of the best uses of your increased leisure time is to increase your exercise level. Keep track of your progress. Try a new sport or type of exercise. If it’s safe, exercise with others.
Retirement from the job doesn’t mean retirement from living. Instead, once we are handed the precious gift of more control of our time, we can take steps to use those hours in ways that give our life meaning.
The information in this article is not intended to replace the advice of your health care provider or financial planner.