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Finding Purpose and Community After Retirement

Four Secrets

written by Andrea Brandt, PHD, MFT November 26, 2019
Finding Purpose and Community After Retirement

No matter how much you look forward to retirement, you may wake up the morning after your last day at work and feel sadness or anxiety. For decades, your days and weeks were structured. You knew what you had to do, where you had to be, what time you had to be there, and who you’d see when you arrived. Now you’re without that structure and community. Sometimes we don’t know what we’re going to miss until it’s gone, and structure and community are things you may be surprised to miss. Whether you recently retired or are thinking about your future retirement, it’s a good idea to formulate a plan for the day after your day-job ends.

Expectations and Retirement

The media invite us to fantasize about retirement as a life of leisure. Retirement means golfing, shuffleboard, and cruises, and a life where we no longer have to work toward something, exert effort, or grow. Golf and cruises can be fun (and you should partake as much as you want and can afford if they’re things you enjoy), but a life of leisure isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. You’ve become the person you are today—wise, interesting, and interested—because of your decades of hard work. You don’t have to let your mind turn to mush just because advertisements tell you to.

Instead of thinking of retirement as a permanent vacation that ends in mortality, think of it as an opportunity to slip the harness of career and run free—free to pursue the interests and values that wisdom has brought you. The question to ask yourself now is: What will I do with the time I have left? You can invest in career opportunities that achieve meaning rather than material success. The goal isn’t to feed your bank account but your soul. Or, if there are things you regret not doing during your working years, like hobbies you put aside because they were not “practical,” now is your chance to try them again. And, if you are carrying regrets from something you did, like a friendship you lost or a family bond that broke, you have an opportunity now to heal relationships and make your life whole.

Today is the first day of the rest of your life. To make the most of it, you need a plan.

Find some quiet time alone to answer the following questions:

  • What makes me excited to get out of bed in the morning?
  • What exercises make me feel good about my body?
  • What activities nourish my soul?
  • Who do I want in my life, and who is missing from it?

To help get you started, let’s look at each of these questions individually.

What makes me excited to get out of bed in the morning?

For many of us, if there isn’t something we have to get out of bed for, we won’t get out of bed. Start by making a list of all the activities you enjoy doing. Include on this list activities you haven’t done in years but remember enjoying. For example, you might list: playing guitar, creative writing, visiting museums, and painting. If you love visiting museums, consider volunteering at one in your area. If you love painting and playing guitar, take an art or music class at a community college or arts center. If you love to write, consider writing a memoir in the form of a series of letters to your children or grandchildren. A post-retirement project that requires tackling a little bit at a time and builds up to a final goal (e.g., a completed piece of creative writing or painting) is a great reason to get up in the morning. These are all activities that will keep your mind sharp as well.

What exercises make me feel good about my body?

Staying fit after you retire is vital if you’re going to make the most of your post-work years. Write a list of the physical activities you have enjoyed throughout your life. If you can’t think of any, now is the perfect opportunity to find joy in the physical and get in touch with your body—an important part of mindfulness. Try a dance class or yoga, swim laps at a local pool, or, if you have a dog, consider driving to a different neighborhood to take a long walk. Your pup will enjoy the change of scenery as much as you will.

What activities nourish my soul?

Think of past experiences you’ve had that have made your heart feel nourished. Maybe it was weekend services at your church, temple, or mosque, or perhaps it was quiet time alone in nature. Make a plan to incorporate at least one activity into your first week after you retire that makes you feel at peace with yourself and the world.

Who do I want in my life, and who is missing from it?

There are going to be people from your day job whom you’re relieved you don’t have to see again, but there will be people you will miss as well. Within the first two weeks after your last day at work, reach out to those you want to keep in touch with. The longer you wait, the harder it will be to keep those relationships active. If there is room in your life and your heart for new friends, consider activities that will put you in close contact with others. Classes, community events, and religious services are all great opportunities to meet others. Remember, if it’s a place you want to be, it’s also a place where people like you will be.

To make the most of your “longevity bonus”—the years of relatively good health after retirement—you need a plan. Creating purpose in your life and finding community won’t happen automatically. Answering questions like the ones above is a great way to start the process.

© Andrea Brandt

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