B and I have attended a couple of retirement seminars hosted by the senior center in our new town. We like the senior center, because instead of calling it the "Senior Center" they call it "Founders Hall" . . . which sounds much more appealing, especially for younger retirees like us, who have yet to reach our three score and ten.
Founders Hall offers a variety of lectures and seminars, as well as fitness and exercise classes. B signed up for a drawing class. I started taking a bridge class. I played a little bridge when I was younger, with my family and in college, but haven't opened a bid in 40 years. So now I'm learning how to play all over again.
B and I both also signed up for pickleball. It's the latest craze for senior racketball players. The game is played on half a tennis court, with a paddle and wiffle ball, and since it's almost always played as doubles, there's only a quarter of the running you do playing singles tennis.
It's seems like a fun game. If my knees hold out (as they did not when I moved on to play competitive table tennis) I think I'll enjoy the game.
This is a relatively affluent town with a lot of upper-middle-class professionals living here. We met a couple of people who'd retired from IBM. One fellow was an engineer at a nuclear power plant. There were a few teachers and several professional business types. These are Type-A achievers; not Type-B couch potatoes.
So the main topic of the seminars revolved around the questions: How do you stay busy in retirement with activities that are meaningful to you? And how do you replace the social aspect of working in an office, and the structure of your life which used to revolve around work? And what do you say to people who ask: What do you do? You can no longer say with pride that you're a lawyer, or a teacher, or you work for IBM.
You've lost your identity; and the answer is, you find a new one. You create another role for yourself. You focus your life around a passion you might have, or a set of interests that are important to you. The idea is to create a purpose to your life, rather than just randomly latching on to one activity and then another.
So the idea is, maybe your ambition is to travel to all seven continents, or see the seven wonders of the world. Your new role is being a traveler . . . hopefully not just as a tourist, but to purposefully expand your world view, bring some understanding to others; and perhaps even help out people who are in need.
One fellow in the class said that he's an outdoorsman. He had never had much time for the outdoors when he was working, other than an occasional camp out. But now he's planned some major hikes. He has set a goal of walking the entire Appalachian Trail, and if that works out he might tackle the Pacific Crest Trail. Who knows whether or not he'll ever get there. But it gives him an objective, a goal, a mission to work on in a focused way. A purpose to his life.
Others in the seminar said they want to be a volunteer; or a community activist, or a grandparent involved in their grandchildren's lives. One person ventured that she was always afraid of flying; and she now wants to overcome her fear and has started taking flying lessons at our local airport. She considers herself an adventurer.
B and I are still working on what our new roles will be. Sometimes I wonder if this kind of retirement seminar puts too much pressure on us -- we can't retire and enjoy ourselves, we have to keep on improving and achieving new things, bring home more certificates and awards.
B, for one, says she doesn't have any desire whatsoever to overcome her fears. "I've lived with my fears for half a century," she told me. "Now in retirement, instead of overcoming them, I'm going to finally relax and give myself permission accommodate my fears. Come to terms with them. If I haven't changed in 50 years, maybe it's time to stop worrying about self-improvement and accept myself for who I am."
She doesn't want to travel. According to her, travel is nothing more than expensive entertainment. And she doesn't want to spend her retirement just being entertained. She knows she won't find fulfillment in going to movies, attending lectures and playing pickleball. She wants to help people, make a difference in the world, know that people appreciate what she does. I guess maybe she's headed toward the role of volunteer . . . she has a little Type A in her after all.
I myself do some volunteering at our community college. I get some satisfaction from that -- helping underprivileged kids write their essays -- but I don't feel that my volunteer job defines my retirement, or my life. Or, to put it another way, I guess I still haven't figured out what I want to be when I grow up.