The obvious difference between working and retirement is that we no longer get up and go to work five days a week. Now we have to fill our own time and structure our own lives.
We've been working for 30 or even 40 years, raising a family, taking part in the kids' school or sports activities. Our identity is tied up in our jobs and our families, and we’ve gotten used to the routine, the structure, the social life. We had places to go, people to see, and a schedule to keep. Now that we're retired, there's no place for us to go in the morning, and no one who cares whether we get there or not.
So after we retire we may feel disconnected, like there's no purpose in life, no focus. I had one friend who, for the first few months after he retired, had nothing more to do than go with his wife to the grocery store and follow her up and down the aisles -- until one day she stopped, turned, looked him in the eye and said, "This has got to stop!"
Retirement is a new stage of life, and we need something to do, especially if we’re retiring at a fairly young age. So what’s the answer? One suggestion I've heard -- and tried to embrace -- is to find a new role, a new identity, a different way to define ourselves.
So instead of being the lawyer and Little League coach, instead of being the nurse and PTA member, we can find some activity we’ve always wanted to pursue, but never had the time. Or maybe we need to do some research and figure out a role we can take on that uses our expertise and talents, and that suits our interests. That way, when someone asks what you do in retirement, you can answer: I volunteer at the school, or I’m writing my family history, or I take care of my grandchildren.
Here are a few examples of retirement roles:
The Volunteer. Many people find that retirement offers a chance to give back to their community. So they talk to their friends, or attend a meeting of the local service club -- or as I did, turn to Volunteer Match -- to find out what needs are in the community and how we might fit in. We may find ourselves helping seniors with their taxes, or delivering meals on wheels, or helping kids learn how to read -- and making connections in the community that we never had before.
The Sportsman. One friend of mine liked to hike and camp, so when he retired he set a goal to hike the length of the Appalachian Trail. It took him three years, making three different trips, but he finally did it. Another friend took up pickleball and now teaches lessons at the local recreation center. (She's the one who got me involved, with the result that I busted out my knee, but that's a different story!) My brother-in-law is president of his senior golf league in Florida. It doesn't matter what your sport is, or even how good you are (luckily for my brother-in-law!). What matters is that you enjoy it and make some friends.
Grandparent. According to one study, over 60 percent of retirees cite spending time with grandchildren as a major reason for retiring. Honestly, I don’t know of any better use of your time and talents than helping your children and getting to know your grandchildren. Doesn’t it warm your heart to think that 50 or 70 years from now your grandchildren will recall special moments they shared with you, as they in turn share moments with their grandchildren?
Traveler. Some people make a bucket list of destinations; others focus on one particular region. My sister is learning Spanish and has made three trips to Spain to walk the Camino de Santiago. Other people like Road Scholar or other cultural organizations. But you don't have to be rich to travel. One friend of mine lives in upstate New York and she's made it her mission to discover the back roads of New England, exploring old factory towns, tracing old stone walls and graveyards, all within a couple of hundred miles of home.
Craftsperson. I was at a party after Christmas and met an older man from Michigan. "What do you do?" I asked. "I'm a woodworker," he replied confidently. Later, it came out that he had worked in computers. But that's not how he defines himself anymore. He had just finished crafting an oak bed for his daughter, and now he's working on a series of keepsake wooden boxes for his grandchildren, which he plans to give to them next Christmas. Other retirees make glassware or throw pottery or make clothes, and may even sell their wares online or in a local store.
These are just some ideas. What am I? I'm a Volunteer, and maybe a Sportsman, since I play golf and table tennis and I tried pickleball -- and I just got another idea yesterday. When my knees won't let me get around anymore, I think I'll take up pool.
So have you found the chance to try something new in retirement, something different, perhaps even unexpected? What do you really like to do, what engages your interest? What is your role in retirement?