"How we react to works of art depends on who we are, where we are standing and when we encounter them." -- Margaret MacMillan, "War: How Conflict Shaped Us"

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

What's Your Retirement Role?

     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.


Kathy @ SMART Living 365.com said...

Hi Tom! Here in La Quinta, CA they changed the name of our senior center to "Wellness Center." That makes sense because they offer all sorts of classes for all sorts of ages and they were struggling with getting anyone under the age of 50 to even walk in the building! And yeah, I get the struggle for retirees to "redefine" themselves and their roles. It sounds like B has it figured out, and I'll bet you will too. Just give yourself time. As for me and my Thom, we aren't planning at retiring at all and will be going with the "semi-retired" role. That gives us plenty of options! ~Kathy

Meryl Baer said...

Hub and I are still trying to figure out new roles for ourselves. Travel is important, so is volunteering, but a log-term focus eludes us.

retirementreflections said...

Great post, Tom! Being a relative 'newbie' in the retirement world, I run away screaming from any type of new role description. Been there, done that (and have many business logo mugs to prove it)!
PS - I believe that you have your place in retirement figured out more than you give yourself credit for.

joared said...

Sounds like you two are well on your way to finding what works for you. Ping pong/table tennis access -- that's what I need. I won singles and doubles championship in college many years ago. Wonder what my skills would be now?

I never really thought about needing to figure out what to do when I retired. I kept working part time until a couple years ago, and delighted in my spare time, then and now, just doing whatever might strike my fancy at any given time. Yes, I have participated in some special interest groups, then moved on to different ones. One thing I knew I wanted was flexibility. I knew I didn't want to feel pressed to have to do something or go somewhere that I might feel at times I didn't want to do that day. That freedom has been a cherished aspect of "being retired" for me. It's so easy to become overly committed, obligated and involved in more than is wanted. I think what satisfies each person can be quite different and retirement's fun can be maintaining the ease and freedom to experiment with one thing or another, then moving on to something new -- including times of just doing nothing without feeling I need to be doing this or that. Throughout it all brain stimulation and some form of exercise is crucial to continue the aging process rather than folding to the alternative.

Carole said...

Love this post. This transition is harder for some folks than others. I think too, that flexibility is important as life circumstances can change in a flash. My newly found role as caregiver is not what I expected to be doing at this point in my life. My goal now is to add to this, to expand my identity beyond the role of caregiver. Lots to think about.

Olga said...

I have been retired for a while and my role changes, but in a way that is expansive and fulfilling. I strive to be helpful in my community, provide learning opportunities and fun experiences for my grandchildren, stay active and healthy, do something creative every day, and nurture spiritual growth. And if, at some point, I should find myself in another loving relationship, that will be a bonus.

Janette said...

I feel guilty for saying this. I am enjoying just reading and hanging with the grands. No real ambition here. For 30 years I got up and worked my vocation. Once I hung up the last set of books, I began to breathe again.It is nice.

Madeline Kasian said...

When I worked in health care I enjoyed the responsibilities and the mission.But when I retired, and even more so as I sink into this phase of life,I am relishing NOT being responsible or taking on leadership roles.I do a lot more LISTENING!

I DO enjoy having a couple of "routines" to structure my time: I am a docent at the Desert Botanical garden on Thursdays and spend a few other volunteer days per month in the great outdoors, in various roles..LOVE IT! I meet people from all over the world and many of my fellow docents are retired teachers,doctors, accountants, etc... who now spend more time with NATURE.

Travel: It did not become as important as we thought it would.Much more local travel and much less expensive far away trips.

I've always had many interests and hobbies and have never really defined myself only by my work role so retirement has been easier in that respect. I make collage art, crafts,I read a LOT, I do online classes in music and other topics..

I love day to day pleasures: coffee with my neighbor,wine on the patio, Canasta every other week with a friendship group, long bike rides with my husband exercise classes at the community center.

Retirement has not been exactly as I first thought--our interests and the things we actually want to spend money on have changed as we've gone deeper in.. that's the key-- a little experimentation and then just stay open to new ways of being.. try not to cling to what you "used to be" or "Used to do!!"

Life is large, as Walt Whitman said.

PS: I have developed a big interest in American history! One of the trips I want to visit to visit Jefferson's Monticello Lodge. Not the "glamorous travel" we used to think about.. but much more satisfying than laying on an expensive beach!

priscilla said...

Good article today. I'm 29 days from retirement & keep wondering what's next for me. I am beginning to see that it's ok not to do so many things I thought I had to do!!! Thanks to all for sharing their experiences. We're not great travelers & that really gives me relief knowing that's ok!! I'm a quilter & will continue with exercise & a few close friends & my kids. That's what sounds like the best situation for me. My hubby will follow soon with retirement, but not quite yet.

olynjyn said...

I was going to plan a trip for mid-October to Charleston...Thanking God that I didn't go through with it. My stepdaughter and her husband did evacuate on Wednesday back to Greenville, SC where they met at Furman to stay with friends. Between the Samsung phones catching on fire on airplanes and the weather...it feels good to know I don't have to deal with either. In 2014, I flew 4 different planes when I visited my daughter in Asheville, NC...it was during the height of the Ebola outbreak...scary stuff to travel now days...

Anonymous said...

Not long ago at the age of fifty I retired. Rich Chinese investor made possible for me to became "lady of leisure". I am working class person, started my business at 18,then after while purchased building to avoid huge rent.I don't miss at all not working. Except visiting family for me travel hold not desire or wishes. Few days a week we spend time at our cottage near sea.Few goals I have to became vegan at least five days a week, to do different exercise few times a week. I walk everywhere, read for an hour each day,movies at least once a week, learning how to make my own clothes. Hoping to achieve not to be consumer. Once a week I go to the Railway station and have coffee while watching people going to work. I know in my heart that I will never miss working. I am positive over the years I paid enough taxes to make difference. Now that I have time visiting people in hospital, nursing homes is part of my life and I feel good about it. Saffron Australia

Wisewebwoman said...

Well written piece Tom. I am unpacking some of my activities and it's taking some time. I really don't want to be "doing" as much as I want to be "being". I think it does all fall into place after a while.

Some of my fellow villagers are so "churched" as to be full time, cleaning the church, flowering the church, deaconing in church, fund raising for church and retreating to church. It gives me the horrors, frankly, no offence. Godly drones with very uncharitable heart in most cases. No time for reflection on what exactly their purpose is.

Anyway, you opened up an interesting thought process for me.


Dick Klade said...

We had lengthy discussions before I had the opportunity to retire early (21 years ago), so it was not a difficult transition. Actually, what changed were our priorities. For example, we had long supported our son in whatever he did to some extent. Several years ago he decided to pursue an entirely new career. Now our highest priority is to do things that help him succeed.

still the lucky few said...

I've been retired for several years (time flies!), and have only recently approached the question, "Now what do I REALLY want to do?" Turns out I love writing, and so am on my way to do more of that...maybe a book. Don't rush into it.You will have lots of time to figure it out!