In 2014, my wife had just retired from her stressful Pathologist role when I uprooted her to fulfill my dream of teaching full-time at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
I retired from that position in June 2021 at age 61. But, at the time, I did not think much about how I would consume my newly found free time.
We enjoyed our first full summer together by taking up the fun sport of pickleball and catching up with friends & family in Pennsylvania that we had left behind seven years ago.
We moved to Philadelphia in the fall of 2021, and then the wall hit us – what do we do in retirement to fill our time and, more importantly, stay useful?
I’ve pondered this topic quite a bit and have come up with various ideas. In this post, I’ll share five ways to remain useful during our retirement years.
1. Volunteer & be part of a Community.
Finding ways to stay connected is vital, especially as 25% of those 65 and older are socially isolated. Connection helps bolster mental and physical health and gives people purpose.
When we moved to a condominium in Center City, Philadelphia, the city was still reeling from the dramatic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. Thus, we took time to become involved in activities unaffected by COVID-19 restrictions.
We attended various holiday events as we were just starting to get to know some of our neighbors. I also have formed a Chess Club.
My wife began volunteering her time in 2022 at the Broad Street Ministry, which has offered “radical hospitality” to the growing homeless population in Philadelphia for almost 20 years. Recently, she was asked to work on a part-time basis to help with the busy mailroom operation, which serves over 5,000 people. She loves the purposeful mission they provide and has included me to help sort the mail periodically.
2. Impart Your Wisdom on Others
One of my retirement bucket list items was to author a book to share some of the knowledge I learned during my over 60 years on this earth. Thus, on February 2, 2022, I began my journey with a 5-month online book writing program (called Manuscripts) through Georgetown University. The community-based course was taught by award-winning Professor Eric Koester, which I strongly recommend to anyone dreaming of becoming an author.
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Authoring a book is challenging! While trained in the love of numbers in Accounting, I was mediocre at best in my overall writing skills. But thanks to an amazing editing team through my publisher, after 15 months of almost daily writing, I became a published author in April 2023.
While it was a LOT of arduous work, I genuinely believe sharing a dozen of my life lessons with others is the most rewarding accomplishment of my life!
3. Work on a Part-Time (PT) Basis
Filling your daily time is a challenge for many folks in retirement. It is normal to feel both excitement and trepidation during your first several months as a new retiree. You are eager for more time to connect with friends and family and do the activities you love. Stepping away from your career can also reduce your stress level and free you from the burden of having competing priorities. However, saying goodbye to your workplace and a regular paycheck may trigger anxiety and sadness.
This is where finding purposeful part-time work will enhance your fulfillment in retirement and pay off in numerous benefits. As mentioned, my wife loves the fulfillment she receives by working three days per week at the nearby ministry. Or you can follow the lead of my 80-year-old sister, who has been volunteering at a local food bank for 30 years! There are numerous ways to enjoy retirement at your own pace while also contributing to society.
I think POF reader John said it best in a prior post comment:
“I found that living without some meaningful work to do that made an impact in society and was interesting and mentally stimulating left me bored and looking around for something to do. I have had some part-time, flexible consulting for the past couple of years, which has been great. I highly recommend that people who are used to being busy all day and doing meaningful, intellectually stimulating work find some part-time, flexible but stimulating work or volunteering to do for at least a few years after early retirement.”
4. Engage in Storytelling
Sharing stories regularly with people we care about strengthens our social ties and helps combat feelings of isolation as we age. Storytelling also helps people pass along family memories and histories, especially when connecting with younger grandchildren or relatives. It helps to feel like your stories will live on for future generations.
Over the upcoming busy Christmas and New Year holiday gatherings with family, I love nothing more than hearing stories from my older siblings and relatives. In my family, hearing humorous stories about relatives who have passed brings a sense of their presence at our family events. It is one of my favorite family activities, and the younger relatives also seem to enjoy our stories.
5. Serve on a Board or Committee
Isabel Allende’s TEDx Talk states, “Aging is about attitude and health.”
As far as attitude, retirement is going well for me as I accepted a board of director position on the Hershey Employee Support Fund (ESF). This fund provides immediate short-term financial assistance to eligible team members experiencing financial hardship. While I love being part of this ESF committee that has helped numerous employees since its 2003 inception, it also allows me the opportunity to reconnect with some of my favorite coworkers from my twenty-three years at Hershey.
In an interview with Bill Simpson (retired president and CEO of Hershey), he mentioned, “As I neared my retirement date, I started working hard to get some board of director jobs. Being involved with the board at the Woodstock Inn helps me keep active in the hospitality industry.” I agree with Bill that staying involved does keep you active in any industry, which is important when you are retired. Bill also added some great advice for approaching the retirement phase of our lives: “One of the things we’ve talked about is trying to break the next ten years or so into five-year increments. And that was Holly’s [his wife’s] idea.”
In summary, finding a purpose in retirement doesn’t need to be complicated.
It can lie in the simple acts of showing up for others and being open to new connections. The Japanese define purpose with the concept of “ikigai.” Ikigai is the intersection of what you love, what you are good at, what the world needs, and for what you can get paid. In retirement, you can have ikigai without getting paid, but it is still a powerful way of thinking about achieving meaning and purpose.
Now it’s your turn. What ideas or activities have you found helpful in staying useful in retirement? Share in the comments section below.
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