“Why do old men wake so early? Is it to have one longer day?” - Santiago in Ernest Hemingway’s Old Man and the Sea.
Maybe it’s because they have things to do? Many baby boomers are now retiring and preparing for a time when they can either set an early wake-up time as Santiago described or sleep in as they navigate their new life.
The financial aspects of a retirement plan are essential, but the personal facets of a complete retirement are also vital for success. For many people, employment provides much more than a paycheck. In your work years, you may have gauged success and personal fulfillment by achievements, i.e., awards, accolades, and recognition from your boss or company for excellent job performance. The satisfaction probably didn’t stop there. Many people enjoy social interactions during the workday: meetings and discussions with co-workers, business lunches, and professional networking events.
Once you leave the workplace, finding meaning and purpose in your new life is essential. An unstructured lifestyle in retirement can lead to unexpected challenges. Going from tightly scheduled days to days, and weeks, without a plan, can easily create stress during the transition. Without planning for life after retirement, you may find yourself dissatisfied, anxious, and desiring something more but can struggle to figure out how to find it.
A well-thought-out plan can help alleviate these problems. While developing a comprehensive financial plan is critical to a financially secure retirement, the personal side of your retirement is equally, if not more important.
It all starts with a question: What do you want to do with the next phase of your life?
The proper time to think about how you will spend your retirement years is before the goodbye party and receiving a gold watch. You want to ask yourself questions about the activities and relationships that will fill the long hours you previously devoted to your career. Not only can answering those questions be critical to finding meaning in this chapter of your life, but studies are also finding that specific lifestyle changes can boost cognitive health.
Finding Meaning Through Relationships
Finding purpose in retirement often entails going beyond yourself and finding ways to engage with peers or care for loved ones. Some ways to achieve this goal include buying a pet or adopting one from a shelter, volunteering at a hospital, or spending time with family. Some retirees even move to the city where their adult children live to help raise grandchildren.
Many of my retired clients enjoy family vacations, including adult children and grandchildren. For example, you could rent a vacation home or two adjoining beach houses for a month and have the families interact as their schedules permit.
Discovering Purpose Through Volunteer Work
Volunteering in retirement is appealing to many retirees. More than ever, workers over 50 are interested in careers or opportunities to volunteer in the nonprofit world to seek a second chance at purposeful work. In fact, according to Encore.org, more than 25 million Americans ages 50 to 70 are eager to share their skills, passions, and expertise by volunteering to address social needs. As it turns out, volunteering can also be good for your mental health. A Center for National and Community Service (CNCS) study found that 70% of retirees who were prone to depression experienced fewer symptoms one year after they started to volunteer.
Seniors can find volunteer opportunities close to home, perhaps at a school or hospital. Jacksonville has several possibilities, including volunteer opportunities with well-known organizations like Habitat for Humanity, The Jacksonville Humane Society, and Wolfson’s Children’s Hospital.
Some organizations can help find volunteer prospects, such as AmeriCorps or Create the Good, a partner of AARP, providing online resources for volunteer opportunities specifically geared toward senior volunteers. s Both organizations have websites that allow you to look for opportunities of interest in your area.
Cultivating a Passion
It’s important to determine, “What gets me out of bed in the morning?” to discover your true passion. Those nearing retirement should consider what hobbies interest them during the next chapter in their life.
If you are lucky, you might be able to fulfill your time with a passion that also gives back to the community. For example, one of my clients participates in the Hero Golf Tour, which combines fundraising with golf events and mentoring veterans with PTSD. For people who love golf, this is a win, win.
It may be challenging to pick your preferences, but it’s worth considering the following questions on that journey of discovery:
- What activities did you always want to try but lacked time for after work or on weekends?
- What were my favorite activities as a child? Are there new iterations of that activity I could pursue as a senior?
- What hobbies excite me and perhaps can be shared with friends?
Answering these questions can help you discover your true passion and make your retirement days more fulfilling.
Keeping your Mind Active
If you take time to think about it, it’s not all that surprising; when the brain functions that we once used daily—such as calculating math problems or composing memos at the workplace—become dormant, those connections can weaken and decline. A U.K. study found that reduced or lack of regular mental stimulation can significantly affect cognitive function, increasing memory loss and dementia.
With the potential for cognitive decline, finding ways to stimulate the mind is critical each day. Take up hobbies to help keep your mind sharp. The possibilities are endless; learn how to play an instrument, read a series of mystery novels, or keep yourself busy with various puzzles. You could even enroll in a college course. Here in Florida, tuition is waived at all state universities for students over 60.
Retirement may be the first time the structure of a nine-to-five job does not bind you. The most important lesson may be that you must sit down with your calendar on a Sunday evening and decide how to fill the 168 hours you have each week.
Rest and relaxation are beneficial, especially for those who retire after a long and meaningful career. However, it’s important to consider how to stay active in the community and mind. These actions can fulfill that basic human need to connect with and demonstrate compassion toward others.
Perhaps, you will even wake up early like Santiago to take advantage of as many hours as possible. Time with family and friends, taking on new hobbies, traveling to far-off lands, or volunteering can all create fulfillment. Above all, remember this time is about YOU, be creative and figure out what you want out of your new adventure.
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