Purpose: Finding Meaning in Retirement

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An adult hand supporting two child's hands

At the risk of sounding all New Age-y, I’ll throw out there the idea of having a purpose, or a passion, whatever gets you to put your shoes on each day.  Once you eliminate work, what is your reason to put on your shoes?

There are many reasons to find purpose, make a difference, feel needed or find meaning.  The reason I got out my laptop and started writing today is because I want to help others through the adjustments that retirement brings, even as I try some out myself. So that is my purpose. To help others in a similar circumstance to mine.

Helping often figures in what a person’s purpose is. Once I went on a sailboat with my husband and the sailboat’s owners. Now, I’d never been on one before. I had no clue what to do. And until someone gave me a job and trained me to do it, they might as well have put me back on the dock. I had no purpose on that boat till I got trained to help. Fortunately, I learned, it was fun, and we got to do it again.

Some find a cause gives them purpose.

A good friend learned how to spin wool many years ago as a relaxing pastime. The more she learned the more she got excited about preserving spinning as a folk art. So she bought an extra wheel and started teaching people, having spinning evenings for an interested group at her house, and joining networks. The art of spinning filled her life with purpose.

Get involved with an organization with a mission that you find meaningful.

A lady I know got involved with Medicaid transportation as a volunteer driver.  She takes people to medical appointments.  The State reimburses her for gas and wear-and-tear on her car.  She helps people get to treatment they could not otherwise get.  New friendships and money to keep her car up certainly don’t hurt.  She finds driving with others to be a fun way to spend the day and she feels needed.

For some, “giving back” is a way to find purpose.

My mother-in-law volunteered for several years at a thrift shop, where people in dire need could get free things.  She worked at her church doing fundraisers for missionary workers.  She also worked to fund scholarships to the denomination’s summer camp for kids whose families couldn’t afford to pay.  Food pantries often need extra help around big feast days such as Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter, when they distribute fancy  food packages to families who would otherwise do without.

Family gives many people meaning.

Helping out with babysitting the grandchildren works for those who live nearby.  Organizing family gatherings was what my grandparents did, since we were spread out across half a continent.  They would rent a house near a campground where my aunt’s family parked their camper.  My brothers and I would stay with our grandparents in the house, and we’d all get together for a variety of activities such as fishing, swimming, camp cookouts, and rainy day card games.  If not for those gatherings my brothers and I might never have gotten to know our cousins.

Helping family members through tough times confers purpose.  Parents often help their grown kids by giving them temporary quarters during a rough patch, advising them and supporting them in various ways.  Grown children also help their parents get through things like medical emergencies and convalescence, finding supports when needed, and getting established when they retire.

A tiny word of warning here.  It’s very important to set boundaries when helping people you are close to, and letting them know when you can’t do certain things for them, up front.  Just because you have money doesn’t mean they can borrow it, for example.  Be creative and caring and supportive in the ways you can, and you’ll sleep better for it.

Try a job working with people.

Check out becoming a teacher’s aide in a school if you like kids.  Be a direct care worker in an agency for elders or people with disabilities.  You might help out with activities at an assisted living center or nursing home, or even a drop-in center or daycare.

You may prefer a more abstract source of purpose.

Use your gardening skills through garden club projects.  Hone your historical interests through historical societies, museums, or re-enactment clubs.  Museums are great connections to the arts as well, some offering art classes in-house.  Some towns have theatre groups that put on shows for the community.  Singers, dancers, actors, sewists and carpenters all contribute to putting on a show. Join a choir or chorus or other musical group.  A friend joined a multicultural singing group and tours around the region with them putting on concerts.

As my retirement gets closer, I’ve been looking for ways to make sure I have some purpose.  I have always seen myself as a bit of a translator or communicator.  Blogging will take care of some of that.  I am about to start working on an historical indexing project online  to scratch the history itch.  And I will spin wool like my teacher before me, trying to entice others to try it.  I will leave the job of helping people with mental illness lead purposeful lives behind, but I won’t just be sitting on the dock.

What is your purpose?

For more on meaning in retirement, read this.




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