My wife and I* have a small group of friends we made as a result of our now-adult children going through grade school, middle school, and high school together. We get together a few times a year, and a major topic of conversation is our kids. Predictably, some are zooming ahead in life while others are struggling to find their way.
At this point in the conversation, I step up on my soapbox and expound on my theory that, when it comes to work and careers, there are, in general, two types of people: those who have always known what they want to do (e.g., my wife) and those who never quite figured it out, like me. (This is not to say I didn’t have a successful and rewarding career, but I never got to the point where work was so absorbing I couldn’t wait to get up in the morning and go.)
I would apply this same theory to retirement: there are people who know what they want to do in retirement (call them the lucky ones) and the rest of us (call us the unprepared ones who blindly assumed retirement would reveal itself when we got there).
My friend Paul, who recently retired, is one of the lucky ones. Paul is a prolific wood carver, specializing in water fowl. He is a consummate artist by anyone’s standards, and I am more than a bit jealous of the apparent ease with which he has embraced his retirement.
I, on the other hand, have yet to find my post-work passion, though not for lack of effort. Since exiting the workforce, I have tried to become a short story writer, taken a yearlong course in editing, cared for a man my age suffering from ALS, tutored middle school students, worked at my local food bank, and written for this publication. Though I have enjoyed all that I’ve tried, I’ve never found that all-consuming passion that I could devote myself to.
More than anything, retirement is an opportunity to hit the restart button and become the master of your destiny. If you’re like Paul, congratulations and best of luck. If you’re like me, let me suggest volunteering through an organization such as RSVP, which is connected to a virtual smorgasbord of vetted volunteering opportunities. And within their network, as with a smorgasbord, there is something for everyone to choose from.
You’ve been dreaming abstractly all your working life about retirement, and the last thing you want to admit to your friends when they ask you what you’re doing with yourself in retirement is “not much.” Rather, you’d like to rattle off an impressive list of volunteer programs in which you participate.
Volunteering is liberating, not constricting. Volunteering, like travel, is an opportunity to expand your horizons by experiencing new communities. Volunteering gets you out of the house to make new friends. Volunteering makes you feel good about yourself. Volunteering is an opportunity to help fulfill a need that’s not being met.
And, most of all, as in my case, volunteering is fun! It doesn’t hurt, you can do as much or as little as suits your schedule, and it gives you something to brag about to your friends. The best thing about retirement is that you have no boss other than yourself!
Every day is an opportunity for a fresh start, so GET STARTED!