Many in my hard-working generation are looking forward to the day they retire. The expectation is that many of us will just go with the flow, relax and do the things that we always wanted to do. However, it doesn't take long before one day resembles the next and you are developing habits that don't serve you well. Sometimes these bad habits are so subtle that the damage they cause happens before you even know it. Eventually you realize that because you have always been part of a high achieving generation, you will need much more purpose in life than you will get in a traditional retirement. When we were working and raising families, our life purpose was built-in. We knew what was expected of us and what we expected of ourselves. However, because we have 20 to 30 more years in retirement than our parents and grandparents did and we now have fewer obligations to others, we have to create a life based on our own personal interests, values, skills and passions.
How will you spend your time? What will give you the sense of purpose that has been built into every other stage of your life? Along with fewer obligations there is also less information readily available about what we call the internal shift, better known as an "inside job" that will occur in your life at this critical stage. There are no two people alike, so this transition requires a different kind of preparation that is not very concrete or well understood.
Discover your unique purpose and keep it clearly in mind when planning for your retirement. Consider all the possibilities that can enhance a dream retirement of work, leisure, volunteerism, travel, education, hobbies, and individual pursuits and imagine how each will contribute to fulfilling your purpose.
What gives your life meaning?
There are numerous ways that you can create a foundation of self-trust and open communication with yourself and your partner that will help you to move forward with more self-assurance. You should recognize that this might be the only time in your adult life that you have the freedom to focus on what you really want to do with the rest of your life. For the first time since you were young, obligations to others are a backdrop and you come first. This realization begins with how you want to "be" in your life. While we might sometimes want more and mourn the loss, it is a blessing that more and more of your work obligations and family responsibilities have come to a resting place. This change will allow you time to focus on your own personal development. This change takes on more importance and urgency as you no longer have a multitude of external factors driving your every decision on a daily basis.
The longings, ideas, questions and concerns regarding this movement towards retirement occur at several levels: internally which includes the feelings and thoughts about this stage and externally through planning and taking action.
In all of my training, I have learned that doing what you love is the cornerstone of a successful life. It is clear to me that teaching, counseling and life coaching are what I love to do. It really reflects my values, gives me purpose and brings me joy. It requires that I continue to learn, grow and challenge myself. These are important objectives that I know must be a part of my personal retirement plan.
So ask yourself: what is it that you love to do? What will get you up in the morning when you no longer have to be at the office by 8:00? If you are already retired, what gets you up and going now?
Living on purpose
When you are living "on purpose," you are consciously in touch with your talents, skills, gifts, strengths and values. Living with intention requires time for introspection, thoughtful reflection about your life and the ability to move forward using this knowledge. Once you are knowledgeable about these aspects of yourself, you are then ready to move into the decision-making process about where these parts of yourself can best be expressed. Is there a cultural problem, cause, new career, etc. that is calling you to exercise all of those countless gifts you possess? In Repacking Your Bags, R. Leider and D. Shapiro said it well. "Purpose is not a goal. A goal is something that can be reached. A purpose is never achieved. It exits before you and lives on after you are gone."
Finding your purpose
Having a purpose in life will give your life meaning no matter what life stage you are in. While doing this exploration, I have found life purpose in using my gifts of listening, empathy, compassion, resourcefulness and creativity. These gifts have allowed me to help people grow through self understanding and move forward to live healthier and more satisfying lives that are filled with purpose and meaning. What is your purpose?
Take the time to reflect on the following questions:
1. Sit quietly and reflect on your talents, strengths and skills. Write them down. Ask those you love and trust to reflect on what they experience with you and give you feedback about your gifts.
2. What issues, social challenges or causes in your environment, your life or the world stir passion and interest where you can use your gifts and talents discovered in #1?
3. Can you develop a plan that will be focused on implementing action towards this purpose?
4. What kind of support do you need to move forward?
5. How will you know that you are on the right journey for you?
In creating a purpose-filled retirement, remember that your retirement will be unique just as your goals, passion, and reason for being is unique. You may choose to incorporate some aspects of retirement living that your friends and family enjoy, but it is your purpose that should be the deciding factor.
Once you have discovered your passion, you can use this knowledge in a variety of ways. Use your time and structure your days so you are accomplishing your purpose instead of killing time, waiting for the next social activity or trip. Work part-time to advance a cause or be able to contribute to the charity of your choice. Express your sense of purpose and meaning in your life in useful ways instead of letting time slip by. Put your years of experience and knowledge to work pursuing your passion. You may no longer have a title and an office, but you have something more valuable: a clear purpose and the life skills to accomplish that purpose. Join with others who share your ideals. Volunteer, mentor, or teach.
Finding purpose gives life meaning and is the foundation of all successful retirements. Get help or take the time necessary to discover your unique purpose now. This will prepare you for a retirement where you are excited about each new day.