Imagine knowing that you could have 20-30 years or more ahead of you once you retire from your career. After devoting a good portion of your life to your career, you might be looking forward to kicking back and relaxing for a while. However, a life of leisure can get old pretty fast. Within less than two years, most people become bored when they don’t have any sense of direction.
My guess is that you don’t want to spend up to half of your available leisure time for the rest of your life sitting in a recliner and watching television. Yet a 2019 Pew Research Study found that on average, older adults 60+ were doing just that—following the path of least resistance and whiling away the hours in front of a screen. Once this lifestyle becomes a habit, motivation to do anything different will drop. In addition, if we don’t resist this path, our overall health and well-being will likely be affected.
Taking time to consider what we really want our lives to “look like” and what will give our lives meaning in the years ahead is an important part of planning for life after a career. According to various research findings, having a sense of purpose or meaning can add years to our lives. To get started, it can be very helpful to do some reflection before looking ahead. Here are some basic questions to consider:
- When do you feel your happiest or most positive? What are you doing? Describe where you are and if others are involved:
- What types of activities energize you? What kinds of activities drain you?
- What are some creative, physical, social, or mentally stimulating activities that you’re curious about or might want to explore?
- What are some ways you can cultivate or maintain a positive attitude towards aging?
- What do you currently believe are some of the most important priorities or activities you want to focus on during your retirement years?
- Who are the people most important to you?
- Are you confident that you are financially prepared to live the kind of life you might want in retirement?
- Do you think you will want to or need to earn income during your retirement years?
- What do you believe will give you a sense of purpose or meaning in retirement?
Some of these questions will take time to answer—especially if you do some serious reflecting. The last question is related to the first eight questions. This question is one that may take more time than the others but is very important for those who want to live their best lives after they leave the workplace.
Living with Purpose
Finding purpose or meaning doesn’t have to involve a new devotion to some greater cause such as starting a nonprofit to help people who desperately need help. (Though certainly, some individuals know that such work is part of their true purpose). Rather, your purpose is something that brings you joy and allows you to use your experiences and gifts in ways that are right for you. For some, spending time with loved ones and friends gives their lives a sense of meaning. For others, taking care of a pet or pursuing life-long learning gives their lives a sense of purpose or meaning.
What I find interesting about having a sense of purpose is that even when circumstances change, our basic sense of meaning for our lives doesn’t have to change—it just might take different forms. For example, before I retired, I felt that teaching had given me a sense of purpose. After I retired, I started learning about positive aging and then wanted to share what I was learning with others. Now, instead of teaching in a classroom, I primarily share what I am learning through writing and speaking. I also value supporting those I love and care about—finding new ways to do this also gives me a sense of purpose.
Give yourself some time to figure out what you want to do with the years you have ahead. Take time to get reacquainted with who you are, your values, and what really matters to you. It’s okay to try out different interests and explore what feels right to you. When you do figure it out, your life will likely feel authentic- like it reflects the real you.