Having a regular job is supposed to give us a sense of purpose—something that motivates us to get up each morning. Retirement literature suggests that once we leave the workplace, many of us will end up struggling to find meaning in our lives. Motivational writers and speakers might tell us that each of us must find our purpose, our meaning in life—especially after retirement—if we want to be happy and fulfilled.
It has been nearly a year (11 months and one week) since I officially ‘retired’ from my full-time teaching career. I loved teaching and did feel it gave me a sense of purpose, but I do not regret leaving my career for even a moment. I can honestly tell you that I’ve enjoyed this past year more than any I can remember in years. No, my husband and I didn’t take exciting trips to exotic places, we didn’t move into a new home, we didn’t win the lottery, and I didn’t scratch off any big items on my ‘bucket list.’ Instead, I have been discovering new meaning in what I had once considered nothing more than ordinary moments.
Meaning and Purpose
Because I no longer have a tight schedule to keep—classes to teach, meetings to attend, and unending papers to grade—I have the freedom to ‘live in the moment’ when appropriate. As an example, when I was taking a walk in my community yesterday, I saw one of my older neighbors working in his yard. We waved at each other. Then he stopped what he was doing and came over to talk with me. After some pleasantries, my neighbor started talking about a special dog he had loved until her last breath. Apparently, he had buried his beloved dog in his backyard over a year ago, but he wanted to tell someone, anyone who would listen, that he still missed her and was sad that she was gone. I listened as he talked. Then he nodded and thanked me for listening. As I continued on my way, I thought about some of the things that give life meaning.
Because I no longer have to rush out the door each morning with a handful of nuts or a piece of fruit to eat on the way to work, I have a new sense of awareness. I can see things that were once hidden from me. I now have the presence of mind to recognize that there are opportunities to discover meaning and purpose in ordinary moments every day.