Finding Purpose in Retirement

This is a guest post by Robert, who lives in Calgary and worked as a financial adviser before retiring at age 35. He is married, has three kids and has returned to school with the goal of eventually living and working overseas.

My dad loves his work. He is a small business owner who works 60 hours a week and whose favourite place to spend his time is in the office. I think it’s pretty typical of successful small business owners, since they have to invest so much of their time and energy to make it successful. He will celebrate his 60th birthday next month and he’s starting to have thoughts of retirement. For him, retirement isn’t something to he anticipates, it’s something that can’t really be avoided. I think he’d work the rest of his life, if he could, but my mother doesn’t agree.

In a conversation yesterday, though, my mom admitted that she can’t really imagine what retirement would be like. How could they stop doing all the things they do now? How will they stay busy and feel like they’re doing things that are worthwhile? To me, it seemed a little humorous because my mom has never worked full time. She helps out at my fathers office a couple hours a week, but she still stays very busy. My wife and I don’t work, but we stay very busy. And we feel that the things we do make a meaningful contribution.

My mom referred to retirement as “the end”. It is certainly a transition. But it doesn’t have to be the end of doing things that are worthwhile. My mother spends a lot of time with her children and grandchildren. My wife is furthering her education by working on a Masters of Education degree. I have taken on volunteer projects with social advocacy groups that I think make a positive difference in my city. My father-in-law would like to spend more time taking friends hiking in the Rockies.

It seems to me that there’s a distinction between being happy and finding meaning. Being happy means meeting our own physical, social and emotional needs (see: Maslow’s hierarchy). It’s important to meet our own needs and be happy before we can effectively reach out to others. But finding meaning, for me, is when we work for the benefit of others, especially if it fits with our unique talents.

What will bring meaning to your retirement? If you didn’t spend your time at work, what would you spend it doing?

4 thoughts on “Finding Purpose in Retirement”

  1. I would happily spend 40+ hours a week volunteering. Once you find a cause/position that you really love you’ll look forward to it (almost) every day. (Yes it is ok to occasionally not want to get out of bed and honour a commitment, none of us are perfect.)

  2. I already have plenty of time to think about what it would be like in retirement (as in, in between contracts, benched), and I find that I keep pretty busy as is.

    Cooking from scratch, laundry, trying to find ways to live better (natural or otherwise), and my day disappears on me.

    Oh and blogging. I’ll probably end up doing this as a hobby until I die. πŸ™‚

    “Crochety Old Woman Blogs until Age of 100, then Croaks with fingers on keybaord”

  3. It does all depend on what meaning each person wants to achieve. Spending time with my children and travelling are likely to be on the top of my list, along with working towards writing some books for something to do.

    For retirement, and people who I talk to about retiring, I find that retiring is a 3-4 year process, and should be done slowly.

    Meaning if they want to retire, start out in year 1 by working only 4 days a week, year 2 3 days a week and so on. This will help people adjust to not working as much, while giving them some time to start finding other things to do with their spare time.

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