By Bev Bachel
Over the past few months, I’ve been asking people 50+ a simple question: How do you find purpose in retirement? Here are a handful of their answers:
“I’m spreading the word about phone scams so other people don’t lose their money the way I did.”
“Caring for my wife. She just had a stroke.”
“Fighting against pharma greed so people can afford their prescriptions.”
“I’m developing a program that benefits both kids and older adults.”
“Sharing my mental health journey to help de-stigmatize the issue.”
“Making my community better for all who live here.”
These are just a handful of the purpose statements I’ve heard from family, friends and colleagues over the past few weeks.
How will you answer the question: Where do you find purpose in retirement?
Why purpose matters
A purpose statement is like a mission statement for your life. It’s at the very core of who you are and what currently gives your life meaning. It sums up your reason for being.
Richard Leider, author of The Power of Purpose: Find Meaning, Live Longer, Better, defines purpose as “the reason you get up in the morning” and “the way you contribute value to the world.”
He also says that purpose is the path to happiness. And that’s not all: Research shows that people with a purpose live longer and enjoy a richer quality of life and better physical and mental health.
Busyness does not equal purpose
Some people believe that if you’re busy, you’re doing something purposeful and worthwhile. Speaker and author Helen Dennis disagrees. “Busy in itself isn’t the key,” she said in a recent episode of The Retirement Wisdom podcast. “You can be neurotically busy and terribly unfulfilled,” says Dennis.
Instead, the goal is to be busy with purposeful activities. When we’re working in a career, purpose is typically defined by our job. But once we retire, questions begin to surface:
- Who am I without my job?
- What gives my life meaning?
- How can I make a difference?
- Why am I on this planet?
If you haven’t pondered these questions prior to retiring, discovering your purpose may require some serious exploration. And even if you feel you have identified your purpose, it’s likely to continue to evolve as you grow and change.
For instance, you may start out focused on taking better care of your physical health (yes, that can be a worthwhile purpose) then evolve to a more other-directed purpose such as taking care of a loved one. Or, the opposite may happen. You may start out volunteering all your extra time to a favorite nonprofit then gravitate to staying at home with your grandkids.
According to Dennis, purpose is self-defined and one purpose is not inherently any better than another.
How do I find mine?
No matter your age, it’s never too late to identify your purpose. That is, of course, good news to all of us who may feel we are losing or have even lost our purpose as we leave our jobs and enter retirement.
But just because we’re no longer employed, doesn’t mean we have to retreat or withdraw. Instead, we can seek out new ways to make our lives more meaningful—to ourselves and those we care about.
To identify your purpose, try completing this formula I learned from Leider years ago:
Gifts (the things you are good at)
+ Passions (the things you love)
+ Values (the things that motivate you)
= Your purpose
You may also want to take Dennis’ advice and meet with people who seem to have a “purposeful drive.” “Talk to them as if you are doing an informational interview,” says Dennis. “Find out what their purpose is and how they arrived at it. Ask questions.”
Add a paycheck
Many people who crave purpose also desire—and perhaps even require—a paycheck. I’m one of them. Perhaps you are, too. If so, you may want to read Purpose and a Paycheck: Finding Meaning, Money and Happiness in the Second Half of Life or listen to this Retirement Wisdom interview with Chris Farrell.
In both the book and the interview, Farrell, Next Avenue contributor and Marketplace senior economics contributor, tells compelling stories of how older entrepreneurs and part-time workers are fueling our economy … and making career changes with greater purpose and meaning top of mind.
Not only does doing so make us happier and more fulfilled, it enables us to work longer if we choose, something Farrell says will only be possible if—when we get up in the morning and put our feet on the ground—we actually want to be going the work.
I know I, do. And I imagine you do as well. So let’s support one another in identifying our purpose and finding meaningful work that truly will make a difference, in our lives and the lives of others.
Bev Bachel is a freelance writer and editor, and the author of What Do You Really Want? How to Set a Goal and Go for It. A lifelong goal-setter, she’s tapped into the power of goal-setting to mentor teens, lend a helping hand to her neighbors and make a difference in her community. One of her purpose-filled goals? To visit her 93-year-old aunt each week.
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