By Joe Casey
On my mini-vacation last week, I read two books – one fiction and one non-fiction. To my surprise, I encountered the same quotation in both books:
“The three components of happiness are something to do, someone to love and something to look forward to.”
The universe was trying to tell me something. (It gets rather insistent if it notices I’m not listening).
The quote is an excellent summary of the recipe for a satisfying retirement. If you have your health and financial independence, these three are the next critical ingredients.
Something to do is an interesting one in the phase of life that follows your primary career. At first glance, some find it easy to dismiss. “I’ll just play golf or travel or shop. Done.” But that gives it short shrift. The key to happiness is not just something to do, but something meaningful to do. It’s not about filling the time, but doing (some) things that matter.
Retirement presents challenges and opportunities when it comes to purpose. Discovering your purpose sounds lofty and more than a little self-absorbed. Most of us aren’t used to spending much time navel-gazing and pondering our purpose in life. You might do that in college, briefly, while taking a philosophy course, but for many people life takes over. Your purpose tends to get clarified pretty quickly once you enter the workforce and/or start to raise a family.
When the merry-go-round pauses for a bit when you decide to retire, the question of purpose may re-appear. It may not be a burning question right out of the gate, but, if you pay attention, you’ll find it gurgling just beneath the surface. What’s my purpose now?
I’ve never asked anyone what their purpose is. Observing how they spend their time will tell me. Our roles in life, personally and professionally, define our purpose. As life goes on, there’s value in thinking about our roles, how they are changing and what we’d like them to be in the future.
Some roles are not forever. Some dramatically change while others evolve. If you’re a parent, maybe your role has morphed into parenting adult children, which comes with different joys and challenges. Or perhaps you have a new role after becoming a grandparent. At work, maybe your role includes more development of the next generation of leaders and you’re spending more time mentoring. For many, new roles are created through community involvement. What I notice is these new roles tend to be all about helping others in some way. The late Wayne Dyer captured the essence of this part of life as a transformation from shifting your focus from success to significance.
What often happens when people transition to retirement is that, after a while, they feel a little lost and adrift. A sense of purpose is a powerful force. When a big role in your life changes, that sense of purpose can go with it. In my experience, the best solution is to look at your roles.
Just as earlier in life, our roles and our purpose are intertwined. The good news is that, in planning for retirement, you get another shot at creating some new roles. With some thought and reflection, you can re-invent some of your roles, re-ignite your sense of purpose and re-engage with something very meaningful to do.
Dyer, W. (2010). The shift: taking your life from ambition to meaning. Carlsbad, California: Hay House.
Livingston, G. (2009). Too soon old, too late smart: Thirty true things you need to know now. Boston: Da Capo Press.
Thor, B. (2017). Use of force. New York: Atria/Emily Bestler Books.