When my adult children were in town for their dad’s Celebration of Life service, they planned my future. Behind my back. They encouraged me to take an early retirement and get back into speaking and writing. And they presented three options that would allow me to do so.
The thing is, a significant part of my purpose died along with my husband. We were doing some meaningful things together. And now it seemed too late.
Sometimes our life’s purpose is etched into our work. Our places of employment provide us with social interaction, and our jobs make a difference in the lives of the people we serve—our students, our clients, our patients, our passengers.
My niece, Heidi, spoke at a recent TEDx event in Sacramento. She works for a non-profit that advocates for families of adopted and foster children, and toward the end of her presentation, Heidi challenged the audience: “If you’re not able to foster or adopt, then what’s in your hands? How can you use it to support and encourage the families who are on the frontlines of caring for vulnerable children?”
Heidi illustrated this with the example of her sister, Angie, who loves to cook and regularly delivers a hand-crafted meal to a family with foster kids.
If we’ve reached retirement age, or life’s circumstances have arranged a later-in-life change for us, how do we find new purpose? How do we fill our days with meaningful activity?
Perhaps it begins with the question, “What’s in your hands?”
1. Draft a List
Draft a list of what you’ve always wanted to do but didn’t have the time or energy to before retirement. How have you wanted to use your unique combination of skills, interests, and life experiences? Listen to second graders read through the SMART Reading Program? Drive cancer patients to treatments? Do you have a heart for the homeless? Before my husband died of cancer, he volunteered at a homeless shelter. We started inviting the residents on our hikes and snowshoe treks and built some pretty cool relationships along the trails.
Where have you wanted to travel or explore? My niece, Bre, is an occupational therapist. She’s traveling to a developing country this summer with a crew of doctors, dentists, and nurses from her church. She’s the only OT on the team, but how important is rehab work in complementing medical work?
What hobbies or interests light you up? What do you have a natural gift for that could be turned into volunteer work or a blessing to others? Baking? Teaching piano? Helping a teen refurbish a classic car?
2. Determine the First Steps
Determine the first steps that will point you in the right direction. If you want to finish your degree, maybe the first step is to navigate to the university website to verify the process and requirements.
Do you love to grow veggies? Could you contact city hall to learn if there’s a plot of land available for a community garden, and could you help get the project off the ground? (No pun intended.) Or are there shut-ins in your area who would love to receive Mason jars full of the lovely blossoms you grow in your yard?
3. Recruit a Mentor or Advisor(s)
Recruit a mentor or advisor(s). If you’d like to share your craft skills with pre-school-aged children, then a mentor isn’t as crucial as if you’re considering selling everything and moving to Tahiti to open a surfboard-decorating business.
Before you do something impulsive, seek the advice of people who know you well, people who understand your passions and are rooting for your success.
4. Step Outside Your Comfort Zone
Step outside of your comfort zone. After you’ve decided what you’d like to accomplish and how you want to spend some of your remaining days on earth, and after you’ve determined how to get there, the next action item is simple: Get off the couch with all the grit and grace you can muster.
As it turned out, I selected one of the early-retirement options my adult children presented shortly after their father’s Celebration of Life service. It required a move away from the familiar, but also allowed me to write full-time.
After several months, God returned me to central Oregon, the place that felt most like home. I met Dan at a time when I was pretty sure I didn’t want to remarry. God just chuckled and went about His matchmaking business anyway.
And now Dan and I have a new life together, and new team ministry, and there are more people—in the shape of his relatives and friends and church family—to care for.
Speaking from experience, we can come to love our new purpose after retirement just as much as the old purpose we didn’t want to lose.
What would it look like if you got off the couch and, with this one precious life God has entrusted to you, begin operating from that new awareness?
Maybe it would look like joy and a sense of purpose returning.
In this podcast episode, Marlys talks more about how to regroup when your life suddenly changes: Your World Just Turned Upside Down—What Now? with Marlys Johnson Lawry – 197