Today I went to the emergency room. A pleasant, early evening bike ride quickly turned bad when a little girl on a shiny pink bike suddenly veered into my path. Forced to make a split second decision, my option to dive into the bushes rather than collide head on with the tyke, left me with a bruised ego and a broken arm. Consoling myself with the notion that sacrificing my well being for hers was a noble act, kept me distracted me for a little while. However, that warm fuzzy feeling began to dissipate as a dull ache proceeded to spread up my arm. After five hours in the emergency room, I emerged with a bright purple forearm cast and strict instructions to stay off my bike (and pretty much everything else) for the next six weeks. Definitely not how I had intended to spend the first weeks of summer!
So, why am I writing about this on my retirement blog? True, it’s not directly about retirement. However, my visit to the hospital brought home for me a point that I’m constantly putting forward to my clients. In my retirement coaching practice, I urge retirees to find meaningful activities to fill their time. So often, people miss the point, and strive to simply fill their days. Of course, filling your day with activities for the sake of being busy is a vastly different thing than filling your days with things that provide meaning and a sense of accomplishment.
During my long wait in emergency, x-ray and the fracture clinic, I had ample opportunity to observe the goings-on of a major hospital trauma centre. Pretty much everybody there was experiencing some sort of distress. Patients were dealing with pain, anxiety and fear over their injuries and illness, and family members were struggling with anxiety and concern for their loved ones. Tempers run short and anxiety runs high in these situations…especially when the wait is long. Hospital staff worked hard to see patients as quickly as they could, offered ice and other assistance as needed during the waiting period. However, it soon became clear to me that the quick smiles and ready offers of assistance from the army of volunteers made a huge difference for many. What struck me most was that the vast majority of these volunteers were retirees.
The work that these volunteers were doing falls squarely into what I call “purposeful activity”. It’s the kind of activity that offers a service to others and provides them with a great feeling of satisfaction. Each and every retiree that was volunteering during my hospital visit was friendly and more than willing to offer a helping hand. My personal favourite was the gentleman who saw me struggling to get my credit card into the parking machine. After dropping it twice, he politely asked if I needed assistance. While my first instinct was to say no because of my desire to be independent, I saw how much this man wanted to help me. With my aching dominant hand all wrapped up in my pristine purple cast, I reconsidered and accepted his offer. Just like that, he made my day. I got help and a smile. It was a genuinely lovely interaction at the end of a long, uncomfortable day at the hospital. Now that’s what I call purposeful activity!