I attended a funeral this week. The gentleman who passed away was 96 years old and by all accounts enjoyed a long and happy life. While the sadness at his passing was palpable in the room, I came away with a newfound admiration for this man after listening to the eulogy delivered by his sons.
In my retirement coaching practice, one of the most common worries expressed by my clients is their fear of being bored and feeling they will be of little value in their retirement. For sure, some continue to live very full lives and know exactly how they will spend their foreseeable future. However, the loss of status and the ensuing social isolation that often comes with retirement continues to plague many long after they cease working.
Study after study shows us that those with a purpose do better in all stages of life. These people express deep satisfaction with their life because they engage in activities that provide meaning and fulfillment as opposed to ones that just fill time. We are all unique and we will each have different activities that satisfy our need to be purposeful. For some, it is spending time with family, or it may be travelling and discovering the world. And for others, continuing to volunteer or work in some capacity is what drives them. Clearly, those who report the greatest satisfaction in their lives are the ones that get something from the activities that they choose. Frequently those activities are charitable in nature, where the volunteer feels a sense of pride and accomplishment in helping others. The ones who struggle are those who have yet to land on activities that provide that wonderful feeling of satisfaction.
So my recently deceased 96-year-old friend spent almost as many years in retirement as he did in his formal career. He retired at 65 from an illustrious career in the financial industry. Not one to sit idle, he embarked on a series of trips that had been sitting on his bucket list for a long time. Once the travel bug was satiated, he accepted a 2 year consulting contract position on a Caribbean island. Not only did this satisfy his travel urge, but it provided a welcome source of income, and his desire to continue to do meaningful work. When that ended he did some pro bono work for aboriginal groups. Now into his 70’s, he was feeling the urge to spend more quality time with his large extended family. He purchased a summer cottage where he hosted many family events and was able to satisfy his life long love of the outdoors and embrace his inner “Mr.Fix-it”.
His sons regaled us with tale after tale of how their father joined service groups, sang in choirs, and even earned how to play a variety of instruments. I marvelled at how this man was able to live his retirement years with joy and deep satisfaction. My favourite image was one in which his son said that at the age 86 his father was frustrated that his alarm clock had quit working. When it was suggested to him that at his age he shouldn’t be jumping at the sound of an alarm clock anymore, he fired back that the ladies in his bride club would be extremely disappointed in him if he showed up late! I love the image of a life so filled with meaningful activities that missing any of it due to a broken alarm clock could indeed be a catastrophe.
I came away with deep respect for a life well lived with both purpose and pleasure. This is the goal that I hold for my clients entering retirement. The secret lies in discovering the activities that provide a sense of self worth, nourish the soul, and perhaps most of all, provide happiness. This gentleman found a compelling reason to get out of bed everyday for 96 years. Do you have a compelling reason to keep your alarm clock? What will it take to get you to leap out of bed in your retirement?