Advent Calendar – Dec 15th: FInding Purpose in Retirement

Often when you think you’re at the end of something, you’re at the beginning of something else.” – Fred Rogers

I retired from my career two years ago without a long-term plan. I had some very clear ideas about what I would be doing for the first year, but beyond that, plans were fuzzy. It did not worry me too much, because I am a little bit of a free-spirit who generally embraces opportunities when they present themselves and retirement offered me the flexibility to be more spontaneous.

Generally, most of us will spend approximately 30-40 years of our adult life at work, never having enough time to pursue or do more of the activities that interest us, or that we enjoy. According to Statistics Canada, the average age of retirement for Canadians today is 64 years old, and that is 4 years older than in the 1990s.

I was blessed to have had a career that brought me immense fulfillment, and I truly enjoyed what I did, and my work, everyday. My decision to retire was driven by two significant réalisations.

  1. I am a firm believer that we were put on this planet to discover its beauty, and connect with other humans around the world as part of our growth. While work offered me the opportunity for growth and connection with others, it tied my hands in terms of pursuing other activities on my own time. I had reached the mark where I qualified for the benefits of my retirement plan and I wanted to use the rest of my life exploring all that life had to offer.
  1. I was becoming less able to adapt to the changing work environment and the effort it demanded of me. I did not like that I was feeling more tired, and stressed and impatient, and frustrated by workplace events and felt it was time to walk away from the increasing negativity it brought in my life.

For many, retirement is a time for personal growth, which becomes the path to greater freedom.” – Robert Delamontague

So no plan, just a strong conviction that it was time and excitement at all the opportunities before me. For the first year, that worked well enough. But after moving, travelling then settling into a new home, the reality of retirement struck me. How would I fill my days?

Having the freedom to fill ones time in a somewhat productive way brings about some pressure. We work all our lives so we can retire – so we can do what we want with our time, and there is some apprehension that how we define or spend our time will define who we are and what we value.”

Feeling Lost

For me, it took a while to recalibrate to a new schedule and decide what meaningful project or entreprise I would devote my free time towards. For some, the change is very easy, and they quickly plunge into activities that fill their days, and gets them up in the morning and out the door.

Many retirees will volunteer, or find another small paying job that offers fulfillment and a sense of contribution.

Others devote time to their favourite hobbies and leisure activities, joining social groups or setting aside time each day for golfing, cycling, crafts, yoga, playing cards or billards etc.

“Retirement, a time to do what you want to do, when you want to do it, where you want to do it and how you want to do it,” – Catherine Pulsifer

I wanted to do it all. I wanted to get healthy, I wanted more dates with my husband, I wanted to be of service to my family, I wanted to take up old hobbies, I wanted to volunteer and of course I wanted to travel. I ended up standing in place, overwhelmed by all the options, and being somewhat paralyzed by indecision.

This happens more often than we think and psychologists will reassure us, that retirement is a good time to sit back, and reflect on what we enjoy doing before jumping into something that might not really be the right fit. Retirement is a good time to stretch out, and find our potential.

There’s an emotional process that most people go through when adjusting to retirement, and as the novelty wears off, you will settle into a slower lifestyle. There might even be a stage that involves a lot of, “Oh, no! What did I do?” thoughts, followed by anxiety and boredom. You might even feel guilty for not enjoying retirement as much as you think you should.


My advice? Forget about doing something that others expect you to do. Retirement is a time for you to finally occupy your time doing what makes you happy. If volunteering is not right for you, then don’t do it because its what others are doing. Ask yourself what do you really enjoy doing and can’t do enough of it?

Perhaps start small. Schedule a few regular activities, perhaps something you do once a week, or once a month. Gradually, build your life around those key pursuits. Start with the monthly hair appointment and other personal grooming routines, that should be kept up and any other appointment that has to be respected.

It will likely take a fair amount of experimenting to help you find just the right balance of how you want to spend your time. The joy of retirement is that its up to you to design the type of day—and kind of life—that you want to live.

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