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Plan for a purposeful retirement.

The trouble with steady, full-time jobs for over 40 years or more is that we become associated with our job. We know as much about our fellow workers’ families as we do about our own. We make friends at work, learn skills at work, receive enjoyment and self-esteem at work – and for many of us, work consumes the greater portion of us – our time, our energy, our thoughts and our physical presence.

When we retire, we have a problem because all of that is suddenly taken away from us.

During your working days people ask “What do you do? After retirement, they ask “What did you do?”

Retirement is not as much an end as it is a beginning to a new stage in life where your increased freedom allows you to more fully examine your life purpose and to explore new fields of involvement.

People who retire, die sooner. It’s a fact. Researchers looked at employees of a global oil company who retired early at 55 and those who retired at the traditional 65. The early retirees were 89% more likely to die within the 10 years after retirement than those who retired at 65.

I would wager that most of those who survive longer are those who plan ahead, and have something to retire to – whether it is part-time consulting, a new business, an extensive travel itinerary or a volunteer position with a non-profit organization.

When you retire from a job; you should never retire from making contributions, whether through volunteering, mentoring or helping others in some other way.

The first two thirds of our lives, for the most part, have been a time and getting. Getting a job, getting possessions, getting a house, getting a family, getting new friends and new adventures. The final third of our lives needs to be primarily a time for giving. Giving our time, energy, financial resources, skills and talents.

Do something that will give you a reason to get out of the bed in the morning – something that will give purpose to your retirement. As Winston Churchill is quoted as saying, “We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give. “It’s important to be actively serving others for your own mental, emotional and spiritual health and well-being.

It has been proven that when people feel they are making a difference, they are happier. Through MRI technology, researchers have discovered that giving activates the same parts of the brain that are stimulated by food and sex. Helping others can make us healthier, happier, and more productive, more fulfilled and even increase our longevity.

A study published by BMC Public health concluded that taking time to volunteer could reduce early mortality rates by 22% compared to those who do not volunteer.

Retirement gives you the opportunity to focus on things that are really important.

If you have already retired, it’s still not too late to plan your future. But you must stay alive by participating in life. You are never old until you start spending more time on past memories than on future goals.

The trouble with having nothing to do is that you never know when you’re done. And if your job is doing nothing, how can you ever take a day off? Activity is one of the keys to longevity.

Finally, don’t become obsessed with the idea of being remembered. Some people seem to seek immortality by having something named after them, whether it is a building, scholarship, park bench or whatever. The people who really matter to you will never forget you. The people who do forget you are not the people who matter to you.

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Time is the currency of life.

Don’t make your job your whole life. If you become too focused on picking the fruit you may miss the flowers that are there as well. Always keeping busy at your work not only keeps you from working smart, it keeps you from fully enjoying life.  Participating in other things and enjoy what life itself has to offer. There is an old anonymous saying, “The work will wait while you show a child the rainbow; but the rainbow won’t wait until you do the work.”

You are not what you do. If you believe you are what you do, when you don’t, you aren’t. Someday you will no longer be able to do what you do now – either due to retirement, infirmity or whatever. Everyone should love their job; but not to the extent that they are unable to find happiness doing anything else.

Life doesn’t really begin at 40 any more than it ends at 65. I think as an octogenarian I am qualified to say this – at least as a personal observation. One thing I have observed is that some retirees adjust poorly to their new environment and lifestyle. And I believe that the reason that many of them do poorly when facing major changes such as retirement, moving to the country or taking up residence in a senior’s home is that they are unable or reluctant to change the way they use their time. They are too firmly entrenched in the work – sleep – work cycle. And when the work is gone, what is left to replace it?

For example, when I moved from a condo in the city of Toronto to an apartment in the small town of Sussex, New Brunswick, I didn’t expect I would be enjoying stage plays or attending the same church or taking the subway to an underground shopping mall or golfing with my best friend or taking in the odd afternoon movie. If I did, I would be miserable; because none of those things are readily available to me – not the same neighbours or same friends or the familiar coffee shop where I spent a lot of time or one of my sons who had lived just a few miles away.

But within a year, I had made new friends, participated regularly in new activities, joined a new church, volunteered in different organizations, and have a different favorite coffee shop where I do the biggest chunk of my writing.

You must be willing to change the way you use your time – not on worse things, just on different things. True happiness does not come from the things you do or the people you meet or where you live. True happiness comes from within, not from specific things that you may have spent your life doing.

It’s easier to get involved in other things after retirement if you’ve being more flexible with your use of time during your working years. I started my career as a workaholic – dedicated fully to my job to the detriment of my family life and social life. Books I read, workshops I attended, trips I took – all revolved around the career I was committed to at the time.

Perhaps it was the broken marriage, the bleeding ulcers and the failing part-time business that first got my attention – and prompted some major changes in my mindset.

That resulted in my lifetime purpose – my calling – to help others manage their time and their lives. But more important, it introduced me to the real source of joy – the happiness within – the one who does the calling – God Himself.

It didn’t take me a year to feel comfortable in my new surroundings. My faith is the source of my strength, my lifestyle and my attitude as well as my purpose in life. I believe we are all created for a purpose and it’s up to us to discover it. The bible tells us that we are “created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” It’s difficult to discover our purpose by keeping our nose to the grindstone, working from dawn to dusk. That would only give us a flat nose.

We must explore life on a daily basis, open our minds and hearts to relationships, nature, hobbies and other outside interests as well as our spirituality.

Don’t spend all your time on one activity until the day you retire. Time is the currency of life. Spend it wisely.