Aging should be about more than just getting older. Yet, arriving at retirement age, whether you are actually retiring from a job or not, carries with it significant changes. While many people plan for the financial ramifications of retirement, far fewer contemplate what the change in circumstances will mean for their emotional and psychological well-being. Most people report feeling conflicted about the prospect of approaching this major transition. It is equal parts exhilarating and daunting. For some it is like waiting 50 years for Santa Claus to show up then having no idea what to put on their wish list. Their anticipation at having more time, and the freedom to spend it as they please, is balanced by the apprehension of not knowing exactly what they want to do with that time. There is clearly a difference between having the time and deriving meaning from it.
One thing for sure is that aging demands we change in order to stay the same. A healthy part of aging is indeed accepting that clinging to the idea of being the “same” is a flawed goal that carries with it more limitations than aspirations. Yet, the point is that, with aging, change is inevitable, and that fact must be embraced to navigate the evolution successfully. Consider Tom Brady and Lebron James, who have each continued to excel at historic levels in their respective sports long after most of their peers have retired or experienced a significant diminishment of their abilities. They have each achieved this, not by a dogged dedication to doing what they’ve always done, but rather by consciously and strategically altering how they prepare themselves to play. Their approach to training, eating, and recovering has all changed, so that their performance can stay the same, or remarkably, even improve.
One doesn’t have to be a world-class athlete for this principle to apply. Our bodies, minds, surroundings, and experiences are all in flux as we age, and if we’re seeking the same response or results we’re used to, we must change how we go about attaining them. Again, part of aging is accepting that the same results aren’t required to find the same fulfillment. That said, retirement age is often a period in which individuals are in the greatest search for answers yet find themselves presented with the most questions. While there are no easy answers, the following Five Pillars to Finding Fulfillment in Retirement provides a framework to help you pursue them.
While the themes discussed in the following material can be applied to nearly all individuals, how they impact each individual is very different. To gain a better understanding of how these principles can be incorporated into your own journey through the aging process please reach out to us at Inspired Counseling Solutions. Jeff and myself would be happy to help.
The first pillar to finding fulfillment in your retirement years is Purpose. Dan Buettner is an author and researcher who has spent extensive time studying areas in the world where the residents typically live much longer lives, often well over the age of 100. These specific regions, called Blue Zones, have certain common attributes regarding diet and physical activity levels that come as no surprise. There is, however, one consistent aspect of these geographic regions described by Dan Buettner that is not as readily associated with longevity. The concept is perhaps best reflected by those living in the Blue Zone of Okinawa, Japan which is said to have more centenarians living there than anywhere else in the world. The term they use for this concept is “Ikigai,” which translates into one’s “reason for being” or “reason to wake up in the morning.” The Okinawans are very deliberate about choosing, embracing, and pursuing their purpose. Whether that is being a caretaker for their grandchildren or devoting themselves to a martial art, they understand the reason why getting out of bed in the morning is important.
While most people can identify with and recognize the value of Ikigai, incorporating it into their own lives can be more challenging. Retirement often brings with it the need to reconcile that what once seemed like one’s purpose has come to a resolution. How then do you discover a new purpose or true purpose? That depends on who you ask. Dan Buettner says one’s purpose lies at the intersection of your values, what you like to do, and what you are good at. Entrepreneur Mark Cuban has famously said “Don’t follow your passion, follow your effort.”
The biggest barriers people encounter when discerning their purpose are expectations and indecision. Individuals often feel that if they are not compelled to find the cure for cancer, their intentions aren’t worthwhile enough. This contributes to having difficulty deciding to pursue one purpose over another. What Mark Cuban is recommending is to simply look at what you are already doing and enjoying with your time and you’ll have your answer. The reality is discovering purpose is a dynamic and evolving endeavor that is rarely defined and never fixed. The process is of as much value as the outcome. When reaching retirement age and you are entirely uncertain about which direction to go to develop a purpose, a great place to start is with challenging yourself to find at least one way to do two things each day. Learn and teach. No matter how big or small, or who you are learning from or teaching, if you aim to do those two things in some manner your purpose will present itself. Likely before you are even aware of it.
Some would say there is no substitute for having a soulmate to ride off into the sunset with. If you fall into this category then good for you, if not that’s okay too. Fortunately, having a soulmate is not a requirement to attain the benefits that are typically associated with this romanticized version of relationships. Actually, it is far more typical for people to enter retirement age without ever having found “the one,” or they may be in a long-term marriage that is contentious or even failing. It is also a common misconception that a strained relationship is going to automatically fix itself once you have more time to spend together in retirement. This is like hoping to lose weight by spending more time in a bakery. It’s not enough to expose a plant to more sunlight, you need to have the right soil and to water it consistently to nurture growth. This is where couples counseling with the aid of a capable professional can be invaluable. Having an experienced counselor as a guide can make the difference between toiling away in the same cycles of frustration versus benefiting from investing in the vitality and functionality of the relationship.
Increasing attention is being brought to the idea that pairing off isn’t for everyone, and what’s more, it’s not desired by everyone. Nevertheless, meaningful connection is integral to finding fulfillment, at any age. Countless studies have shown that for a child, having even just one other person in their lives, a trusted friend or invested teacher, can make the difference in overcoming the angst and adversity often encountered during their developmental years. It is no different for adults, regardless of relationship status or where one falls on the spectrum of introversion and extroversion. Most people find it enriching to have someone to share with. Whether that is sharing the experience of traveling out of the country for the first time or sharing the moment you have that first cup of coffee every morning. No question, there are plenty of things people find to be better together.
While individuals vary greatly in the value they place on socializing with others, most appreciate at least having the option to do so. Yet, when it comes to spending time with others, and maintaining relationships, it is natural to view things from the standpoint of how it can be advantageous to us. Many feel that they can get by just fine without having anyone to rely on. This may be true, but can they get by without having anyone rely on them? We all need help sometimes, but meaningful connections with others provide so much more. When others rely on us, we benefit as well. It doesn’t matter whether it is caring for a partner when they are sick or raking the leaves or bringing in the mail for a neighbor. It makes a difference to matter. This same principle has even been shown to be true for taking care of pets and plants. Simply put, we thrive on being useful.
Making your Purpose and People a priority in retirement age is the start to building a great foundation on which to achieve the joy and contentment that are often as elusive as they are desirable. Check back in for the forthcoming Part 2 of this article in which the final three pillars to finding fulfillment will be revealed. In the meantime, feel free to reach out to us at Inspired Counseling Solutions to discuss this information or how we can support you and your needs.
Buettner, D. (2012). The blue zones: 9 lessons for living longer from the people who’ve lived the longest (2nd ed.). Washington, D.C.: National Geographic.