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Finding a Purpose in Retirement

Category: Retirement Planning

By Craig Blouin
April 13, 2018 — The warm, inviting glow of retirement on the horizon motivated me as I moved toward it during my last years in the workaday world. I’d put a good many miles on the roadway of life up to this point and now there was a sweeping curve up ahead. I sure wanted to have a look at what was around the other side.

Those last few miles seemed to take an inordinately long time to get through. But then I was there, the promised land: Retirement! After a rousing send-off by my work colleagues — either sad or delighted to see me go — finally it’s the first day of the rest of my life. Great! … So now what?

I’m not usually a goal-oriented sort of person, even though many years ago I’d attended a Covey Institute intensive workshop at the Sundance
resort on implementing Stephen Covey’s Seven Habits of Highly Successful People. Maybe it was from that experience that I got the idea that it would be helpful to compose a Purpose Statement to provide some direction on maximizing my future.  

But, I pondered, isn’t it a bit late in life to be coming up with a purpose? After all, I’ve gotten to this point without a Purpose Statement so why bother coming up with one now? Why not just chill out and let things happen one day at a time? My anticipation of Life After Work was that I’d have lots and lots of time on my hands during a future of indeterminate length. But you never know! As a two-time survivor of cancer the uncertain aspect of the future is a bit more of a realistic possibility.

Worried about the transition
Most of the retired folks I was familiar with were enjoying the laid back freedom that retirement offers, but I’d heard a few too many tales of recently retired folks having difficulty with the transition from work to the golden years. The message was that the momentum of a career can cause one to crash. Losing the structure a job provides has the potential to shake the foundation of one’s sense of self-worth. I was interested in building an earthquake-safe foundation.

My gut feeling told me that I didn’t just want to hang out for the rest of my life. I didn’t want to just sit back and let things happen to me. On the other hand, if things got really boring, the prospect of going back to work wasn’t appealing, although I understood how a post-retirement job can be a godsend for many. But I wanted to do all that I could to make the most of this gift of time I’d just received.

Writing from the Promised Land
So, during the first couple of weeks in the promised land, when I wasn’t reveling in the pleasure of sleeping late, taking in a movie matinee, tossing junk mail ads for hearing aids into the trash, etc. I put together a statement of purpose that truly resonated for me. It took a few days of intermittent labor to put it together and polish it up, but it was time well invested. Now, six years out from that first day of retirement, it resonates still:

I’ll live my life with spirit, wonder and gratitude.
There’s plenty of time to learn new things and explore new realms;
Plenty of occasion to reminisce, reflect and celebrate;
Plenty of time to share the knowledge, skills and wisdom I’ve gained up
until today.

I’m humbled that I’ve arrived in good shape at this point in my life and I want to live an active life sprinkled with awe — so that’s how I start things off. If you’re drafting a Purpose Statement you might take a different approach: maybe you’re coming off some hard times and you’re looking forward to a sedentary life with few surprises. That’s fine. Get it down in writing. Maybe your health hasn’t been so good and you want to build some healthy habits. That’s fine. Get it down in writing. When you identify what you’re really looking forward to and put it down on paper, you validate it for yourself.

The rest of my statement deals with things that I want to do to help me to make that first sentence happen, to make those preliminary qualities – spirit, wonder and gratitude – become a genuine, live and kicking part of my life. It identifies activities that promote those qualities: learning, exploring, reminiscing, reflecting, celebrating.

That last phrase – “up until today” – adds the kicker that I’m not looking only to memories of my past to fuel me, but I’m still doing nifty, important stuff right now; that I’m living in the present. I don’t want to live in the past. I want to be here in the moment and pass along whatever knowledge and wisdom I may have accumulated over the years.

Six years later
Now I’m about six years into retirement, six years into living this Purpose. The Statement is short enough that I know it by heart, but it’s not a mantra that I repeat consciously or subconsciously. Every now and again, particularly during the morning practice routine I initiated after my first cancer diagnosis, I’ll think to repeat the Purpose Statement. As I get our car tuned up every few thousand miles, so do I check my purpose every now and again.

Occasionally I find that I’m a little out of tune and could pay more attention to, say, the “learn new things” part or maybe consciously set aside some time “to reminisce and reflect” (“celebrate” hasn’t needed much work). The statement is something I refer to, not obsess about. Note that there aren’t any “shoulds” in the statement. If I’m coming up short in some aspect, I’m not going to beat myself up. The statement is a guide, not gospel.

This is a good spot to acknowledge another of my guides, my wife. She inspires me each and every day and motivates me to make my Purpose Statement a living document. However, she is its antithesis: she has absolutely no interest whatsoever in composing one of her own, thank you very much. Retired too, she’s thriving right along with me, living proof that a Purpose Statement is optional.

What I’ve been doing
Now let me share some of the things I’ve done during the past few years, things that just so happen (or not?) align me with my Purpose Statement:
• Moved from rural New Hampshire to the City of Salt Lake
• Made a lot of wonderful new friends
• Season pass holder at Alta, still learning how to ski powder
• Completed my visits to all 50 states with a trip to Hawaii
• Co-facilitate a prostate cancer support group
• Traveled to Nova Scotia with my sister to visit our older brother, newly diagnosed with dementia, while we could still communicate
• Took a winter camping excursion to Arizona to visit my sister
• Took a northern route to visit family and friends in New England and a southern route back to Utah: 3 weeks, 29 states, 8,500 miles
• Volunteer with an organization that focuses on a practical approach to addressing climate change.
• Volunteered to help with a Congressional candidate’s campaign
• Hiked a lot
• Had a bang-up 69th birthday party
• Continued my daily sitting, yoga and exercise practice begun with my first cancer diagnosis in 2001
• Season ticket holder to an alternative theater company
• Volunteer for the Sundance Film Festival
• Volunteer for the bicycle Tour of Utah
• Supported my wife and son as they trained for, then ran the ’16 Boston Marathon
• Broke a bunch of ribs in a road biking accident
• Hosted an out-West reunion of back-east college friends
• Visited 17 National Parks, from Acadia to Zion, from Maine to Hawaii
• Read the Book of Mormon and saw the play
• Attended my 50th high school reunion
• Wrote a magazine article

But there’s a lot more to look forward to!

Looking around the curve
With retirement the tendency is to look in the rear view mirror, assuming that things are behind you. It’s definitely smart to glance at the mirror occasionally, but that’s risky when you’re still headed forward down the road. Instead, take a little bit of time as you head into the retirement curve to put together a Purpose Statement – it can be a wonderful assist in helping to keep you moving in a direction that’s enjoyable and fulfilling.

Comments? Do you have a purpose statement for retirement you could share with us? Please share your thoughts in the Comments section below.

About Craig Blouin
After a varied career in the arts, corporate and non-profit sectors Craig Blouin retired from New England to Utah — and is adjusting well. He has been active in environmental, social and political issues throughout his life.

Craig was kind enough to want to share his experiences with Topretirements – thanks! If you would like to contact him please use the Contact Us link on Topretirements.com and we will connect you.

For further reading:
Retirement Planning articles at Topretirements.com



Posted by Admin on April 12th, 2018

9 Comments »

  1. Craig, you inspire me. I’m totally stealing your Purpose Statement! It’s great!

    by Barbara Peter — April 18, 2018

  2. Inspiring! I think it is good to list accomplishments, something I often forget once I’ve completed them. Maybe an annual list to use for reflection and confidence building.

    by Elaine C. — April 18, 2018

  3. Thanks, Craig for an impressive article. I am amazed by everything you have accomplished in your six years of retirement. Definitely an inspirational article for me! When I retire I will definitely make my own statement of purpose. I so enjoy reading everyone’s personal comments about their retirement plans as I prepare for my future retirement in San Diego. Happy Retirement!

    by Jasmine — April 18, 2018

  4. Love it and I’m stealing it too!

    by Shelia — April 19, 2018

  5. Robert sent in this comment:

    I am writing in response to the “Mission Statement” retirement article I just finished reading. I enjoyed it very much. I am 23 days from my own retirement and it gave me insight on how to adjust or at least navigate into the next chapter. I too am a cancer survivor (5 years now) and this reading really hit home. I will contemplate my own mission statement over the next few weeks to help me prepare for whatever is “around the next curve”. Thanks again for the article I look forward to receiving my weekly Topretirement articles.
    Robert
    Eagle River, Alaska

    by Jane at Topretirements — April 19, 2018

  6. Craig, What a great article. I faced this myself and crashed many years ago. I wasn’t prepared but understood how to turn it around quickly. The rest is history and a happy outcome. I also did all the Covey stuff during career and thought I was more Principle Centered, but I learned that I was a bit too career centered. That causes the retirement blues and crash – no one needed me – the phone stopped ringing – what was I accomplishing! Once I relaunched into a new productivity cycle which involved volunteering, learning to golf, part time consulting, family, stuff like genealogy and fitness I wondered how I ever had time for that silly career. Your article is good for all those ready to retire, continued good luck down that road – let it be fun and rewarding both.

    by ljtucson — April 19, 2018

  7. Thank you, I started my retirement life on 3/31/18. I will definitely start keeping track of my achievements. I am in a different state right now looking for my retirement home.

    by Sherwin — April 19, 2018

  8. Nice! Being able to track accomplishments that are of value to you is definitely a plus for retirees who frequently may be somewhat unstructured or “at loose ends” — perhaps for the first time in their lives. Everyone tends to be motivated and to get satisfaction from different things — some are people/support related, some are “thing” or activity related (cooking, home theater, golf), etc. Consider what you enjoy and what matters to you in identifying accomplishments.

    ljtucson has a bit of everything with his list (volunteering, learning to golf, part time consulting, family, stuff like genealogy and fitness).

    I also think he hit the nail squarely on the head for a definition of successful retirement: “I wondered how I ever had time for that silly career”. It was a good feeling for my wife and I 15 years ago when, six months after retirment, we both decided that neither of us was still considering part-time work because we couldn’t figure out how we ever found time to work during the previous 35 years.

    by richlife — April 19, 2018

  9. Craig,
    I’m retiring at the end of this school year. How timely of you, old friend, to give me your advice at this point. I am trying to make this last few months of teaching sixth graders my best and they are an enthusiastic bunch so it is joyous, but also facing disappointment because the administration is planning to buy new STEM curriculum without looking at what I have created over my eleven years. I suppose it will all seem unimportant in a year or so, but right now I am pissed.
    There is so much I hope to do in retirement, but I haven’t done much contemplative planning, so thanks Craig for the thoughtful nudge. I hear your voice it every word and that adds a warmth and weight to what you say.

    by David Erikson — April 23, 2018

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