By Carolee Duckworth and Marie Langworthy
“What!?” you exclaim? “Goals? I’m through with goals. During my entire work career, I needed to be focused on establishing goals – so much so that I determined that my only goal in retirement would be to not have any goals!”
Perhaps you need to rethink your strategy. McLain and Lovejoy, in their article, The Importance of Goal-Setting for Retirees, remark, “The first step to goal-setting as a retiree is to think about what matters most in your life so that you can live with purpose” (March 2015). In fact, setting retirement goals can help retirees stave off some of the negative effects of aging and help maintain quality of life for longer.
So, if you’re willing to revisit your adversity toward goal-setting in retirement, let’s start with one of life’s most important and meaningful realities – family.
Until now, your work-life consisted of a challenging juggling act, attempting to balance family demands with those of your career or job. Now you have the opportunity to renegotiate your allotment of time according to your own values. How about putting a high priority on spending time with both immediate and remote family members – either through personal one-on-one time or through social media?
Yes, the family dog needs to be walked. The grandchildren can be taken on those special field trips that create lasting memories. You now have the time to plan that special, unique birthday event for your partner or children, instead of merely mailing that predictable birthday card! And don’t forget your parents-those special people who were responsible in large measure for your life’s success. Chances are they would welcome a weekly breakfast date.
And what about your personal mental development? In their article, Mental Retirement, Rohwedder and Willis state that: “For many people retirement leads to a less stimulating daily environment… the prospect of retirement reduces the incentive to engage in mentally stimulating activities.” The authors continue on to point out that retirees can stave off the decline of reasoning ability and speed of mental processing by engaging in cognitively demanding activities that exercise the mind (October 2010).
So, if you follow the mantra “use it or lose it,” then, yes, join that local book club that does a progressive lunch after each meeting. Introduce yourself to that bridge group that always seems to be having fun. Hone your Sudoku skills by challenging the virtual friends you’ve met online. Take that gardening course that’s so popular at your local community college.
Better still, offer to teach a workshop on The History of Rock ‘n Roll-a topic that has consumed you since you were a teen. Not only do these activities sharpen and enrich your mind-they also provide surprisingly satisfying social connections.
If you’ve always believed that it’s a toss-up who benefits the most in any altruistic endeavor, the recipient or the giver, you’ll find ample opportunity to give back to your community by volunteering your time, talents, or material resources for commendable causes, while simultaneously stimulating your mind.
Offer to tutor kids within your local school district. Consider that any number of Boomers would welcome your help in tax preparation or how to create a family slide show in PowerPoint. If you live in the city, your local museum, theatre, or hospital would eagerly embrace your volunteering your time and talents. And in return, imagine what you would learn in the process in any one of these venues. Hence the paradox: “The more you give, the more you get.”
Your travel choices are legion. Go on your own and explore every nook and cranny of your chosen destination at your leisure. Choose an organized tour and leave all the details and decision-making to your favorite travel organization. Whatever option you choose, you will need to weigh its pros and cons. But, without a doubt, you will find your travel choice to be invigorating, enriching, even, in many cases, life-changing. Travel takes you out of your comfort zone, challenges your traditional ideas, allows you to experience new cultures, and, unwittingly or otherwise, opens new windows of self-discovery.
The first time I stood at the foot of a waterfall in a small Swiss hamlet, the lump in my throat revealed so many mixed emotions… That I could never share this moment in its fullness with the folks back home. That there are, in fact, so many awesome destinations beyond the USA. That I will forever be changed for the better by my first trip to Europe, and every trip that has followed.
“Without work – or goals to replace the purpose that work gives you – you have little to keep you motivated” (McLain and Lovejoy, 2015). This said, consider that you are now in the enviable position of being able to completely revisit and renegotiate your “work terms.”
Step back and “aim, aim, aim” before you fire. Consciously and reflectively, determine your target. Are you going to continue to do the same type of work you did pre-retirement? Full or part-time? Or are you going to pursue a totally different “work” avenue – one that fulfills a latent talent or a compelling interest? Perhaps you’re thinking of venturing into the world of entrepreneurship — instead of having a boss, being the boss. It’s your choice.
How much of your creative side did you set aside for the practical demands of earning a reliable living, supporting and raising a family, establishing yourself, and moving up the ladder? But that was then, and this is now. Did you once love to write? To act? To make pottery? To create watercolors of Spring flowers? Has your saxophone been relegated to a closet since you graduated from college? Is the singing voice that once won you all the best solos in your high school chorus rusty from disuse? Did you long ago set aside your love for woodworking? Or weaving? Or quilting? Or restoring engines of classic cars?
Possibly you have never had the time for any of these, yet. So, you don’t even know if you would be that talented at what you have always wished you had had the opportunity to create. No problem. This only means that the time is now for you to get started. Creating is its own form of pleasure. Expressing yourself through words or oils or fabric or clay or wood gives voice to your inner spirit like nothing else ever has or will.
If you have already learned the skills for your choice of creative venue, reconnect with what you know, then learn more, then move ahead with passion. If you have always dreamed of creating, but have never learned how, set yourself on the path of studying, then developing your art or craft, then reveling at what you are able to bring into being from your own mind and hands.
You Have the Considerable Luxury of Setting Your Own Goals
Yes, now that you’re retired, you have the luxury of setting goals that are meaningful to you, driven by your definition of “a life well-lived.” Experts agree that we all do better when we have a purpose in life and that a lack of goals can put our lives at risk after retirement.
Whether your goals in retirement revolve around family, personal self-development, giving to others, travel, “work,” creating – or some combination of these – they promise to hold you in good stead as you enter your life’s final, and, hopefully, best opus.
Dr. Carolee Duckworth is a recognized career change specialist, who has guided thousands of individuals of all ages through major career shifts that changed their lives. Her current focus is on retiring Baby Boomers as they move through the process of their own great transitions.