“You don’t stop playing because you are old; you grow old because you stop playing” (unknown author)
Today, many baby boomers have the potential to live a “second adulthood” of at least 20-30 years of active and productive years before finally hitting the rocking chair, thanks to retiring earlier, raising smaller families, and living longer than their predecessors.
No doubt, many people look forward to retiring from a full-time paid job, and eagerly anticipate plenty of free time and ample opportunities to do whatever they feel like. They most often envision lots of fun, excitement, adventure, relaxation, and above all: freedom from obligations and routine.
Not every prospective retiree is adequately prepared for this important life transition, however, and the fact that most books on retirement focus mainly on financial planning and monetary aspects of “the best years of one’s life” does not help to properly plan one’s new life style either. In reality, few people adjust easily to the many unexpected challenges, changes and choices that come with this new territory and in fact struggle with the sudden lack of daily structure, the changing relationships with family members, friends, or colleagues, the search for a new sense of purpose and fulfillment, and the question who you basically are once you are not defined any longer by your role in the workforce.
As depression among retirees is quite common, what can one do to stay ahead of the game, and avoid ending up wondering what to do next, or resigning to being a couch potato, continuously zapping the remote control, flipping mindlessly through junk mail, or eating far too much out of boredom?
Find A New Retirement Purpose
One of the most crucial tools for beating the retirement blues is having a meaningful purpose in life. Therefore, instead of leaving retirement planning “indefinitely”, take enough time to ponder your options as soon as you have decided to say goodbye to your employer.
You might want to dedicate more time to an already existing passion, or think of volunteering or joining a worthy cause. You could also increase your knowledge by taking a course of interest, or starting a new hobby. You may pick up a new instrument, dust off the one you used to play years ago, or join a choir. Or maybe you wish to travel the world, become a better gardener, or play a more prominent role in the lives of your grandchildren. And what about that book you always wanted to write, or your dream to run marathons?
Whatever way you are going to fill the many hours that will suddenly become available to you, it will be key to have a good reason to get up in the morning, to feel a sense of fulfillment and pride in what you set out for yourself, and to continue a path of life-long learning and self-development.
Couple this with keeping up (or even increasing) your social circle and staying connected, remaining in shape with exercise, a healthy diet, and regular health check-ups, and maintaining a positive attitude and zest for life, and you will have the perfect recipe for a promising new beginning, rather than feeling that you are at the end of your rope!
Retired and Inspired
Case in point is the documentary Young@Heart by British director Stephen Walker, a real-life rock opera rehearsed and performed by an unassuming group of senior citizens from Northampton, Massachusetts, whose average age is 80, and whose repertoire includes 80’s and 90’s hits of James Brown, Jimmy Hendrix, Cold Play, The Ramones, The Bee Gees, and The Rolling Stones among others.
Inspired by their charismatic leader Bob Cilman, who has been working with the Young@Heart chorus since its inception 25 years ago, this dedicated group of spunky octogenarians goes against all the stereotypes of its age group. Having several international tours under their belt, they show us what really matters in their lives: passion, purpose, and feeling connected. And although some of the members are a bit deaf, may get sleepy during rehearsals, or do not have a clue how to handle a CD-player, this is a clear and at the same time moving testimony of the elderly being able to learn new things (so much for all the research on memory loss among seniors!), to follow their heart, and to enjoy an active social life at a high age, even when health problems threaten to intervene and death does not seem far away.
“Watching a documentary on a senior citizens’ choir?” you may ask yourself skeptically, in line with the huge stigma and prejudice surrounding the abilities and interests of senior citizens. That was the original position of the documentary maker himself, when he got dragged into one of their concerts one day!
But if you want to learn the right attitude toward life from a great cast of wonderful characters, please do yourself a favor and try to locate this highly uplifting movie in your video store. It will give you wings, and make you long for reclaiming your own creative spirit, whether you are under 25, heading for midlife, or have reached 60 and up.
And if in need for further soul-searching, consider the following readings: How to retire happy, wild, and free by Ernie Zelinski, Retire smart retire happy: finding your true path in life by Nancy Schlossberg, and The complete guide to a creative retirement by Robert Kelley.
by Lies Ouwerkerk, M.Ed., MFT
To discuss your adjustment to a new phase of life and meet its challenges, you may benefit from talking to a therapist. Therapy can be brief and deal with specific issues or more open-ended, based on your needs. Contact the Montreal Therapy Centre to reach a qualified counsellor, psychotherapist or psychologist.