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How to find purpose after retirement

Finding purpose later in life is just as important as preparing for your retirement years financially.

There are many milestones that we cannot wait for, and even more milestones we wish we never reached. Retirement and approaching your golden years is a contradictory one. On the one hand, when we think of retirement, we often think of the stress-free days of our lives that we have worked so hard to reach. It is the end goal, after all – the happy, relaxed, calm period after a lifetime of busy schedules and lists to tick off.

On the other hand, doing nothing only relaxes us in small doses. There is only so much napping, TV watching, and sitting around that we can tolerate before it becomes a source of anxiety and we begin to question what our purpose in life is now. The question looms and lingers, and facing it might be hard, but it is extremely important.  

Why is finding purpose after retirement important?

While it’s essential that you take care of your finances in preparation for your later years, you must also start thinking about the personal side of your retirement. Having a purpose helps you both mentally and physically – however, it isn’t always easy to figure out what exactly you want from life.

Finding a purpose helps us get up in the morning, look forward to the day ahead, and go to sleep feeling balanced and accomplished. It might be a cliché, but it is true – purpose gives life meaning.

Over the years, many studies have concluded that seniors with a sense of purpose are less likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease, mild cognitive impairment, disabilities, heart attacks or strokes, and more likely to live longer than people without an underlying motivation.

Generally, building and maintaining a career and raising children into successful adults are two of the main purposes. Once the kids have flown out of the nest and you have reached retirement, it becomes harder to remain engaged in a productive, purpose-driven life.

But what does purpose in later life look like?

Do what you like doing

Purpose is different for everyone – it might be related to activities you enjoy, or using work skills in new ways. And other times, it might just be about the simple things.

Klaas Nierop is 87 and he has had his fair share of adventures through life. He has seen and lived through things that not many people have; he has sailed the seven seas; he has hosted parties and sunk a boat. And as he says, he regrets very little of it.

However, when it comes to living a full life, he steers away from materialistic things.

“I’ve made a lot of money in my life, and I’ve lost a lot of money. Big house, big cars – all that sort of nonsense that people praise and think is the ultimate of success, instead of having a happy life and doing what you like doing.”

In the end, going for a kayak with your dog or having people over for a few drinks is what makes life worth living – for Klaas, it’s the small stuff.

Whatever it is for you, try to find happiness in what you do day-to-day – whether that is working on craft projects, practicing a sport, running a social club, or simply going for a walk along the beach. If there is one thing we can take from Klaas, it’s that life should not be rendered by materialistic things.

Do things you’re proud of

When it comes to the nitty-gritty of it, ‘do what makes you happy’ might not always cut it. Sometimes we’re stuck for what that should look like and where we could find it. After all, you can’t buy purpose the way you could buy chocolate – although, the two are technically the same, aren’t they?

Berenice Lancaster is 77 and she had been swimming competitively all through her younger years. However, she was involved in an accident that put an end to her swimming career at the time. A few years ago, she got back into it by signing up for the Byron Bay Ocean Swim which sees 2,000 people swimming across the bay annually. For the past two years, Berenice has been the oldest female swimmer – taking home a prize last year.

“I won that. And you know, in my life I’ve won a few cups and medals and things, but this is really important. I’m really proud of it… It goes to show that we can all do something still, we’re not that old.”

Pursuing interests and hobbies to a degree that you can be proud of might just be the answer – by pinpointing goals for yourself, you become accountable, which in turns keeps you engaged with everyday life. An overarching purpose – whether that’s winning a medal at swimming, setting up an online store for your hand-made jewellery, or even simple tasks such as going for a walk every day or reading a book every week – can help you feel accomplished. Be proud of who you are, what you can achieve, and continue to push your boundaries!

Relive your old adventures

Reminiscing is great – looking at old photos, listening to music that has sentimental value, or even talking about past memories can be a lovely way to pass the time. However, looking back serves us no purpose going forward. So what better way to find purpose in old age than by reliving those memories that are dear to us? Retracing road trips can make us see places in new lights, visiting old friends instead of just thinking about them might spark a renewed friendship, and restarting weekly social activities that we used to be part of is good for our mental health.

Peter Warner is 87 and he has decided to recreate his adventures on the sea with his old crew member and friend, Mano. Peter worked as a fisherman all his life, and he rescued Mano from an island where he had been marooned for 2 years. This led to years of friendship and a lot of work around the Pacific. The two of them have decided to relive some of the old adventures by sailing out to Middleton Reef, where there’s very nice fishing.

As Peter had put it, “we hunger for a bit of good life again.”

Reliving old adventures can be challenging, but it is always worth it. It can connect you to things you’ve always enjoyed and give a sense of purpose and accomplishment to life again.

Challenge yourself

Life is made up of challenges. Some are thrown at us without warning, and others we seek out in order to better ourselves. Perhaps the biggest challenge we face as we get older is a lack of new challenges in themselves. Once you reach a certain age, it feels as though you’ve already tried everything. This is not true! There are almost certainly a variety of things you haven’t given a go yet.

Julie Crow is 75 and she says she used to love swinging on ropes over creeks when she was a kid.

“I love flying through the air. I love the feeling of freedom and speed, and I decided I’d like to see if I could hang upside down by my legs… I wanted to challenge myself and swing upside down on the flying trapeze.”

Julie challenged herself and came out victorious. All her life, she’s never said no to things. She always wanted to give every challenge a try – she’s always wanted to have a go.

“There is going to be a time when I’m not able to do it and I will say ‘why didn’t I have a turn at that?’, or ‘why didn’t I try that when I had the opportunity?’. So it’s about having a go and seeing what happens.”

Challenges – by nature – aren’t easy. But overcoming them can make you feel you’re going somewhere, and not just standing around idly waiting for life to happen to you. Go out of your way to challenge yourself, and see how far you can go – you might surprise yourself!

Fearless tales of seniors living boldly – on film

All of the above seniors have one thing in common – they are fearless. Their stories are ordinary and extraordinary at the same time. Finding purpose in later life can definitely be hard at times. But if you press on, challenge yourself, and do the things you enjoy and are proud of, you will find yourself feeling on top of the world.

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