Imagine a world where you are isolated: a world without connections and community in which the lines blur from day to night, from bed to couch, from kitchen to bathroom — like house arrest without the ankle bracelet. There’s too much computer, too little movement, too little reason to get up in the morning.
Wait a minute, for many of us, this is our current reality. And quite frankly, there’s not much we can do about it. For many it’s boring and for some joyless. We can’t control the uncontrollable until we beat what is eventually beatable — flatten the curve and get on with our lives.
But here we are, so let’s pause for reflection. What if we considered this dark snapshot in time a glimpse of what life might be like if we retired without a sense of purpose, without good reason to get up every day. As my father always paraphrased, “No person is a failure, one can always be used as a bad example.” The same goes for a bad situation. And as bad as this is, what if this temporary existence were a sneak peek of an unrewarding and unfulfilling retirement? Well, we can’t undo today, but a few observations may give us some effective tools and perspectives to plan for a more hopeful tomorrow.
Find your People
Ok, easier said than done as it is counter to what we have been told to do right now. The stark reality is we are existing without the lifeblood of a community, no regular gatherings, and no special events, which are all essential to retiring on purpose. Human beings are social creatures. In retirement, many of us experience social distancing when we leave the network of our workplace.
Studies show that positive social interaction is good for your health — and not just in some abstract way, but in tangible, medically measurable ways1. Further, researchers have found that loneliness is just as lethal as smoking 15 cigarettes a day, and lonely people are 50 percent more likely to die prematurely than those with healthy social relationships2. So, this is worth restating: find your people.
Find your Passion
there are conference calls and webinars, but you’re missing the moments in between that make up a typical day at the office. Away from work, you lose the hustle and bustle and the energy of a busy day. In retirement, that loss can be magnified. But for better or for worse, what do you gain? Time.
Ask someone nearing retirement what they are most looking forward to and you’ll likely hear something about finally having the time to do more of what they want. Time: It’s the 52nd most frequently used word in contemporary American English — out of 450 million words3! It defines our schedules, our stages in life, and according to lore, it even heals all wounds. Yet while soon-to-be-retirees speak of time longingly, we believe a very different perspective sets in soon after retirement becomes a reality. Where time was once viewed as a gift that enables endless pursuit of travel and new interests, for many, it quickly becomes a bad houseguest who never leaves and strings long and mundane days together one after another. Sound familiar?
Find your Purpose
I once asked my youngest son what he wanted to do when he grew up. He said he wanted to be an architect, an archeologist or a security guard -- good to have a Plan B. I started thinking about his choices. An architect designs and builds; an archeologist discovers and explores; a security guard protects and serves. Wow, without overthinking it, my son had covered a spectrum of purpose possibilities.
The point is: Don’t overthink it. If passion is what you dream about, what you’re curious about and what you want to master, then purpose is the why behind that passion. Or, as they say, it’s what you’re called to do. Nearly half of Americans don’t love what they do4, but you can change that. The gift of time presents an opportunity to reinvent yourself, to follow your heart, and immerse yourself in the activities and interests you care most about.
What excites you? What gets you fired up or emotional? What brings you joy? OK, it’s hard to think about passion and purpose in the heart of a pandemic, but similar to when you retire, you have the gift of time.
Use that time wisely because neuropsychologist and behavioral scientist Patricia Boyle believes purpose is a very real predictor of how well people will live and thrive as they age. Those who feel their lives are meaningful live longer and they’re less likely to develop a disability or suffer a stroke, Alzheimer’s disease or cognitive decline.
Seize the Moment
The physical and psychological restraints of this pandemic are causing unprecedented fear, dread and anxiety that certain generations have not experienced before. Who knows what’s on the other side of this moment? Through the disruption and despair, it is hard to imagine there could possibly be will be a positive takeaway. But if you can put it in perspective, this can be a painful, yet powerful lesson for your own retirement readiness.