August 13, 2022

The Search for Purpose in Retirement — and All That Happens in Between

The Search for Purpose in Retirement — and All That Happens in Between

As an eternal optimist, I enjoy success stories. And lately, I’ve been running into lots of them about retirement.

But I’ve also noticed that, too often, these stories leap from here to there — a flash of inspiration, broad strokes of wisdom and faith, and then the contentment jackpot. While certainly admirable and reassuring, what about how they got there? Was it really that uncomplicated? Can they lay it out a bit to help others trying to figure things out?

That is, what about the middle?

After all, a narrative has a middle before the happy ending.

And my own retirement story got me thinking about the importance of the middle.

While my tale started like most – thankful and finding good things to do – I realized something was missing. Some might call it a “purpose,” although that can have a much weightier meaning than my modest concept – a direction, a way to express myself, contribute, and feel a sense of accomplishment as I did during my career. But no matter what I called it, I knew I had to find a way to redefine “work.” And I’m in the middle of doing just that.

The middle can be long and random. But it can also be revealing and good reading. So, without further ado, and perhaps to lend a few ideas to those looking for some, here’s my story.

The middle is honest and deals with failures. It’s where I realized that no one who isn’t retired really wants to hear about how hard you may be having it, and reasonably so. And it’s where I didn’t have answers but understood the value of baby steps and letting things unfold, despite fighting the fear of falling behind. The middle is where I faced “No.” First, when proposing an idea to my former employer, and then from myself about pursuing other consulting clients and taking a part-time job offer, realizing I didn’t want to do the same kind of work anymore. It’s where I admitted that opening a cheese store would take more commitment and knowledge than liking cheese. And that I was too tired to study nutrition. So, I tried, tried again.

The middle looks for encouragement. It’s where I searched for role models and remembered ones from my past. It’s also where I felt so unmoored that I got some help, first seeing a psychologist who assured me that feeling lost was the way it goes, and then my former career counselor, this time to brainstorm retirement goals, like looking into volunteer paths. It’s where I joined a women’s transition group and made new friends in the process. And it’s where I built a deeper connection to my life as it is now.

The middle is curious and a little daring. It’s where I investigated retirement books, articles, newsletters, gig job boards, and blogs for ideas to tap. And it’s where I wasn’t afraid to try something if it seemed interesting while staying realistic and financially pragmatic. The middle is where I learned about retirement coaching, took courses (and still working on another), got a certification, and enjoyed working with a few practice clients. And the middle is where I’m still figuring out how/if retirement coaching will fit.

The middle pays attention and builds momentum. It’s where I expanded my professional network online to focus on my new interest in helping others retire well. As luck would have it, my new connections presented opportunities for submitting essays. Even though those submissions weren’t published, I discovered that I enjoyed writing – perhaps I even had something to say.

The middle begins to dream. The middle is where I started to imagine writing stories on topics not usually discussed with retirement. It’s where I’m grateful for the help to launch my blog and feel the thrill of sharing my stories, and even had one published in a French publication whose founder and editor is one of my role models. And the middle is where I’m hoping my stories might resonate.

However you define it, success looks different in retirement than before. For me, it will come with finding a new purpose, and I think I’m getting closer. Will I succeed? I only know that I don’t want to fail. Even so, I’m taking a view of achievement that recognizes all the steps taken, forward and back. And although I’m still looking for my lodestar, I’m happy to pick a bright one and hope for the best. And meet success in the middle.

© Judith Nadratowski 2022