Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Inspired Not "Retired"

I wrote this article a couple of years ago, but I like the idea…looking at retirement from a perspective of an opportunity to reinvent our lives. But, it could also apply to how we are living right now. People "in transition" or those wishing life were different might find something worthwhile here. 

Inspired, Not “Retired”
“When I let go of who I am, I become what I might be.”
-- Lao Tzu

Most of us have structured our lives around work and family for so long that we’ve grown accustomed to having very little free time. Our work lives often have a disproportionate influence in how we define ourselves. Under the shackles of work and obligations, we stifle some of our other ambitions and interests. 

Have you ever had this conversation when meeting someone: (they ask,) “What do you do?” You reply, “I’m retired.” “Oh, how nice.” Nice? Let’s turn for a moment to Webster’s. To retire: 1. To go away, retreat or withdraw to a private sheltered place. 2. To go to bed. 3. To give up ground as in battle; retreat. 4. To give up one’s work, business career, etc., especially due to advanced age. Do we hear a thunderous stampede to sign up for this experience?

The dictionary definitions of retirement suggest being “put out to pasture,” no longer leading a rich, full life. There is the implication that you are now somehow less important, and perhaps worst of all, that you aren’t doing anything. 

At first, we look forward to the free time and freedom from the stress and demands of a job. Maybe there is too much time and freedom, no structure. Questions arise, “What am I doing?” “What should I be doing?” “Where is my sense of purpose now that it is no longer imposed upon me?”

What if we let our imaginations run wild, how might we define retirement? Retirement presents a unique opportunity to take stock of our wonderful talents and skills. We uncover interests and abilities that really give us “juice,” make us feel proud or fulfill a sense of purpose. What about activities we enjoy but haven’t had time for, such as classes or socializing? Remember the things you dreamed about as a kid, but denied yourself because you were afraid to try or worried what others might think. Maybe you no longer have the capacity to be that fireman, pro baseball player, singer or actress, but the seeds of ideas still remain. 

Retirement is an opportunity to explore possibilities. You’ve reached the age where you don’t need others’ approval to be yourself. You can try on new “hats.”  You can learn a new language, find someone to play music with, volunteer and practice casting your fly rod. Step out of your routine. Take small steps in the direction you want to go. Magic can happen through small actions.

Each of us has a boundless capacity to redefine who we are. By transforming our experiences and energy in accordance with our values, we become who we’ve always wanted to be. The result is that we unleash a force of good and a capacity to contribute to the world in ways we never could have imagined.  In doing so we discover a sense of purpose.

We might have to accept that we aren’t sure what we want to do. We might even find that we just want to “be” for a while. But that doesn’t mean sitting passively and waiting. As a teacher said recently, “Life is a buffet, but you need to get up and serve yourself.” (Thanks to Roberta Dillon and her class Celebrate Retirement.)

What is your definition of retirement?

Jeff Stoffer is a Certified Financial Planner ™ specializing in retirement planning. For a complimentary consultation, please call 415.706.7800.

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