It's natural to wonder how your sense of identity may shift as you enter retirement and adjust to a new routine.
For instance, your professional accomplishments, the people you work with and the connections you've made may represent a large part of who you are. When you love what you do and take pride in your work, it offers a sense of purpose and meaning.
Once you stop working, you'll need to find a new outlet for your time and energy. Cultivating your interests and passions now can help you continue to live with purpose once you retire.
Why passion and purpose matter
Having goals, aspirations — even work — that drive your days can have a tangible impact on the quality of your retirement. A study published in JAMA PsychiatryOpens a new window in your browser. defines purposefulness as “the extent to which people see their lives as having meaning, a sense of direction and goals.” The study suggests that retirees who focus on living purposefully have reduced stress levels, are in better physical health and age more successfully than those who don't.
The benefits of living with purpose extend even further. A study published in the Journal of EpidemiologyOpens a new window in your browser. suggests a link between having a sense of purpose and living longer among seniors 65 and older.
Honing in on your passions
For some, purpose is obvious. They might have spent years dreaming about having time to write a memoir while they were charting their career course or raising a family. Or they currently volunteer with an organization and in retirement know they can devote more time to those efforts.
For those less sure, start keeping a daily log of how you spend your time. Write down everything you do in the course of a day for one week. Review the log and ask yourself: What do you spend time on that energizes and inspires you? What do you wish you could do more often?
Take stock of your skills. Consider what you’d like to improve on from your existing skill set and what new skills you’d like to learn once you have the time in retirement. Which skills are on the to-learn list that you're most excited about?
Think about the books or blogs you read, the TV shows you watch and the podcasts or radio shows you listen to. Which topics do you revisit constantly?
Consider things you enjoyed as a kid. Is there something that you loved but gave up on out of fear or frustration? What were your favourite subjects when you were in school? How can you take those childhood interests and turn them into a grown-up hobby?
The idea is to look for repeating themes. If you're still not tuned into your passions yet, ask yourself this: what would you do in retirement if money and time were no object? Open yourself up to different possibilities so you can find something that gets you excited.
Turn passion into purpose
Knowing what you're passionate about is a critical step for being more purposeful in how you spend your time and money in retirement.
For example, if visiting new places or spending time with family is your passion, you may decide to make travel part of your retirement plans. Just keep in mind that you may need to do some fine-tuning with your retirement budget to make pursuing your passion work; a discussion with your advisor can give you peace of mind.
Your purpose may have a broader scope if it involves sharing your passion with others in a positive and meaningful way. Teaching, coaching, mentoring and volunteering are good ways to do that in retirement.
For example, you might volunteer to coach in your community youth sports league to combine a passion for athletics with teaching kids. If you love cats and dogs, you could lend your time at a local animal shelter or rescue organization. These activities don't involve money and can yield a substantial mental and emotional return.
You might turn your passion into a professional activity by starting a nonprofit, launching a small business or working as a freelance consultant.
Regardless of what you choose, the biggest return is doing work that has meaning for you in retirement while helping others. Any financial rewards may be secondary to the emotional ones of living out your purpose.
Complete your retirement vision
If retirement remains years away, use your time now to your advantage. While you seek out passion and purpose, consider the other parts of the puzzle: developing your retirement mindset, establishing physical health and staying connected.
As you work on each of these individual areas, remember that together, they can help you to achieve the retirement you’ve been dreaming of and deserve.