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21st Century Media Failure

Purpose in Retirement

Many years ago, I spent some time with a man whose talents and accomplishments were many. Michael was erudite, well traveled and had a vast knowledge of literature and music (I think he and Peter Tibbles would enjoy one another).

He was a magnificent cook, having once worked as a professional chef for one of the world's wealthiest men, but he did not do desserts. He told me that he was saving pastry cooking (which is as much science as art) to learn in his old age when he would also do the work necessary to finally understand the the music of Wagner.

Although that little conversation was had between us mostly in passing, I never forgot it. When it came to mind over the years, I would take a stab at trying to plan how I would spend my own old age. Nothing came to me.

Several times I have told the story here of how and why, 17 years ago, I started researching aging. I was still working in 2003, when I launched this blog as a place to write down what I was learning and try to make some sense of it all. And here I am, a decade later, still doing it.

The longer I do it, the more complex and compelling the subject becomes and what I had not counted on ten years ago is that it would change me from being merely a reporter of aging issues into an advocate for elders' well being.

That has led to participation in some local boards that work to better and enrich the lives of the aged in my community and together these things have become as much a full time job as any I was paid to do over more than 45 years in the workforce.

So unlike Michael who made a thoughtful and deliberate decision about what specific things he wanted to do with his late years, I fell into mine.

In the beginning, I never thought “researching old age” would take nearly 20 years and that even then I would still be nowhere near done. Nor, if you had asked back then, would I have believed I would still care about it today.

Now and then, when I get frustrated with some of the consequences of the blog or just tired of the hours it takes to do this reasonably well, I try to imagine my life without Time Goes By and I don't like what I see: vast amounts of time with no purpose to them.

I'm pretty sure I would find other ways to fill the hours, days, months, years and that some of it would interest me although probably not with the passion I feel for what I am doing now. But maybe that's not so. I am capable of great amounts of work (certain kinds) but also of equally great sloth for long, long periods.

Time Goes By and The Elder Storytelling Place give me purpose in retirement. Even if only a handful of people read these blogs (which was true for many months when I began), it would provide the same purpose for it is in trying to write clearly what I have learned that I am able to understand it myself.

(British novelist and essayist E.M. Forster once said, “How do I know what I think until I see what I say?” which proves true for me every day.)

From what I gather in various media about retirement, many people carefully plan what they intend to do with their time after their careers end. For me, even with the recurrent memory of my conversation with Michael, I didn't plan to retire. In fact, it was a shock, after a layoff, that no one wanted or was willing to hire a 63-year old.

Nowadays, 10 years after the launch of TGB, I am grateful I had the foresight to start it before I really needed it. Okay, that's a lie – I didn't start it to have something to do in retirement; it just turned out that way and sometimes I wonder what would have become of me by now without it.

UPDATE: Geez - after the first couple of comments, I think I need to say that I am surely not looking for blessings and thanks (what a bore). I was hoping some of you would talk about your experiences or thoughts about purpose in retirement.

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Sharon Ostrow: Stream of Consciousness


To paraphrase Shaw, those who can, do; those who can't (or won't), wither away.

Bless you for starting it!

Your efforts are so appreciated both on Time Goes By and the Elder storytelling place. I've have so enjoyed learning from you and reading the inspiring stories of other elders. All of this thanks to you!

You certainly have enriched my life the day you made me an Elderblogger. I wouldn't trade the experience, knowledge and, especially the friends I've made as as an Elderblogger for anything. I know that I've been pretty slothful of late blogwise but I never miss your blog!

Thank you, Ronni!!!!

Hi Ronni,
I've never commented on any of your stories, though I love them all, but felt the need to say something now, which is Thank You! I am turning 53 in a few short weeks and a few years ago I started freaking about aging and came to the realization that I needed to get comfortable with aging and all that it means (e.g. physical and emotional changes). So I did what everyone does, went online in search of an answer. What I found was much more than I could have imagined. Your column has added so much to my life and I have shared your many informational posts and words of wisdom and humor with many friends! You are a gem!!
Hugs from Carol in Indiana

For me, that sense of purpose is paramount. I volunteer a significant number of hours each week to a cause which is important to me. I have another major task I am committed to finishing in my personal life. Beyond that, I try to have a variety of activities which I enjoy.

Nothing terribly exciting or glamorous, but for me, it is enough to make me feel happy, worthwhile and productive.

I'll send you thanks even if you don't want them. :)

What I want to do in retirement? Continue what I did in not retirement dropping my camera less as I go.

Just now, after Husband G discouraged me from having my giant drafting board in our tiny living room 15 years ago, have I set up a small work area to do art again. I want to work in a more abstract manner than before while continuing to take photos and manipulate them here.

Both my mother and grandma, who were truly talented artists, gave up there arts when they grew older. I'm not ready to do that yet.

Frankly, after having lived a professional purpose-driven life as well as continual soul-searching, I decided that it was okay to do a 180 turn and have no distinct purpose. This, of course, was concluded after dabbling in numerous volunteer activities (including checking on the efficiency of nursing homes) that I finally surmised that I either couldn't do or didn't want to do because they all made me sad or angry or feel some other negative emotion. I still teach university classes via the internet; other than that, my life has only the hedonistic purpose of having peaceful, entertaining, happy days. And that is perfectly okay.

I volunteered for retirement 12 years ago to take up life in southern Span with a new man. I renewed my interest in gardening, as we were in the middle of a wasteland,started a blog and improved my computer skills, particularly with photography.

None of this was planned. Probably, I would have been just as happy flopping around catching up with my reading.

Instead, I've added volunteering for a charity concerned with older people.

I'm not one of those who has to be "doing" all the time so I'm mystified as to how I've ended up with so many strings to my bow.

Not bored - never enough time.

Pamela, Brenda and others...
I don't place a value judgment on what people choose to do in retirement.

After we've worked for 40 to 50 years that for most of us left a lot less room than we wanted for ourselves, lying around reading mystery stories (or whatever your guilty pleasure is) seems to me a perfectly good purpose to have.

Like I explained, my "purpose" was chosen without my really thinking about it or planning and wonder how the rest of you have defined your retirement.

An outplacement consultant recommended that I find something that I had passion for before working at my last job.

I remembered feeling fulfilled and valued by working in a research lab. Through mutual friends, I found an opening at a similar lab at the same hospital where I worked just out of college with a biology major.

It's been eleven years and I'm still there. My contribution to the lab's research mission is valued and I'm thanked by the team on a regular basis for continuing to work 32 hrs/week even though I'm 69.

That feels good.

I think I'll keep doing it until I can't lift a pipetter anymore.

I feel very lucky, because I started oil painting "late-in-life". I've always had a deep interest in painting, but it seemed a frivolous pursuit and I couldn't help but notice others were extremely competent in it. Still, once I got started, even despite the considerable expense and frustration, I began to feel a bit of what I believe Maslow called "self-actualization". Today I am very committed to painting and can't imagine life without it. I think I agree with you, Ronni, that the research/learning part of it has provided my purpose, and I am understanding that I can not ever possibly learn it all (not even close). Sometimes I am annoyed because people gloss over what I do as a "hobby". Painting, for me, is far more than a "hobby"..it is a way of life.
(and I know that you don't want compliments, but your blog has sometimes explained some really important things to me, that helped me keep going---so yeah! THANKS! ♡ )

Loved the E. M. Forester quote. That so aptly sums up why I write.

I too seem to be "falling into" a pattern of behavior that this wonderfully filling my unexpected retirement - gardening and cooking.

I got into the cooking and food preparation thing as a result of a part time job working at a small catering service. I still work there infrequently, mainly because business is slow. But the lady and man who co-own it have showed me much about food preparation I would never have discovered on my own.

Once I got the hang of some of this I was encouraged to expand on it. This also led to an interest in eating fresh food and avoid processed foods. From that I have learned that a plant-based diet not only gives me a new life altering experience but the health benefits from eating whole natural food sans meat and dairy will ensure for the most part that my health care costs will not be as great had I not changed the way I eat.

And whether you want the praise or not, I am glad you tripped into this endeavor Ronni and have marvelously maintained it all of these years.

My purpose didn't change in retirement. I continued to protect and provide for my beautiful wife and to do what I can to help my son enjoy a good life. How I did things changed, but the reasons for doing them did not.

Purpose is overrated. Kidding. But sometimes we're afraid to slow down and let go a bit.

Up until October, 2008, I had no idea what I'd do; only that I had to stop shuffling meaningless paperwork in that damn cubicle. I'm a little bit thankful for the Southern California wildfires that year for getting me into Red Cross Disaster Services. They couldn't pay me enough to do this stuff, but I'll keep doing it for nothing!

I am fortunate, at 62, to be married to a performing musician who has no intention of retiring until he is unable to perform, but even then will continue to write and we will publish, or he will blog. I take care of the business, publicity, booking, details, and see no reason why that won't just keep on. My other love is books, and I do spend more time with them as the acquiring and organizing gives as real a pleausre as does the reading of them. Then, a life has gotten a little slower, we love to cook together, which is new in the last few years. No decisions, just doing what feels good.

I took courses in gerontology in the early '90s and decided that would be my focus someday. For the past four years I've devoted a huge part of my time to researching and networking resources for elders in NYC, writing newsletters, articles, attending endless seminars and classes, reading books on the value of elders. I want to be as educated and aware as possible. Ronni, you have been a HUGE influence in helping me solidify my efforts and focusing my energy. I am most grateful for all you do.

Ronni, thanks anyway! You have provided me an outlet for one of my passions: writing. The other one, playing music, is on hold these days due to my difficulty playing while in pain -- but that, hopefully, will improve at some point....

For me, your hard work has been an unexpected blessing.

My husband, a little younger than I am, still works. He is a scientist and loves what he does. Can't see him retiring, ever.
I'm an adult education teacher who retired several years ago, and blogging has become my major productive activity. Many of us in my town are aging in place.
The only thing we don't like about our situation is that our children and grandchildren live so far away. We are glad we can afford to fly over from Hawaii to the Mainland frequently to see them. And they love visiting us, of course. Look at our location!
What I like most about retirement is not having to deal with difficult people at work all the time.

Other than planning to travel as long and as far as my budget would allow I can't think of any other plans I made for retirement.

I did travel as long as health permitted and am grateful for the wonderful places I visited.

I never did make plans on what to do with my life because my life was one of adjusting to 'what is'. It is still that way and I now just do whatever I darn well please on a daily basis. My only plan is to do at least one productive thing each day because I don't want to waste a precious minute; nor do I want to feel completely useless. Time becomes more precious with each passing year.

Like you, Ronni, I was "involuntarily retired" by my employer, only for me it was at age 55. Of course I had no retirement plans at that age! I'd expected to work at least another 10-15 years. It was devastating to lose a job I loved and then find no one else wanted me to do the same work, the only work I knew, not because I wasn't good at it but apparently because of my age. The rejection, the frustration, into and out of a brief but costly marriage, trying to regain my footing and direction and failing at every turn. So these days I write/blog. As I've always written. Not for others but for myself. For the same reason Forster did. It isn't much, but it keeps me semi-sane.

I absolutely love TBG and send it on often to friends. Ditto the gracious blogger who brings us so much and is such a dear hostess as well! The irony for me, at 63, is Ronni loves NYC just as I love Portland, my old hometown. Alas it's six hours north.
When I retired a few years ago from a dysfunctionally run community college, I was lost, depressed and lonely. It took a long time to climb out of a 'now-who-am-I-?' hole & TGB helped. After some fun but too long art classes, I began to volunteer at our local animal shelter, where I found joy, friendship and energizing volunteer service. I also began swimming at the Wellness center & now I'm doing the circuit machines as well. These past three years I haven't brought in a penny, but I'm happier than I've been in years. Sometimes we find a purpose, and maybe more often, it finds us. Thanks for the guiding light, Miss Ronni!

Good timing for this post for my spouse and I. On Monday, my husband's employer announced suddenly and completely unexpectedly, that the business was closing and all employees were immediately out of work. No forewarning, no information about how to cope with this. My husband is 64 and I am 63. I went on Social Security last year, following the departure from my job the year before to take care of my MIL, who had severe dementia and who passed away in December. I am most concerned about insurance, as my husband is an insulin-dependent diabetic and has several health care needs and I don't know whether we will be able to afford COBRA insurance, and we've not even been provided information about this yet. The sudden stress from this is a major concern, as diabetes is greatly exacerbated by stress. Looks like research into aging and healthcare will be our primary focus for a while, too.

Approaching 70 (how can THAT be?), I still work full time as a paralegal. I think it will be hard to let go but I have so many things I am interested in - rescue goldens, swimming, golf, ESOL volunteering now that I am certified. Knock on wood, I am healthy and fit so far. But I am acutely aware of the dwindling years left - does anyone else have that sense of minor panic that we may only have ten or fifteen good years left? Yikes!

Hi, Ronni

I feel almost a bit guilty at how well my late life is turning out. It looks a lot like “luck,” but my experience has led me to believe we build our own luck by how hard we work in life. I must have worked very, very hard.

In 2008, just as our economy was moving into free fall, my office announced mass layoffs for more than 60 staff members. I was approaching my 56th birthday, so realized I would be job-finding at an age that is “troublesome” for most prospective employers. I had editing clinical material for more than a decade, and really didn’t know where to begin looking for my next position.

To make a long story shorter, I found an editing position with a family service agency that provides training and support for autistic individuals and their families. My big question during the interview: Why on earth would such an organization need an editor? Well, funding is contingent on our clients’ progress reports, and the business owners were tired of the mishmash of writing styles in their specialists’ reports. They wanted a unified voice, which they found in me.

It gets better. After two years on the job, my boss asked whether I could possible handle the work from home…because someone else needed my desk. “Watch me,” I said, and I’ve been working from home (sans commute) for almost three years now.

OK, to bring this tangent back; I could easily see myself doing this for another decade or longer. I actually enjoy the editing work, and my intensely self-directed temperament makes it easy to stick to it (and meet our deadlines). I have a modest nest egg in savings, but not nearly enough to cover a traditional retirement, so the prospect of continuing to do what I love (sitting in front of the computer most of the day, and getting a paycheck for my “efforts”) seems like an unusually bright retirement plan for me.

Aside from the work, for pure enjoyment I am busy writing a memoir, not of my whole life but focusing specifically on my childhood and teen years, just through high school. I’m writing it to please myself (rather than a publisher), and don’t really care whether it ever gets published. But at 90,000 words, my manuscript is already longer than many short novels, so it may yet rest between the covers of a book. Who knows?

Sorry for my rambling, but I feel very lucky to be moving into my 60s in good health, with money still coming in, and enjoying a meaningful pastime (the memoir) that adds deeper meaning as I continue my life review.

I had a high-powered, demanding job that I loved. It paid well, I had a lot of responsibility, but I received a lot of respect, particularly from all my international customers. The job allowed me to travel in Europe -- it was the job of my dreams and I expected to work there for many years to come. Then one day they sold the company to a competitor. Nearly everyone's job became "redundant" since the new owner already had people performing our jobs. I was offered a low-paying, clerical position in New Jersey (I was in Denver), with no relocation money. Needless to say, I had to turn it down, my husband had a good job where we were and it made no financial sense for us to move. I thought I'd have no problem finding a similar job, but was I ever wrong... My age, my lack of a college diploma, and the economy were all cited as reasons for not hiring me. So I did the math and found that we could still live well without my salary. I quit buying books and went to the library instead, we ate out less, spent little on entertainment... We made it okay. However, I had no plans for retiring. Fortunately or unfortunately my dad died and my mother needed help with her finances and life. I became her friend and confidant and researched investments and Social Security issues for her until her death about 4 years ago. Then I spent three years handling her estate. Now I am being sued by one of my sisters regarding my handling of that estate -- just a nuisance lawsuit, but one which has taken years of preparation and legal costs. I think I am beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel of that lawsuit (and it's not an oncoming train! LOL) but I have yet to determine what I'm gonna do in my spare time. Hah! We had moved to another state after my husband retired to be closer to my mom and better able to help her. Now we'd like to move back to Denver, if we can afford to do that. Of course the housing market may decide that, too, so we can't make any definite decisions yet about that.

Meanwhile - I admire everything Miss Ronnie has done and is doing. I wish I had found this blog years and years ago, it might have saved me some frustration and tears. I enjoy the comments, too, and feel that I am learning to know some of you. I appreciate the humor most.

Two years before retiring, I took a Journalism program which led to my blog, and some published articles.

Playing with dirt is a big passion, as in gardening, creative landscaping with found objects plus river stones, wood. I get up early, go outside and poke around for hours.

My husband and I volunteer at a food bank, where clients tell us about hard times and the climb back.

I have a part time university job mentoring student teachers, which links me to teaching.

Last October I enrolled in an adult ed. French class, to beef up my second language.

The students are from all over the world. My fave is an about to retire American Airlines flight attendant who moved here from Buffalo, New York.

She is one cool woman!

We get along like gangbusters.

Hubby and I joined a cycling group of retired teachers and we go for 50k or so once a week.

Another passion is reading at the library. Delicious pleasure.

After retiring as a psychiatric nurse, I've taken up running and writing, including a blog, and couldn't be happier.

I would love to know what your friend Michael is actually doing at this point. I never thought I would wind up where I am at 73 -- living with me daughter and family and really enjoying it. I retired at 60 to take care of my mom who had dementia. Luckily, I have a decent pension. My social security goes to support my unmarried adult son, who has not been able to find a job and who is not eligible for welfare. I had thought that I would ballroom dance into my waning years, get in my car and blog my way down to east coast, stopping along the way to visit blogger and non-blogger friends. I guess the secret to a satisfying retirement is the same as the secret to a satisfying life -- wanting what you have in contrast to getting what you want.

I've never been happier now that I'm retired. The day's not long enough to explore all the interesting stuff you find online.
Since I never had a goal or much purpose I drifted thru life, doing what was expected.
Now I can do what I want without feeling guilty. Well, maybe a twinge now and then.
Life...I'm lovin it! You other guys can go be productive.

I actually didn't find my calling until late in life. I applied to graduate school on my 60th birthday, got my Masters in Library Information Studies and worked as a librarian for the next 10 years.

I looked forward to retirement because I always hated having to rush around, get dressed and get out so early. I didn't mind getting up early. Just getting out early. I would have loved flexible hours.

Now that I'm retired I savor the time I can spend drinking my coffee and reading newspapers online in the morning. I attend classes at the Oscher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI), a nationwide program that is sponsered by the University of Denver here. I volunteered for a while at a neighborhood elementary school and until recently enjoyed taking my dog for walks.

At this very moment, I'm looking out my window at the snow falling and wondering why it can't be rain instead.

I haven't seen anything you the blog about your Olli for a while. Is everything O.K. with him?

After raising 2 generations of children for over 40 years, I am very happy to have this time for ME. I do still work occasionally, but spend much of my time doing whatever I want in the outdoors...walking, swimming, exploring my city and creating art. I love my life now in a different way than when I was teaching and raising children. I feel privileged to have this time for "wandering".

At 65, I don't quite know whether I'm retired or not. Did a very demanding job last year, have fielded some consulting nibbles since -- but mostly I'm not working. That's okay financially; I'm used to being pretty frugal especially when not working, and having got to Medicare, insurance is very manageable.

But knowing what to do with myself is no problem at all. I'm busy with my blog, studying things I always wanted to have more time for, all my usual activities with various community groups -- and I've started a long photography project that will have me walking and shooting in all 596 precincts in San Francisco. Don't know whether I'll have the stamina to finish it -- will probably take 10 years.

Life is good. As others have said, I too thank Ronni for welcoming us all here and making us think.

I see by the comments of others, and knew it anyhow, that I am not the only one who appreciates your interest in aging. It is a pleasure to read your posts, and the writings of others in TGB & ESP. Thank you for all your work.

Ronni, so you don't want thanks or kudos? Sorry 'bout that 'cause here's one more of each coming at you from up near Seattle. I haven't figured out what to do with my old age yet because I'm among the lucky ones still working at 76. I'm also volunteering and considering a blog of my own. I've always loved to write, but I'm not as talented as you are, nor am I much of an expert on anything. Hmmm, maybe I'd better come up with another plan.

Anyway, when I have time to figure it out, I know I'll have you and your loyal readers to guide me.

Now for a tech question: does anyone else get a "script error" message when trying to access the "Comments"? It happens to me every time and I can't figure out how to get rid of it! Eventually, if I hit either "Yes" or "No" repeatedly, it goes away, but it's a flat-out nuisance. Suggestions welcome!

Ronni, what you and others show those of us who are still out in the workforce, is passion and dedication is essential to living a good life as an elder. The idea of retirement as an endless holiday or a payment for decades of work done, doesn't sit easily with me. The reality is we work our whole lives. Your job is TGB. The treasure drove of information and storytelling it represents is marvelous. But, I always think the exchange of opinions and comments with your readers is equally important. You work in public and not, as so often happens, have retreated within the walls of your retirement.

Ronni is great! I wish I could go walking with her!

With my finances, I really don't know when I'll be able to truly "retire". But at 54, and working for the past 23 years in a high pressure but non for profit job, I'm hoping when my house ever gets paid off, I'll be able to work part time, and in the field that I'm truly passionate about, animal welfare/shelters. I would work there now if the pay wasn't so bad.

I do have a number of interests that I try to keep my hand in now as opposed to waiting until I retire. From my dad dying at 63, to a good friend dying at 30 from a random act of violence, I no longer feel I can take for granted that I will be around in 10 years, let alone 20.

I began thinking what I would do in my later years when I was a child. That was because I saw the women in my life—my mother, aunt and grandmother—sitting around without much to do. My grandmother loved to watch the cars go by. My aunt loved to sit in a big overstuffed chair and smoke cigarettes. And my mother sat in the room with them and fidgeted. She wanted to be out doing something but seemed not to know what that might be and lacked the courage to break away. Around age nine, I broke away. I would get on my bicycle and ride for blocks, crossing streets I was told not to cross, talking to people I was sure I wasn’t supposed to talk to. I defied them all and live to tell you that. I decided then that I was going to always have many things to do and be busy. And so it has happened.

When my mother died ten years ago at the age of 95, she left me some money and words ringing in my ears to use the money for my comfort in my later years. She had sacrificed, I knew, so that there would be that money. I had tried to dissuade her of that behavior but she was a frugal lady and I myself had also become one of those. When the lawyers asked me what I wanted to do, I told them that I wished to disclaim the money. I would use it to start a small nonprofit. And so I did. It gives me purpose. It connects me to my community. It brings a fascinating group of freelancers who work for the nonprofit into my life, all of whom have become my friends. I will not tell you I am uncomfortable. But I will say that purpose and friendship trumps comfort with little else to do than be comfortable.

I think about it all the time but can not find answers. I'm very afraid of the future.

As someone whose business is marketing to older adults, I really appreciated this post. The agency I work with has had the great fortune of working with a retirement community (North Hill, in Needham, MA)that "gets it" when it comes to role a sense of purpose plays in wellness.

So much so that when we were asked to come up with a name for North Hill's philosophy of offering/facilitating opportunities, "PurposeFULL Living" sprang to mind.

What I love is that some elders are, like Ronni's friend, pursuing plans they made years ago for their retirement. Others, like Ronni, are falling into new passions and pursuits as they discover them.

Diana Tichner, for instance, looked forward to retirement so she could pursue paper cutting. But Netty Vanderpol took up needlepoint late in life after discovering by accident that it was a way to process memories of the Holocaust. Netty's husband Ries fell into singing after they moved to North Hill.

Either way, it's definitely PurposeFULL Living.

Thank you all for sharing your stories of purpose in retirement!

I just finished reading Diane Ackerman's book, 100 Names for Love. Diane and her husband are authors and brilliant wordsmiths. The book is about her husband's recovery from a stroke. What I found fascinating was how she used play to help "unlock" her husband's mind...play & humor were built into his everyday routine. I am a retired speech therapist & have worked with many people who have sustained head injury & stroke; treatment protocols did not include play...just drill, practice, imitate, drill. Her book gave me a whole new appreciation of how play can help in recovery process. Play for the sake of fun is healing. Thanks for all you do, Ronni!

Ah to my 76 yr old friend close to Seattle = I am from Seattle - homesick - marriage and my job brought me to east coast - and just retired after 40 years DOD -tried senior center for special speakers - played rummikub - but miss good talk - miss travels with best friend who recently passed away - do NOT miss the trek to work - just wish my old ski knee could handle stairs - but know how lucky I am and never forget it -

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