August 19, 2016
Congratulations on your retirement! It’s your turn to have fun, travel, spend time with friends and family and complete all those home organization projects you’ve promised yourself. At some point, though, you might sit back and wonder what to do next. You’ve been busy with career and family for many years; now is your opportunity to think about giving back as a volunteer. Of course, you may have been volunteering all along for school events, religious organizations or professional groups. But now, a world of new possibilities is opening for you.
Retirees are sought after volunteers! In fact, older adults contribute more than three billion hours of community service each year. As an older adult, you may have more free time available than you did just a few years ago. You have skills and experience that are in demand by non-profits and community organizations. You might want to continue your professional work in a new setting or do something completely different—and often on a flexible schedule that fits your lifestyle.
Do I hear you ask “what’s in it for me”? There are so many benefits to volunteering, both tangible and emotional. Volunteers find their roles fulfilling, providing a greater sense of purpose and making a positive difference in the world. In one study, 70% of retirees said that being generous with time or charitable giving provides a significant source of happiness.
In a very real sense, volunteering will make you feel better. Research has shown that volunteers show higher levels of self esteem, lower rates of depression, lower blood pressure and lower mortality rates! These benefits are especially notable in those with other life stresses or those at risk of social isolation. Those social connections don’t stop at the end of your volunteer shift; 85% of retiree volunteers say that they have developed new friendships in their new roles.
So what is the perfect volunteer position for you? Decide how much time you want to give. Do you want a set time each week, or would you rather work on one big project at a time? Where do you want to work? What are you passionate about? The perfect opportunity may be an expansion of something you have done in the past or are already doing now. If you are a little nervous about stepping into a new volunteer commitment, find a friend who might enjoy working with you,
Are you looking forward to traveling in your retirement, but still want to find a way to give back? Eco-vacations and short to medium term volunteer assignments are available around the world. More than 500 older adults are currently serving in the Peace Corps. The Best Friends Animal Sanctuary in Kanab, Utah accepts volunteers to work with animals for a week or two at a time, with discounted cabin or hotel rentals in the area. A bonus is Bryce Canyon and Zion National Parks at your doorstep!
If you need ideas and inspiration to direct your search for the perfect volunteer opportunities, here are a couple of great websites. You will find organizations hoping for your help at your doorstep and around the world.
It’s ok if you have been retired for awhile and haven’t volunteered yet—or if you are looking at retirement soon, but want time to relax before making any big commitments. Take your time. This is your moment! Just remember that it is never too late. Jeffie Carter, of Jackson Mississippi, volunteered from the time of her retirement in 1983 and was still helping out at the Salvation Army in 2013 at age 98! Her secret? “As long as you can help others, you don’t think about yourself.”
August 10, 2015
We Baby Boomers are the luckiest generation ever! We are living longer and healthier lives than our parents and grandparents. For the first time, we are a generation of retirees that has the leisure and the means to give back, and we are doing just that. It’s often assumed that volunteerism needs to wait until actual retirement, but Baby Boomers still in the workforce are very likely to volunteer in their communities. This sets the stage for later volunteer engagement. According to the Corporation of National and Community Service, the number of volunteers aged 65 and older will increase 50% by 2020, from just under 9 million in 2007 to over 13 million. The lessons learned from our activist youth motivate us to keep making a difference within our home towns and across the world.
As we approach retirement, it is common (and smart!) to consider our encore careers–what’s next? The first thought is often the next paid career, and that’s just fine. Sometimes, though, thinking about what’s next is an internal conversation about what is meaningful to you. That conversation quite naturally turns to thoughts about working on behalf of a cherished cause or organization. One of my friends lost a job through a corporate downsizing. She immediately immersed herself in job skills and assessment classes, looking for that next professional gig. After much thought, she realized that she didn’t miss corporate life one bit and what really appealed to her was making a positive difference in her community. She began working as an office volunteer for Habitat for Humanity. After several years, she has immersed herself in multiple projects from special events to managing the Habitat Restore resale shops. She has received accolades and public recognition as the “face” of local Habitat volunteers. Listening to her talk about her work is an inspiration.
Baby Boomers are very desirable volunteers–nonprofits should be courting us. We are educated, have a wealth of organizational experience, and we are beginning to retire by the millions! Nonprofits need to start thinking more broadly about the opportunities they make available, and how to best take advantage of our skills and abilities. Volunteerism need not be a 9-5 daily commitment. Some volunteer jobs may not even be onsite, needing just a computer and some social media savvy. The opportunities do need to be challenging and personally rewarding. As my friend experienced at Habitat, we are energized by increasing responsibility and professional growth. In a study by Hart Research Associates, Inc., some key findings stand out:
- Among non-volunteers 55+, two in five don’t volunteer because they haven’t found the right opportunity.
- A majority of respondents prefer opportunities that make use of their personal or professional skills.
- 53% of respondents 55+ expect to volunteer more in the next few years.
That’s a lot of good news! Nonprofits want us, and we want extraordinary experiences that fit our lifestyles. So where do we go from here? Sometimes, the perfect opportunity simply appears. It’s an organization you’ve belonged to for years, there’s a volunteer job posted on their website and–boom–you are all set. A close friend retired from her library job and slid right back into her former workplace as a volunteer. She loves the continuity of her work relationships but with less stress and more free time.
Her advice: “If you are newly retired and enjoyed what you did in your career, see if you can serve in a volunteer capacity. A few hours a week may be just enough. And if you take on new roles it could lead to a new career if that’s what you want.”
Sometimes finding the right volunteer career is not simple or self-evident. It’s time to apply some critical thinking skills to your job search! Put it on paper, and give yourself time to reflect. Make a list of your volunteer dream jobs. No dream is too big or too small here. Even if none of these turn out to be “the one”, it will give you insight into your search path. Now, make a list of the skills you bring to an organization, along with an honest look at any limitations. This should include your time available and your geographic boundaries. If you want to tutor one day a week, a six month teaching stint in South America is probably not a match–for now. Circumstances do change, so stay open to opportunities.
With your lists of dream jobs, your skills and lifestyle “truths”, it’s time to look for commonalities and thinking about making the most of your community connections. What opportunities are right there in your own neighborhood or city? Talk to friends, neighbors and social contacts, just as you would in a paid job search. Cast your net wide!
If your local contacts don’t provide the right answers, there are many online options to explore. These sites can introduce you to volunteer jobs you’ve never heard of, and some of them walk you through the list making and assessment process. Here are just a few:
Now is the time to follow your passions– either a new one or a return to that simmering desire you’ve been ignoring while you raised a family, established a career and did so many other things. The competition for your time and talent can be overwhelming. It’s time to trust your instincts, but also time to allow yourself to try something completely new, perhaps even a little scary. If it is the right experience for you, you’ll know. If not, it is more information for you to use in finding your perfect next adventure.
June 15, 2015
Retirement, Day One. Never having retired before, I didn’t know what to expect or how to judge retirement. Perhaps a feeling of being on vacation. Maybe even a bit of playing hooky thrown in. At any rate, I woke at my usual time…and felt like a brick hit me. Hard. I had no job.
Mimi Morris retired in January after a 40 year career as a librarian and library administrator. Married, with 2 grown daughters, 2 dogs and 3 cats. A Jimmy Buffett Parrothead, Star Trek fanatic, and collects wines to share with family and friends, Mimi was not prepared for what was ahead of her and her retirement.
While retirement had always been somewhere on the horizon, the reality was hard to accept. How does someone whose identity is so tied to a profession learn to explore new directions?
No job. After 40 years of working without a gap (not counting two happy maternity leaves of 12 and 7 weeks duration). After 40 years growing from a young and nervous reference librarian to a confident branch manager to an executive level administrator overseeing 200 employees in 21 locations. Nonetheless, was now unemployed.
“That first day, I huddled in the corner of the couch, in my pajamas, desperately checking email to see if anybody needed me. Was this normal? Was this depression? I’m a Type A, overachieving ex-flower child. I have to be accomplishing SOMETHING. I assured the family that I was fine. But I wasn’t, and I’m not,” said Mimi.
The rest of that first week passed in an unhappy blur. How could I respond to all the messages, gifts and heartfelt congratulations when I felt like such a failure? I had clearly made a terrible mistake. I wanted to go back to work.
At the end of that first week, I took myself in hand. I assured myself and everybody else that I was just fine. I was retaking the reins of my life and looking forward to the next big adventure. I was so wrong. I did have days that were good. “Ha! Look at me all in control!” But I also had days where I crashed back onto the couch, checking email and crying. I was looking for validation that my life still had value.
That was eight weeks ago. Now, some days are pretty good. On other days, I realize I’m grieving for a life left behind. I grieve for that effortless feeling of confidence and leadership. I grieve for not “making a difference“–an important value for an aging hippie. I worry about money. I worry about keeping mentally sharp. I have time to worry, and sometimes the days seem too long.
Have I learned any lessons yet?
Yes! First of all, I’m still me with all the knowledge and skills and motivation I had two months ago. I simply haven’t learned to channel it all yet. I’ve learned that retirement must be a journey, not just an event.
Join me as I find my way!