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GIVING BACK IS REWARDING!

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.

Giving Back

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.

www.createthegood.org

www.nationalservice.gov/programs/senior-corps/rsvp

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.” 

 

How to Stay Connected… Socially in Retirement!

July 20, 2016

Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest and other sites offer new opportunities.  Do you know about the “If you grew up” Facebook pages?  We started following “If you grew up in Indianapolis” and not only reconnected with some old friends, however you can develop entirely new friendships with Indy natives you’ve never met but who have been anchors in rough times and co-celebrators in successes and those of your family.  You may also discover that your own neighborhood has a Facebook page, and develop more new friends and engage more with your community in the past 18 months than in the previous 20 years. Many of these are friendships with much younger people, which greatly expands your world view and pop culture knowledge!  A 40-something young couple in the group may start setting up monthly meet-ups at local restaurants and bars throughout your neighborhood; each event expands your social horizons. It has also led to volunteering in local projects, providing real satisfaction in giving back to a community that you may love.Socially in Retirement

So how will you stay socially active in retirement, whether that is today or five years down the road?  Joe Udo blogs at Retire By 40 states that social interaction is what people miss most about work when retirement comes.  What are the strategies that will keep you connected and engaged in your retirement years?

  • Stay connected to co-workers, those still working and those who have already retired
  • Get reacquainted with a spouse/partner, embrace the freedom of an empty nest or revel in grandparenthood whether two or four footed
  • Volunteer for a favorite cause; as Baby Boomer retirees we are moving from the “me” generation to the “we” generation with a renewed commitment toward improving the world around us
  • Join a social group
  • Take a class; many universities offer special opportunities for older adults
  • Try (or expand) using social networking sites; find new friends around the world

The thought of retiring several years earlier than had planned, sounds horrifying. However, deep down, we feel it’s the fear of loneliness after 41 years of close working relationships with wonderful people that sounds terrifying.  We used to joke that we spent more time with our co-workers than with our families.  In reality, renewed opportunities to engage with cherished friends from youth and work years while at the same time meeting new people and expanding your footprint in your community is the most rewarding.  Were you a Girl Scout?  We were.  The old Girl Scout song is one that will stay in your mind forever…and it is as true today as it was when you first learn it around:

Make new friends, but keep the old…one is silver and the other’s gold!

Remember staying connected during retirement is not something that needs to be terrifying…you can remain connected during retirement! You simply have to be willing to connect with family, re-educate yourself, join a hobby, participate in community service activities, volunteer, join clubs, build a new network, stay in touch with ex-colleagues, foster relationships with your spouse, connect with family, and create meaningful relationships.

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SOCIAL CONNECTIONS: FRIENDSHIPS AND RETIREMENT

May 18, 2016

Call it a clan, call it a network, call it a tribe, call it a family. 

Whatever you call it, whoever you are, you need one.

–“Families”, by Jane Howard

Throughout our lives, we have been part of social groups. In our earliest years, those groups were defined by our families and their social connections—neighbors and friends. As we started school, our connections expanded to include classmates, sports and activities co-participants, college roommates. As we reached adulthood, our connections expanded further to include coworkers and perhaps parents of our own children’s friends. (I remember the first time I was introduced as “Penny’s mother”, not “Mimi”. It was disconcerting!)

Social ConnectionsWhat do these relationships have in common? These circles were, mostly, provided to us. We could pick and choose who we liked best among our classmates, our coworkers, or other parents but the groups were there.  Sometimes, proximity creates closeness that lasts a lifetime, but also may last only as the shared experience itself. As we approach retirement, some of those ready-made networks will begin to shift, or disappear entirely. For the first time, we have the challenge and the opportunity to create our own social worlds. We have the freedom to include our oldest childhood buddies or to strike out in new directions that match our post-working world interests.

Who are your closest friends? What part of your life do they come from? Are your interactions in “real time” or more virtual? As you begin retirement, or as you anticipate your retirement years, who do you want to share your newfound free time with? The good news? There are no right or wrong answers to these questions, and the answers will continue to grow and evolve as you do. You may rediscover closeness with a spouse or partner, grow closer through caregiving to a parent, sibling or grandchildren. As much as we may not want to think about it, aging and social connections also inevitably involve loss.  How will that change you, and your relationships?

Relationships take work. As Mom always says…“to have a friend, be a friend.”  We can’t take for granted that our social networks will be there; it’s something we need to be aware of and be open to exploring. Even if someone is naturally an introvert, we still want to be part of the greater world.  As a college professor once said, “The first time you are in a new group of people, you may be shy and hide behind the potted palms. The second time, you recognize another person from the potted palms at the first event, so you have a friend. By the third event, they will put you on a committee.” If you are thinking ahead to retirement, take any opportunity to expand your networks.  According to William Frey, a demographer and visiting fellow at the Brookings Institution:  “People in their 50s now are the most educated, most tech savvy generation in our country’s history.  They’ll want to stay engaged in their work and be physically social.”  Sound familiar?

Maintaining and nurturing social connections is more than “just for fun”.  Social support in retirement is associated with

  • Lower levels of depression, loneliness and anxiety
  • Higher levels of life satisfaction and happiness
  • Fewer health problems
  • Faster disease recovery
  • Longer life

Any major life event, such as retirement, has an important impact on our social networks. As we age, we encounter changes in health (our own or our friends and family). Some of us will unfortunately experience widowhood or the loss of close family members. Any of these events will alter the structure of our social network and the availability of social support. Maintaining friendships and building new relationships provides the backup to not just survive, but to thrive in difficult times. As retirees, we may even find a reduction in the sheer numbers of our social networks. This is a natural and inevitable shedding of less important relationships in order to focus on those most crucial and to develop new ones based on our changing lives. It’s ok to become more selective with social contacts, and choose to spend time with the most meaningful, emotionally rewarding interaction partners.

Whether you are anticipating retirement or you are already there, it’s important to maintain connections with others, form new relationships—including intergenerational friendships, and explore new forms of communications using tools such as social networking.

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Retaining Relevancy – How to Manage Your Sense of Identity in Retirement

February 23, 2016

Retirement, often considered to be the ‘encore’ stage of life, requires careful and thoughtful strategic planning in order to ensure optimal comfort, happiness, and stability. While we all have diverse methods and means regarding how to think, learn, make decisions, and accept change, several different actions can help ease the transition process: before and during retirement.

Identity in Retirement

The sentiments and reactions that accompany retirement are as emotional as they are rational. Not everyone is able to make a smooth transition, as change is inherently difficult and anxiety inducing. This life stage is regularly precipitated by intense feelings of angst, depression, and identity loss. Thoughts frequently include fear and trepidation concerning the loss of positional power when leaving professional careers.

 

Nevertheless, while the anticipation of change can comprise negative psychological effects, the process by which we retain relevancy and transformation has the potential to help shape a fresh perception and awareness of identity—one that is rewarding and exhilarating. This new type of freedom involves recapturing feelings of control, particularly a sense of choice and discretion about time and availability to others. Embracing this excitement is an integral piece of transformation and change, and will ultimately help spur forward momentum. By Investing in your social and psychological portfolio, coupled with working on financial and monetary readiness, you can start to replace what you were doing then with new ideas and innovative possibilities. As stress eventually decreases, you will begin to experience a successful and productive ‘encore’ chapter of life.

 

Additionally, by seeking out activities in order to maintain well-being—including altruism/volunteering; investing in friendships before retirement; forming support groups with other retirees; and talking openly with family about goals—you can create unique identities for yourself that are not limited by rules, protocols, or limited choices. Reflection and introspection are critical developmental benefits of transitioning, and expedite prospects to pursue individuation in less restrictive ways. Without the constraints of the workplace, you can engage in interests and pursuits that foster various forms of self-actualization, which can eventually become new and stimulating layers of identity formation.

 

Moreover, diversifying your recreational activities and hobbies, and finding venues that afford opportunities for building relationships and friendships, will enable you to find purposeful work that holds meaning and value for you. Ideally, this work will leverage professional and/or life experience, entail a significant commitment, and ultimately generate personal satisfaction and fulfillment.

Finally, tapping into more formal and structured resources in order to navigate your way into new roles without clearly defined tasks and functions, and facilitate transformation and self-discovery, can be highly beneficial and constructive. Financial planning services, peer support groups, and coaching programs collectively provide valuable information about part-time work and volunteer opportunities, and potential involvement in advocacy and activism. With advanced preparation through strategic and rational planning, in addition to sustaining and reinforcing a system of strong, supportive networks and relationships, you can undergo a fulfilling and fruitful retirement planning process—one that enables you to maintain your sense of identity, and retain your feelings of relevancy and purpose.

Baby Boomers – Living Longer and Healthier Lives

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:

www.volunteermatch.org

www.nationalservice.gov/programs/senior-corps

www.sweeps.aarp.org

www.createthegood.org

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.

Don’t Judge Retirement By Its Cover

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!