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Finding Your Purpose in Retirement

Finding Your Purpose in Retirement

Either before or soon after retirement, many people worry they won’t have a sense of purpose in life, and it can feel scary. It doesn’t have to be like that.

“I was genuinely concerned that I would hit that retirement date and I wouldn’t know who I was or what I was doing with it.”
~ Susan (full story is below)

That disconcerting moment happened to my uncle too, and all these years later he’ll still warn you, “Be sure you have a plan for what you’ll do in retirement!” He eventually got active in a service club and he seems happier than ever.


While his devout faith gave him some solace, doing community service was another key to his feeling grounded again in retirement.

It can look many different ways.

In this post, I explore:

  • how it often goes with retirement (including more stories),
  • how knowing your purpose can be so helpful, and
  • how people can and do find their purpose in retirement, or before.

It Can Feel Like an Identity Crisis, or Being Sidelined.

Whether chosen or forced on you, and at no matter what age, retirement can feel like you’ve been sidelined and you’re not important anymore. There can be an identity crisis, often in private. I’ve heard things like this:

  • Where do I fit now?
  • Is there something I should be doing?
  • What if I don’t want to do some expected script for retirement?
  • I thought I would enjoy all this time but this feels like a cliff.
  • I’m not ready to stop living and contributing.
  • Maybe it’s time to pursue my passions, but now I’m not sure what that means for me.

I once had a work colleague who was excited to retire from social work at a vibrant 65. We celebrated her on the last day. She told us about projects she had planned, like finishing a book. And then I heard a couple months later, her book and other projects were done much faster than she expected, and she hit an unexpected cliff of “what now?”

I saw her a couple years later on the news as a smiling leader in a campaign for better health care access. It fit her well. I’m so glad she found an outlet for her wisdom, her heart, and her wonderful stamina. Activism isn’t for everyone, but I sensed it was a good outlet for her purpose.

Filling Your Time? Or Finding Purpose?

Some people go find another job, or they get busy with hobbies, adventure, or home projects. That’s all good, and yet…

The question of meaning and purpose can hang there, even if you’ve found something to occupy your time. I believe the question of purpose needs answers. And there are answers.

We all need a sense of meaning in life, a feeling that we matter, that we have something valuable to offer. (I think the lack of purpose is one of the causes of depression and loneliness.)

Without the outlet of work, where your efforts are honored at least with a paycheck, you can start craving some other way to know you matter. I’ve witnessed that living your purpose doesn’t have to be only through typical work or volunteer channels.

Getting clear on your life purpose can make a big difference for your happiness and decision making at any stage of life. I’ve seen it.

Luckily you can discover your purpose with a little conscious effort. There are some simple ways. (It’s part of what I learned about in my coaching training. It was eye-opening for me to see how simple it could be.)

Retirement could be a golden opportunity to turn toward discovering your purpose.

How Susan Found Her Purpose in Time for Retirement

Check out this conversation I had with Susan (who was quoted above) about finding her purpose in retirement, before she got there.

Some key topics we covered in this conversation:

  • Wondering who you are and what your purpose is.
  • Identifying and focusing on strengths.
  • How figuring out your purpose and strengths can help you in your job before you retire in addition to choosing well after you retire.
  • Remembering what you enjoy, and connecting to joy in what you do.
  • The value of a pause before jumping into more action.

Discovering and living your purpose, with or without a job.

Living your purpose in retirement, or any time, is not something exhausting or some volunteer work you “should do.” I would argue that it’s not your true purpose if it exhausts you.

I’ve discovered, and I firmly believe, that living your purpose is a way of expressing your gifts that is also fulfilling and energizing. Because your best gifts naturally energize you.

Your true purpose feeds you and feeds others. It’s amazing like that! It’s not a chore, it’s a joy! It can even help you feel young at heart.

Once you discover your purpose, you’ll see you have many options to express it in small and large ways that fit with who you are. It could be in how you are with your loved ones and how you turn towards generosity in all kinds of ways — ways that feel right to you.

Getting clear about what’s important to have in life, getting clear about my strengths, AND getting clear about what ‘retirement’ was about for me has been a sea change for me.  The relief of knowing my game plan gives me the ability to rest at night knowing there is something meaningful to do in the morning.”  ~ Phil

Back to Work Options

Here’s one option for using your talents in an encore role with meaningful social impact: Encore.org. (I’m not familiar with Encore but it seems intriguing.) Here’s another good resource for those considering a job: “Tired of Retirement? 7 Ways to Get Back to Work.”

Before committing to a job, be sure you choose what’s most aligned with the “best use of you” or your purpose. This is your golden opportunity to choose more from the heart than your wallet.

So how do you find your purpose in life?

Finding your purpose in retirement (or at any time) involves slowing down and learning a few things about yourself, anew or maybe for the first time. Learning things like your core values, your core strengths, your callings, and what energizes you.

Most people don’t actually know these things about themselves in a conscious way. It’s often in a blind spot because we’re just too close.

Taking time to learn those things about yourself is so eye-opening and fulfilling. So many lightbulbs go on when you do those simple clarifications. Making choices about your time gets so much easier.

You don’t have to do this alone. In fact finding your purpose is much easier with help and support. Working with a life coach is one way to go.

Here are just a few things I help my clients with:

  • Finding your life purpose as you consider retiring from your job or finding meaning after retirement.
  • Feeling thrown off by a big loss or transition and needing a safe harbor to grow into who you are becoming.
  • Wanting to understand how to make choices that you’ll be happy about.

If you are looking to discover and live your purpose in retirement (whether you are looking ahead or already in retirement), and would like someone to help you through this process, here are a couple things others have found helpful:

More Resources for Finding Purpose in Retirement


Sadly most books, articles, podcasts, etc., about retirement are much more focused on money and leisure and not enough about meaning and purpose. Here are some books worth a look:

Essentialism, by Greg McKeown
All about finding and living what really matters. I found it a joy to read.

Second Acts, by Stephen Pollan and Mark Levine
Full of stories of those who reinvented their lives and chose more meaningful work.

A New Purpose: Redefining Money, Family, Work, Retirement, and Successby Ken Dychtwald PhD, and Daniel J Kadlec.
I’ve heard this is good but reviews seem mixed. See what you think.

For When I Am Gone: 12 Essential Questions to Tell a Life Story, by Steve Leder
A worthwhile project: gather your thoughts to create an “ethical will” for loved ones. (Featured in this article and podcast, How to leave a legacy.)


I love this TED talk that captures meaning and joy in such a beautiful way, at any age:
Where Joy Hides and How to Find It, TED talk by Ingrid Fetell Lee (13 minutes)

Picture of Val Nelson

Val Nelson

I’ve been a self-employed career/business/purpose coach since 2009. I help introverts and HSPs (like me) who want to make a difference — in a way that fits our practical needs too.
Val Nelson | Coaching | Groups | Courses | Newsletter | LinkedIn

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