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Retirement not an end, but a beginning

August 28, 2008|By MARIE GILBERT

Jeanne Durrell isn't your stereotypical retiree.

She doesn't own a rocking chair and she has no interest in moving to Florida.

In fact, retiring to a sandy beach was never an option.

Instead, she's heading to Africa in a few weeks to explore volunteer work with the Peace Corps.

For Ron and Nancy Myers, Tuesdays begin as they have for the past 36 years - together.

They have breakfast, catch up on the news, then it's out the door.

But instead of heading to work, they head to REACH - a nonprofit organization - where they volunteer with a crisis intervention program.

These are the new faces of retirement.

It's no longer just about well-earned leisure and relaxation. It's about remaining productive.

This isn't your grandparents' retirement, said Marie Guedenet.

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People are living longer, healthier lives. They don't look at retirement as an ending, she said, but rather a beginning - a chance to pursue the dreams they may have put on hold.

But, for some, retirement can be a difficult transition.

This is where Guedenet can lend a helping hand. As a psychotherapist and life and retirement coach, she counsels individuals who are preparing to enter the second phase of their lives.

"It's a time of change," she said. "And everyone has to make this adjustment in their own way."

According to Guedenet, studies have shown two trends: People are living longer and people are retiring earlier.

In 1935, when Social Security was created, the life expectancy was 61, she said. Today, with an increased life expectancy, people have more years to pursue their interests after retirement.

The old model of stopping work at 65 is all but gone, she said. Many people retire, only to begin another career. Others travel, become involved in volunteer work or return to school.

"The new retiree is in the driver's seat," Guedenet said.

But changing gears can sometimes be a problem.

"When we talk about retirement, we often only focus on the financial aspects," she said. "We should also think about the psychological aspects, which are equally important and can mean the difference between being happy or unhappy, fulfilled or unfulfilled."

When you retire, life can change as you knew it, she said.

You may move to a new location, you could lose social contacts and sometimes become isolated. Then there are the many repercussions of leaving your job.

Most people identify themselves with the work they do, Guedenet said. They consider their jobs to be an integral part of who they are. Suddenly, there is an unfulfilled gap in their lives. They have to provide all of the structure.

"To successfully transition into retirement, you first need to know yourself," she said. "You have to be confident in who you are. Look at what you were good at, the things you enjoyed about your work and transfer them to other parts of your life."

Retirement should be an exciting time, she said. You should think of it as a time of hope and opportunity. But some retirees experience a sense of purposelessness.

"They can become depressed and feel a sense of loss. It's important to explore what you can do with your life - what you would like to do," she said. "Consider this phase of your life the time as a time to live your dreams, learn new skills, take up new hobbies. Consider it a new beginning."

Another key component to quality of life as people age is being involved in activities and relationships. Guedenet said it's important to stay in touch with your friends. But it's also a great time to expand your social network by forming new connections and giving back to the community through volunteerism.

Durrell is one of those individuals who wants to use her retirement years to help others.

"As a businesswoman, I worked long hours, sometimes six or seven days a week," she said. "I felt guilty that I couldn't be involved in some form of service to others. But I always told myself I would have no excuses when I retired. This is what I've always wanted to do."

Durrell said she is a long-time admirer of the Peace Corps and was encouraged by a friend to learn more about it.

"I decided, you only have one life to pursue your dreams," she said.

For Ron and Nancy Myers, volunteer work is nothing new.

"We've been volunteering for years," Nancy Myers said. "As part of our faith, we're called to help others."

So when she retired from real estate in 1993 and her husband retired from banking in 1999, there was no question about how they would fill their days.

Over the years, the Hagerstown couple has either served on the board or volunteered with a number of organizations, including Habitat for Humanity, the Community Action Council and Children's Village. Their volunteer work with REACH can be traced back almost to the agency's first days when various churches rotated as cold weather shelters.

Today, the couple coordinates the weekly lunches provided by their church and also provides transportation for senior citizens and the disabled through Faith in Action, a branch of REACH.

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