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What to Do After You Retire

The important thing is to stay active with community service, a part-time job, volunteering and other activities, say experts

By Deborah Jeanne Sergeant

Barb Klein
Barb Klein

Retirement may feel like a foot race. When you finish working, you win. But then what?

Going into retirement with little idea of what to do next is not a good idea.

“Sometimes when people don’t think ahead, they find themselves in situations they don’t want to be in when they retire,” said Susan Harf, who holds a Master of Social Work degree and performs life coaching work in Rochester. “They are bored or depressed. They have not thought about what is going to happen when they’re not surrounded by coworkers and have something to do every day.”

This disenfranchisement can cause emotional distress, especially when one’s identity is wrapped up in a career or title.

Retiring without a life plan can also mean a lack of structure and subsequent lack of motivation to get out and see people and do things.

Ginny Hronek, life coach and owner of Your Turn Life Coaching for Women in Rochester, said that can lead to isolation.

“The important thing is to stay active with community service, a part-time job and volunteering,” she said. “There are a plethora of agencies looking for volunteers. Even things like reading to children in schools is very rewarding.”

Since many people who retire from lifelong, full-time work have become so accustomed to their nose-to-the-grindstone lifestyle, it may be warranted to transition into the next phase. Abruptly ceasing work and facing a blank slate is shocking for many people.

Barb Klein, founder and “possibilitator” of Inspired Possibility in Livonia, said that it is OK to acknowledge the loss of the workaday routine and identity associated with a career. However, “you have to move forward with intentionality.”

She advises getting to know oneself for a while, including needs, wants and desires. This may include getting back in touch with previously dropped hobbies or brand new ones.

“A sense of purpose matters,” she said. “It might be to be the best grandmother or grandfather. You don’t want to just lose your days, feeling like you didn’t do anything. Pause and ask each day, what do I want to do today?”

Harf advises those shifting to a new “second act” career to shadow someone else to determine if that is a good next step. For example, a corporate financial officer who wants to start a bakery should shadow a baker for free to decide if this is a good idea. Baking occasional treats for friends is entirely different than baking every day for strangers and operating a business doing so.

“You can evaluate if you like the various aspects of it,” Harf said.

Susan Harf
Susan Harf

Shadowing also allows retirees to try out a few possibilities.

Volunteering can also help retirees fill their days with meaningful community involvement. Since so many groups want volunteers, deciding where to go is the big question.

“You have to try a few things out,” Hronek said. “It depends on what your interests are. If you like to read, reading to children might be rewarding. Reading to the blind is also important. Maybe you’re more of a technical person. Volunteer with teaching people computers.”

She also believes that joining organizations can offer meaningful connections. Hronek recommended Oasis, as they provide programming with volunteer instructors. Those seeking enrichment classes may also enjoy Oasis or the classes offered at Osher at RIT.

“There is so much to do,” Hronek said. “Try a few things out and the agency or school will understand if you’re forthright with them if you’re not sure if that’s what you want to do.”