Do You Lack Purpose?

After you retire, you sometimes lose your way. People who are working fulltime, and especially those who are also caring for dependent family members, don’t have this luxurious problem. But if you’re lucky enough to have a lot of free time, you sometimes feel guilty, as if you’re wasting your days. Lethargy swamps you. You can’t seem to move forward. You need a jolt, something to wake you back up.

At one time in my life, I felt that way. I was between careers and drifting. I thought of signing up for some kind of mindfulness retreat, a weeklong camp for indolent introspective old farts. And then my mom asked if I would help her get back to Indiana to see her dying brother-in-law. It was early December and she was too frail to go alone. We were gone a week, during which time I lived with, and like, my sick and elderly relatives. This experience snapped my head around. By the time I got back, I felt reborn, newly grateful for the world of possibility in which I lived.

But if you don’t have a week, you might attend a funeral. Preferably of someone you don’t know.

I used to be a professional funeral-attender. Like a US Vice Prez, I dutifully attended numerous services, representing my employer during my thirty-year career. Although I didn’t suffer as much as those who’d lost a loved one, it was still hard to see them grieving. After a couple hours, I could leave, and I would feel a guilty appreciation for my own more fortunate circumstances. I was alive. My child was well. I had a job, and a roof over my head. Life seemed blessed.

Or, lacking available funerals (or too classy to attend as a voyeur), you might help out at your local elder care facility. Mom spent three weeks in one while recovering from a broken leg, and I visited her ¬†twice daily just to straighten up, make sure her water jug was refilled and her necessary supplies within reach. These places are always understaffed and an inmate can go hours without a drink of water. Walk out of there, my friends, and you’ll feel like turning cartwheels for the great gift of independence.

You don’t know how free you are until you survive cancer, a car accident, terrorist attack or heartbreak you thought would flat kill you. At your age, you’ve already gone through some of that. If you’re feeling brave, you might close your eyes and let your mind drift back to those harsh times. Visualize those days when you were suffering. Remember how it felt to be paralyzed by illness or grief? Now open your eyes, grab a hanky, and blow. Good God – you’re still here! You’re okay. For the moment, you’re safe, and you have the world at your feet. What are you going to do with it?

Who took these pictures?! Dude

Nanci celebrates her retirement as an elementary school principal by leaping out of a perfectly good plane.


  1. says

    This was an inspiring post not only for myself, but also as a reminder of the example of my Father In Law and how he keeps finding useful things to make a positive difference where he’s at. He’s 86 now, a hospice volunteer, occasionally does vacation fill-in at various pulpits, and makes a point of connecting with his teen grand kids in innovative ways I feel sometimes I’m still on sputter mode, trying to find where my talents fit. But maybe if I do what is in front of my face, gratefully, that’d be a good way to start.

  2. says

    Perspective is key. I’ve been with my current employer almost seven years. It can be a tough and unforgiving environment. I tell people all the time I’m glad I got there after I had cancer. Another perspective-building experience for me is watching “Restaurant Impossible.” Makes me glad I have a day job.

  3. says

    Lynne, this great post helps me to renew my appreciation for all that I have to be grateful for. I have only to reflect back to my first days outside after extended illnesses and hospitalizations to remember how lucky I am to be… still alive! Thanks for the reminder!

  4. says

    Lynne, the short answer is “no.” I don’t lack purpose; I’ve got plenty of worthwhile things to do. However, jumping out of an airplane is not one of them. My guy, The Engineer, who got his pilot’s license at 16 has friends who are lucky to be alive and able to walk after jumping out of an airplane. It’s very risky.

    We can’t avoid risk altogether if we drive or travel or use electricity or gas in our homes, but some activities are just too risky. It’s thinking like this that’s helped me to become as old as I am.

  5. Debra says

    I think staying productive in a way that is meaningful to you – or others – is the best way to live. I realized that too much time on my hands was leading me down PoorMe Lane. I work part-time in three different fields (medical office, retail, website support). All different, and all interesting in their own way. I am not saving the world, but I am probably saving my sanity (and everyone else’s). Happy wife/mom=happy home.

    • says

      Debra, you’re mindful of what works for you, and what you need to be happy. That’s key, and I’m sure the knowledge didn’t just plop in your lap. It takes work to come to such wisdom. Congrats.

      • Debra says

        I am not sure if it’s right or not! I used to be able to enjoy more quiet endeavors, but that is not fate had planned for me. Sometimes I miss those times but what the heck would I talk about?!!

  6. Nanci says

    Hey Lynne… Here I am contemplating all the heartache and stress in the past and I scroll up and BAM. I laugh out loud to see myself hanging in the air. What a great start to a day. I am fortunate in that I still have meaningful part time work… Lots of hobbies and dreams for the future. I must admit though that occasionally I feel drifty, but even that is a good thing. I feel very lucky to be retired in a beautiful place.

  7. says

    You put into words what I often think about. A friend and I discussed yesterday giving ourselves permission to “be” rather than “do.” Maybe one day it will just be okay.

    • says

      Amma, I think the only mistake we can make is to not be aware, to be sleepwalking. No matter what we’re doing in the second half, whether we’re up to our eyeballs in commitments or just sitting on the patio, enjoying the fresh air, appreciation and mindfulness is key, to my way of thinking. Sending back a “thank you” to the cosmos for the great gift of life.

  8. says

    Lynn, What a wonderful humorous and a little sad too post. I’m just hoping I live long enough to see if I fit into any of your categories.
    I’m very grateful for what I do have and hopefully that will continue once I stop having to go to an office everyday.
    Thank you for making my Friday.

  9. says

    Perfectly put. I recently returned from my father’s funeral and am now helping take care of my mom who is living next door. The entire experience of going through this loss and packing my mom up to move out of her home has motivated me to make 2013 a better year – a year of doing more, getting outside my head and enjoying life. Yes, perspective is a valuable thing.

    • says

      Jean, I’m so sorry for the loss of your father. When my dad died 4 (!!!!! – already?) years ago, Mom tried to stay in her home which was 90 mins. from us, and up the Cajon Pass in San Bernardino county. On a whole other tectonic plate! Then she fell and broke her leg, necessitating The Move to my senior community (but not before the hell of 2 surgeries, rehab hospital, etc.) Now she lives 4 blocks from me and is thriving!!! Here’s a link from back when: And best wishes to both you and your mom.

      • says

        Thank you, Lynne. We’re taking it one day at a time. I’m overjoyed that my mom is right next door living with my sister. I get to see her every day. That’s a gift. I’ll check out the link – my mom won’t be driving again, though!

  10. says

    Amen and Hallelujah, my friend. I couldn’t have said it better (or funnier)..cancer, heartache, life all come bearing the great gift of perspective when we are fortunate enough to keep fighting our way to the other side and appreciate the lessons learned. You are so right, “what are you going to do with it?” What a perfect reminder to start my day with. High five, sistah! xo

    • says

      Kathy, Sis, I have the greatest respect for you as one of those who survived cancer. OMG, that recall exercise would be powerful for you. But somehow I doubt you ever lose your way. Good to hear from you!

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