Live with Purpose - November 4, 2019
By Kristine Jepsen
Retirement from professional life means big changes in your daily routine. And while we often look forward to the free time this change offers, we might not expect that it can bring about feelings of loss regarding identity, community and self-worth. After a lifetime of work, how do you refocus your valuable wisdom and experience? Consider putting them to good use or pass them along to the next generation by becoming a volunteer.
According to “The Health Benefits of Volunteering,” a report available from the Corporation for National and Community Service, your professional skills may have greater currency after you retire, and the benefits flow both ways. While individuals, clubs, businesses and institutions gain from volunteer expertise, those who give their time and effort reap better health. While you may retire from your occupation, you don’t have to retire your talent.
A study by Mayo Clinic Health Systems shows that volunteering is linked with better physical and mental health and longevity. It’s no coincidence that older adults who volunteer report higher life satisfaction and sense of purpose. Such activities keep you engaged, both mentally and physically, and you benefit from being social, too.
The relationships you build through volunteering are a good supplement to social interaction with family and friends, which also promotes positive mental health. A social network is especially important to older adults who plan to remain in their homes instead of moving to a senior living community, where socializing is built into the environment. Volunteer opportunities help keep you engaged.
Where should you volunteer? First, consider your experiences. For instance, were you an accountant? Just say the word and you’ll likely have a line out the door for help with tax preparation, estate planning and other financial advice. A professional stylist? Maybe you can give tips on how to “go gray” gracefully, or share your expertise for hair care.
Were you a plumber, electrician, IT professional or real estate agent? It’s a good bet that others in your community could use a second opinion on home repairs or technology upgrades such as smart lighting. An easy way to start volunteering is by mentioning your interests to friends and neighbors. You can also sign up for existing programs through your community, library or senior center.
Before you start volunteering, be sure you’re engaging in activities where you’re safe – both physically and personally. Some tasks might ask you to stand for long periods or lift items. Before engaging on those tasks, be sure you’re up to it.
As for personal safety, if privacy or liability might be concerns, you may need to take extra care in handling personal information shared with you as a volunteer. Before you volunteer in those situations, it is often best to do so through an organization that can guide you through them and provide you with training on the best way to handle them. If you decide to embark on your own, just be cautious and mindful of situations that may require a currently licensed or insured professional. Just to be on the safe side, maintain a current list of local providers and agencies that can handle sensitive situations should you have to face them.
As you’re considering whether to volunteer, remember that your life and career experiences are priceless. Whether you assist a fellow retiree with tax prep or estate planning over coffee or create an extended mentoring relationship with local youth groups, your knowledge will make a difference. The skills you mastered in the working world have lasting benefits for those you help, and sharing them is good for you, too!
Kristine Jepsen is a writer and editor for literary journals online and in print, as well as a professional business counselor, Pilates and Oula! dance instructor, grant-writer, and brand content developer. Her work with Goodwin Living at Home centers on health and wellness along the aging continuum, covering topics as diverse as dating apps and financial scams. She lives on a farm in the Midwest with her horse-loving tween daughter and many four-legged friends, large and small.