“When I retired, I found a real loss there. I didn’t know how to put my life together.”
Peg’s story of retiring from a career as a teacher, leaving behind a clearly defined role for an uncertain future, resonates with many recent retirees. She struggles to find purpose and meaning in this new stage of life: “I didn’t know quite where I fit. I had to redefine what had value in life, where I could serve. But it took a while.”
Older adults today face a very different experience of retirement than previous generations, thanks to advances in health care, shifting economic realities, and increased longevity. Some adults continue to work full-time long after they pass the traditional retirement age of 65; others take on “encore careers,” explore new interests, or devote themselves to volunteer activities or family commitments.
But for many the transition into retirement is not smooth and easy. Indeed, our work on vocation has revealed that retirement is a major moment of vocational crisis, perhaps even more than young adulthood. Questions of identity, purpose, and community emerge as major challenges: Who am I apart from my professional work? Where is my place in society now that my roles and responsibilities have changed? How can I still share my gifts with others and find a supportive community to surround me?
Peg’s story-telling in our Lives Explored video narrative project captures the anxiety of this questioning:
“I think we’re a society of doers and we define who we are by what we do. And I wasn’t doing anything —I wasn’t working, I wasn’t volunteering…it was really hard to put together what was going to come next. And I never expected the struggle.”
Peg uses the image of a tow rope that leads a skier up a ski hill to describe how she felt led by God through the ups and downs of her evolving vocation: “As I move ahead, I want to be open to what comes next…It’s not defined, but that’s ok. Because I’m still hanging on to that rope.”
As you think about your own retirement, whether it is a present concern or still years away, what questions to you have about how your callings could change in this new phase of life?
Where might God be calling you next, leading you like a tow rope towards another horizon? What other images capture how you feel about retirement?
If you are interested in exploring vocation in retirement with others in your congregation, learn more about our Called to Life program for small groups.