Retirement Talk

WHAT to do with the rest of your life?


697 Volunteering and Retirement

By Richard Haiduck

Today, we’re going to talk about volunteering and retirement, and hear some stories of retirees who decided that would be interesting for them.

How do you fill your days in retirement? Now that we are retired, we have lots of choices of new and different ways to spend our time. Are you feeling good about those choices, or are you seeking new ideas?

I interviewed more than 75 retirees for my upcoming book and today we will talk about several of them that had an interest in volunteering.

When we first retire, it’s fun to chill out and have no responsibilities, sleep late, relax, catch up with some friends, read a book or watch a Seahawks game.

For lots of retirees, after a few months of that, we start to get a little antsy. We simply want something more. There is a vague feeling of drifting, or even being bored with not enough to do. Here’s a scary thought, but some of us even miss working.

In my own situation, there was a transitional period in which it was important to be open to new ideas. During that time, volunteering became an important option to consider. I have been lucky in my life and lots of good things came my way. Now was a time in which there was an opportunity to give back and help others. I decided to do mentoring of social entrepreneurs in the developing world.

Our boomer generation of retirees has done a remarkable job of reinventing ourselves in retirement. For some, that reinvention in retirement may lead to thoughts of volunteering. Maybe some of your friends have told you about their experience as volunteers. Maybe helping others has always been something you wanted to do. Volunteering is not for everybody, but let’s hear from some retirees for whom it fills an important part of the activities of this stage of life.

Those who have been active volunteers have told me several reasons why they like volunteering. The biggest one is that it gives a sense of purpose, the good feeling that comes from helping others. You simply feel good about yourself.

You are sharing the experience with a like-minded group, and you find camaraderie and new friendships. The activities can be fun and challenging, keeping you active and alert. You can fit the volunteer activity around the rest of your life, and keep your personal flexibility.

Here are some people for whom volunteering is a valued component of their retirement activities. The following quotes are from a variety of volunteers who were interviewed for my book.

Hear some examples of ways volunteers can help others: John says:

    “I don’t think about having an obligation to give back. It’s just something I have always done.”

Suni describes her work in hurricane relief:

“Two and a half weeks after Hurricane Dorian hit the Bahamas, our boatload of food and relief supplies constituted the only aid that had made it to Green Turtle Cay. Several people said that if we didn’t arrive with food, they would have gone hungry.”

Larry explains how helping the homeless makes him feel.

    “There’s not much more that we can do that’s more emotional than giving a family the keys to their house that they have helped build and that I’ve been involved with.”

Peter describes what he gets out of mentoring.

    “Working with social entrepreneurs as a mentor is one of the most gratifying things I have ever done. Seeing the kind of progress that they can make.”

Milt sees the immediate impact of his volunteer project.

    “Installing artificial hands to amputees in Panama is life changing for them, really life changing. You can hold brooms, you can drive a tractor, you can use a shovel.”

Jane’s involvement with the pre-school involves 4 generations of her family.

    “I guess it’s my dream of making sure that this outdoor preschool goes on. It’s been around since the mid-50’s, and I’ve been concerned about some challenges in this day and age.”

Barb has a personal connection to this cause.

    “Being a cancer survivor motivates me to work at a resale shop that benefits cancer research.”

The volunteer may also get a personal set of rewards as shown in the following quotes:

Peter gets a sense of camaraderie from his volunteering.   

“It’s nice to just sit down with the other volunteers and just say, ‘What’s going on?’

It builds the friendship and connection.”

Dave’s volunteering helps him build his own skills.

    “When I was mentoring executive women, I found just by engaging with them regularly, it grounded me in core leadership principles just to be talking about it every month.”

Eleanor went back to school to prepare for helping on environmental issues.

    “Pulling invasive Scotch broom was fun, and that led me to then write a script for the movie they were making about preserving the dunes.”

Dave uses skills from his past.

    “Part of it was the geeky side of me that has not done engineering in 40 years. Those are parts of my brain I hadn’t used.”

Peter likes what this says to his family.

    “I think one of the best benefits of working on socially impactful projects is what that says to our kids, that this is something they can do.”

More information about my upcoming book Shifting Gears; 50 Baby Boomers Share Their Meaningful Journeys in Retirement is at or follow on Twitter @richardhaiduck. The book is available for pre-order in October.


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