“Planning is an unnatural process; it’s much more fun to do something,” wrote twentieth century businessman Sir John Harvey-Jones. “And the nicest thing about not planning is that failure comes as a complete surprise rather than being preceded by a period of worry and depression.”
Unfortunately, far too many people are completely surprised – and underwhelmed – by retirement because they didn’t accept 91-year-old Ellen Snyder’s advice: “Be sure before you decide to retire you know what you might do in the future so you’re not just sitting there thinking, ‘What do I want to do?’”
Here are six questions to ask – and choices to make – as you make a plan to work after retirement:
1.What is God calling me to?
In Keith and Kristin Getty’s modern hymn In Christ Alone, they write, “What heights of love, what depths of peace / When fears are stilled, when strivings cease!” As you enter the elder phase of your life, and your youthful strivings for achievement, position, and power are quieted by the knowledge that Christ has already finished the ultimate work of redemption, where do you sense God’s leading?
As you plan work in retirement, you’ll need to make hard choices. You cannot do everything. Nor is God calling you to do nothing. Dying to the possibilities of what will never be also gives you the freedom to pursue what God is giving uniquely to you. Embracing your constraints is core to embracing your calling.
Considering your real life, where do you sense God leading you to serve?
2. What will be different from my career? What will be similar?
Gary VanderArk, the not-so-retired neurosurgeon I mentioned in the first chapter, continued to do his work as a doctor throughout his life. Because he always felt a sense of continuity between his calling and his work, he decided to continue his full-time job as a doctor well into his 70s. In a similar way, Jim Hagen, a business consultant from Cleveland, Ohio, decided to continue his work into retirement, yet move to part-time while picking up several pro-bono clients in the nonprofit sector.
Others, however, decide that retirement is a time to pick up the pearl of vocation that they’ve sensed during their career, but have never fully explored. Keith Gordon, age 61, a retired engineer, decided to use his skills to become a high school math teacher through a program called Transition to Teaching, which helps longtime workers nearing retirement move into second careers teaching math or science.
Working in retirement can be the perfect opportunity to bring greater alignment to your calling and your employment.
3. How many hours per week will I work?
“I liked your speech, but you missed something,” a kind gentleman in his late 60s said to me after a talk I gave in Virginia. “I just don’t have the same energy level I used to. I still have several accounting clients, but now I take naps every afternoon. I can still work, but it looks different now.”
This little piece of advice is freeing. Working after retirement should take into consideration the realities of aging, even while embracing what you can do. But don’t let this frustrate you. Cicero, the famous Roman statesman and orator, once wrote in his essay On Old Age that nature will always win and trying to cling to youthful activities in old age will lead to frustration and resentment. Instead, Cicero says, embrace this season of life. Now is your time to be an elder, whether that be an elder statesman, an elder in your church, or simply an elder to a teenager living down the street.
Retirement can be an opportunity to bring greater sanity to rhythms of work and rest, even while continuing to contribute fruitfully to your community for decades to come. And so you’ll need to decide, how many hours do I want to work in retirement?
4. What kinds of work do I need to experiment with?
If you’re planning on making a career change, consider three things: (1) Ask a veteran in that field or company before making a final choice. Richard Baxter, the17th century Puritan pastor, wrote to those contemplating job choices, “Choose no calling (especially if it be of public consequence) without the advice of some judicious, faithful persons of that calling.”
Also, consider your opportunities, abilities, and affinities before choosing a new job. What opportunities are right in front of you? What are your abilities? And what do you want to do?
5. What will I commit to?
“We’ve constructed this idea of the 90-year-old surfer-volunteer as the ideal retiree,” says Marty Martinson, professor of health education at San Francisco State University. Martinson believes we told boomers the contradictory messages of “have fun in retirement” yet serve a social cause in your free-time. But in both of these scenarios, it’s the unhinged individual who decides what will best satisfy themselves. It’s still about what works best for me.
Biblical faith implies responsibility, and responsibility implies commitment. It means making a choice to regularly show up and serve the needs of others, even when it’s hard or inconvenient. Yet commitment also offers contour, meaning, and connectedness. Like in marriage – it’s the “forsaking of all others” that brings deep, lasting satisfaction.
To what, or to whom, will you commit to? What might it mean for Christian people to buck the national average of seven to eight hours of leisure time per day in retirement and commit to working on behalf of their neighbors over a lifetime?
6. How will I balance and embrace my different callings in retirement?
I don’t believe work is the only calling we have. We’re called to be children, parents, and spouses; we’re called to be citizens of our communities; we’re called to be members of the church.
As you consider how to spend your time in retirement, and what role paid work will play in your next season of life, how is God calling you to love each of your various “neighbors” as yourself? Caring for an ailing parent full-time – and not working – may be exactly what God is calling you to do right now. Your work is not the fullness of your vocation. As Mother Teresa once said, “Many people mistake our work for our vocation. Our [primary] vocation is the love of Jesus.”
Readiness to respond to God’s voice is the heartbeat of making wise choices about work over a lifetime.
This article is adapted from An Uncommon Guide to Retirement: Finding God’s Purpose for the Next Season of Life.