Re-claiming meaning and purpose in retirement . . .
Julie had been anticipating her retirement for a long time.
She could tell you the months and days she had left before she would finally reach her last day as a teacher.
She loved her students and the teachers she worked with, but she knew, at the same time, she wouldn’t miss the late nights marking essays and exams.
She knew she wouldn’t miss the regular staff meetings, that always seemed to go on too long, or the ongoing challenges of coping with her overcrowded classroom and diminishing resources.
Soon she would finally be retired and she could sleep in as late as she wanted . . .
She would finally have all the time she wanted to catch up on her reading, finish all the projects around her house and pursue her creative hobbies.
Maybe even do some travelling . . .
When Julie looked back on her career, she was filled with a warm feeling of pride, knowing she had made a real difference in her students’ lives.
She knew her work had mattered.
She remembered some of the special students she had helped in her class. The ones who struggled and needed extra attention. She had given them the confidence they needed to work through their challenges, and it had paid off.
Some of them had gone on to university; and one, in particular, came back to her years later and told her that she was responsible for their decision to become a teacher.
Teaching had always been very gratifying for Julie.
Now it was the last day of the school year and it was Julie’s final day as a teacher.
It was a day of celebration.
Her fellow teachers came to her classroom to wish her well and her principal and vice principal spoke warmly of her at the final school assembly.
Students came up to her in the hallway and said their good-byes. They told her how much they would miss her.
At the end of the long day, she left the building with an armload full of gifts and all of her personal belongings.
Julie took one final look back at her school; and after wiping away the tears, she drove away.
She told herself, “I am now, officially, no longer a teacher . . .”
The words felt strange to Julie and she felt an odd feeling inside.
She was now officially “retired” . . .
For the first few months she basked in the freedom of not having to be anywhere or accountable to anyone.
She now had her evenings and weekends free.
But after a few months went by, a funny thing started to happen . . .
She’d caught-up on the projects around the house, was well through her stack of books and she was less interested in sleeping-in.
Julie wasn’t feeling so excited about retirement anymore.
She was starting to feel bored, a little lonely and she was looking for ways to fill her days.
In spite of all the freedom she had each day, Julie felt her life lacked meaning and purpose.
What she would give to have a challenging project to sink her teeth into.
She shared her feelings and insights with friends who had retired from teaching, years earlier.
They knew exactly what she was going through.
One of her oldest friends told her that if she wanted to start feeling inspired and purposeful, she should do what Sandy did.
Sandy had been a high school teacher, like Julie, and she had retired a year earlier.
But for as much as they had in common, there was an important difference . . .
Julie was struggling with a lack of meaning and purpose in her retirement, but Sandy was thriving in her retirement.
Julie knew that if she wanted to have a life like Sandy, she was going to have to be willing to commit to a transformation.
That was the key.
Let’s take a closer look at Julie, at Sandy and what’s required to make the transformation arc.
But before I do . . .
The Call to Adventure (Prerequisite: Step 1)
The first step is choosing “the call to adventure”
It’s a choice.
Do it or don’t do it.
Some people are destined to make a difference in their communities.
It’s not a role for everyone.
It requires the willingness to put yourself out, in service to others.
Most people are content to live their own lives and look after their own needs and the needs of their immediate family.
That’s important too.
But if you’re finding that your regular, daily routine is lacking and you yearn to feel inspired and purposeful again, then the only path you can take is your “call to adventure”.
It’s challenging, but you accept this.
Lean into it.
For 15 years, at Integra College, we have trained, coached and guided hundreds of retired teachers to reclaim meaning and purpose in their retirement.
The best way to describe the process they went through, to feel re-inspired and re-invigorated, is they went on their own version of the “Hero’s Journey”.
This is the phrase coined by Joseph Campbell in his book “The Hero With a Thousand Faces”.
The retired teachers who made the successful transition to a purposeful retirement had to overcome a number of stereotypes and misconceptions that are embodied in something we call the Retirement Myth.
We’ll talk more about this further along.
This short video sums up the Hero’s Journey (start here):
The story I am going to relay below is about Julie and Sandy. They are the two archetypes we see most often in our work with retired teachers.
In order for a Julie to become like Sandy, she needs to go through her own version of the Hero’s Journey:
If this is you, it’s time to meet our first archetype, Julie.
Julie is likely to represent you right now; if not entirely, certainly a close enough match to make you feel uncomfortable as you read this.
Meet Julie (archetype #1)
Julie’s demographics (the outside facing characteristics like age and income and job title, etc.) aren’t important.
Demographics are too limiting.
Psychographics, the inside characteristics, like personality, dreams, fears, desires, etc. (the yellow color below), are what matters:
It was psychographics that motivated Julie to want a retirement life like Sandy had.
One thing that was holding Julie back from achieving the life in retirement she wanted was something we call the Retirement Myth.
It’s the set of beliefs that many teachers unconsciously buy into when they are approaching retirement.
It’s the belief that retirement signals an end to productivity and usefulness and to their professional status.
For teachers, it’s the belief that as soon as they walk out the door, on their last day of school, their value diminishes and they should gracefully accept their non-active status.
They should be content with their pensions and make way for younger teachers.
This willingness to settle for mediocrity in retirement had, up until then, defined Julie’s life.
She hadn’t thought she wanted or deserved more than a quiet retirement.
When she came to the realization that even though she was retired, she had so much more to give and accomplish, that’s when it hit her.
Meet Sandy (archetype #2)
Sandy operates entirely differently than Julie.
Sandy has a clear sense of purpose and meaning in her retirement.
She’s making an important difference in her community.
She feels she has the perfect life balance in retirement.
She determines the part of her schedule she devotes to helping others, she reserves time for her family and friends and she has her own personal time to pursue her hobbies and creative interests.
Sandy never has to wonder what she’s going to do with her time.
Yes, she’s busy, but because it’s a schedule of her own choosing, it feels effortless.
Travel is extremely important to Sandy. She has a long list of the countries she plans to visit and re-visit.
She’s organized her life in such a way that she travels when she wants and she has a part-time career that helps pay for it!
Sandy is a committed lifelong learner and she intentionally chose a part-time retirement career that would be sure her keep her brain sharp.
Sandy is driven by the desire to stay active, feel connected and to ensure her retirement life is filled with meaning and purpose.
The clients she works with each week adore her and she feels like she’s become part of their extended families.
Unlike Julie, Sandy has embraced the fact that her skills and experiences as a teacher continue to be valuable beyond retirement.
The day she retired from teaching was just the beginning of a new, exciting and meaningful chapter in Sandy’s life.
Sandy has been retired a year longer than Julie, but she’s recognized something that Julie has yet to appreciate.
For teachers, retirement doesn’t have to signal the end of their professional status, or their ability to feel engaged and productive.
Looked at differently, all the skills, abilities and experiences teachers gain in their careers can be re-purposed for an even more influential role they can play in retirement.
Julie unconsciously adopted the wrong set of beliefs when she first retired. She bought into the Retirement Myth.
She assumed being retired meant that she had to be willing to give up her professional status and quietly move to the sidelines.
Let other, younger teachers take over.
She needs to break the shackles of belief that are unproductive and are disempowering her.
If she really wants to find meaning and purpose in her retirement, she needs to be willing to take the first step on her “call to adventure”.
She has to surrender the belief that being retired equates to lack of ability or value.
She needs to be willing and open to using the skills and abilities she developed as a teacher in a new, purposeful way in retirement.
Sandy made a choice.
She was not going to settle for a mediocre, boring retirement.
She was going to design her retirement in such a way that it enabled her to draw on her skills and experience as a teacher.
But it would be on a schedule of her own choosing.
While Sandy loves working 2 to 3 days per week, her travel time is sacred and it’s already marked-off on the calendar.
Sandy knows she’s at her best when she’s helping other people.
She values the skills and abilities she developed in her teaching career and she knows there are people in her community who can benefit by what she has to offer.
That ability to enrich the lives of others in her community feeds Sandy’s soul.
She knows she will want to serve in that role for as long as she’s able.
Sandy refused to buy into the false belief (the Retirement Myth) that being retired meant she had less to offer.
She’s proving it every week with her clients and she’s feeling as engaged and purposeful as she ever did when she was teaching (maybe even a bit more, because now she is in charge).
Sandy sees her part-time career in retirement as a natural evolution of her successful teaching career.
She discovered the secret to having a life of meaning and purpose in retirement was finding a part-time career that would enable her to draw on her extensive teaching experience.
Once a teacher, always a teacher . . .
There is no quick fix to having a life of meaning and purpose in retirement.
It doesn’t exist. If you think there is, you’re wrong.
There’s only a determined way, fraught with hard work and inevitable challenges.
Lean into it, because it’s the only way to breach the membrane shielding Julie from Sandy.
If you’re like Julie and want to transform to be like Sandy, we can help with that. Or if you’re already like Sandy, but want to move to the next level, we can help with that, too.
If we can’t help, we’ll tell you, and point you in the best direction. We don’t have all the answers. And what we have definitely isn’t for every retired teacher, or even for many.
What we have here is for the committed few, who choose to enroll in the journey and do hard the work.
If you’ve enjoyed what you’ve read so far, let’s continue the conversation.
Click below and we’ll show you how we help retired teachers who are at the “Julie Stage” move to the “Sandy Stage”. We’ll tell you all about the part-time career Sandy chose and how it’s enabled her to enjoy her retirement with renewed meaning and purpose.
We’ve trained, coached and guided 344 retired teachers to achieve the meaning and purpose in retirement they want and need.
If you’re ready to begin your “call to adventure” and become like Sandy, we’ll show you how.
Bob Hanley & Kathy Bell – Integra College
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