When I left the editor job I’d had for 18 years, my departure was voluntary. I no longer found any pleasure in the work and I knew it was more than time to move on. Fortunately, finances were not an anxiety since my husband made a good salary. All positive, right?

So why did retirement bring a daily case of the blues – dark blue, at best? Why did I feel for months as if there was no solid ground beneath my feet? I had a pervasive sense of loss similar to grief.
I was hardly unique. Many retirees find themselves floundering when their days are no longer defined by a job. Felice, an Ohio school counselor, voluntarily retired after 43 years. Then she discovered that more than work was missing from her life. “I had lost schedule, purpose, and a sense of community,” she says. That trio of losses doesn’t match the idealized images of having time for ourselves to lie in the sun, go on a cruise, be with the grandchildren. Yet the grandkids are busy with their own lives and cruises eventually dock. So many of us ponder, what’s next?
That next step depends on accepting what kind of person you are. “I’m not good at doing nothing,” Felice admits. After months of soul–searching, she found her way back to a school setting – but in a very different format. Every morning she’s a volunteer aide in a preschool center. But these mornings aren’t enough for this energetic woman. Afternoons and even many evenings she’s a volunteer for numerous academic organizations. “My kids tell me I’ve flunked retirement,” she laughs..

My brother-in=law, Norman, was the editor of an esteemed science publication. When he was forced to take retirement he realized he wouldn’t be happy unless he was doing something purposeful. He began teaching English to groups of immigrants, led workshops about anger management in prisons, and became instrumental in setting up an organization to foster Jewish-Muslim cooperation in his home town of Columbus.

This doesn’t mean that retirement should be all work and no play. Even workaholic Felice has enrolled in exercise and yoga classes. You might also develop new skills. Norman joined a glass-making group and created exquisite glass objects that his family and friends were delighted to have as gifts. He also discovered he had the talent – and patience – to do intricate crewel embroidery. The Noah’s Ark tapestry he made for the newest baby is now a family heirloom. I, myself, while starting a new career as a freelance writer, made time to bring a longtime dream to life: learning to play the piano. (I hadn’t even known why the keys were two colors!)

Whatever path we decide to venture on, Felice advises asking yourself how that project would help you move forward. Settling for time-killer activities just makes us feel worse. “And don’t lock yourself into any long-term commitment,” she warns.

We could all take heart from the words of author Anne Tyler: “Sometimes you get to what you thought was the end and find it’s a whole new beginning.”

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