Not very many of us can be described as the joining type. During our careers, we are generally juggling available time between work, social and family interests. Few of us seek to join clubs or volunteer groups. Work is probably the central focus of our lives, the basis of our daily routine and even a part of our social life for the foreseeable future.
In retirement much of this structure is left behind with the job. A great void opens up which needs to be filled. This void is called spare time – lots of it. Probably the single most over-looked aspect of lifestyle planning in retirement is how to manage this massive amount of extra free time.
Many people say they are looking forward to taking it easy, sitting and thinking, playing golf, or traveling. These ideas are very appealing to someone wrapped up in a hectic workplace and family life. Unfortunately, this kind of activity is just not structured or involved enough to engage the mind, in a meaningful way, for an extended period of time.
A useful model for creating a plan for mental and emotional well being away from the workplace is the workplace itself. Some positive factors in the workplace may be friends, meaningful activity, achievement, self worth and challenge.
Negative factors could include stress, boredom, unpleasant colleagues or supervisors and lack of appreciation. When moving into a life without a full time career the positive aspects of that career need to be maintained and the negative ones need to be eliminated.
A Winnipeg Psychologist, Dr Dan Rosen, has coined a phrase he calls ‘Planned Spontaneity’. You deliberately sign up for something that will cost you money such as the theater, the philharmonic or sports team season tickets. Most people don’t like to spend money and not use the product so when they purchase the tickets in advance they will make sure to use them. Now they're getting out of the house.
Take this idea a little further and apply it to joining a club or an association. An acquaintance of mine tells of the time he was approached to join a Toastmasters' club. He went as a guest but concluded he wasn’t the joining type. A phone call from his host and another visit led to him becoming an ardent toastmaster. He remained an enthusiastic member for thirty five years into his mid-eighties and he became an expert in parliamentary procedure.
The benefit of getting involved for most people is the ongoing connection with others. It’s not so much about making friends it’s more about staying in touch with the world of every-day living.
A colleague of mine told me of an acquaintance of hers who spent a long time alone in the country after her husband had died. When she saw her again she was struck by the fact that this person had almost forgotten how to speak. She could communicate, of course, but she had lost that basic social skill of being able to casually interface with fellow human beings.
It seems so natural to us when we are involved in the workplace but we must never underestimate the vital importance of staying involved after our working careers are over.
So before you retire, or adopt a similar lifestyle change, consider becoming the joining type and carry the positives from your working career into the future with you by socializing with others.