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Retirees, Discover What Drives You

Author: Helen Dennis, Specialist on Aging

Work experiences can serve as a starting point in creating that next chapter of life.  James Birren, the founder and former dean and executive director of USC’s Ethel Percy Andrus Gerontology Center said it well, “You don’t know where you are going if you don’t know where you have been.”

Work is where many of us are — and have been.

Jerri Sedlar and Rick Miners, in their book “Don’t Retire, Rewire!” (Alpha, 2002), write  “Drivers are a key to satisfaction … that’s what makes you tick as a human being because they go deep inside you, to your brain, heart and ego.”

Work provides us with income and more.  As Sedlar and Miners write, “You work for more than money, honey!”  Although in today’s economy, we might debate that statement.  Drivers — values or motivators — do, however, enable us to match our deepest needs and values to our work, careers and post-retirement lives.

The authors identify 38 drivers. Here are a few.  Ask yourself, to what extent these were important to you in your work?

Accomplishments: Think about what you have achieved and whether you want to continue achieving.  One could achieve by reaching a certain level of income, running a 10K race, turning a nonprofit from operating in the red to the black, taking up a new sport, learning a new language or helping an organization reach its goals.

Belonging: How important was it to belong to your employer organization?  Did it provide you with an important affiliation such as working for IBM, Armani or Cal Tech?

Belonging to a group can be a source of respect, recognition and pride.

Intellectual stimulation: Was your work mentally challenging?  If colleagues and co-workers provided an intellectually challenging environment, you may want to be part of an intellectual community, such as an adult learning program Omnilore, at California State University, Dominguez Hills.

Making a difference: Having an impact on products, services, children, older adults, global warming, hunger, or just increasing efficiency and productivity can be satisfying aspects of work.  In later life, making a difference often becomes of increasingly important.  People want to know that their lives have meant something; that when they leave this planet, the world will be a better place because of them.

Identity: This is a difficult one and a driver that is missed by most who have loved their work.  If being an accountant, attorney, teacher, designer, administrator, president or dancer is who you are, the challenge is to either continue that identity or come up with another one.

In a recent class my colleague and I are teaching on Project Renewment — The New Retirement for Career Women, a retired class participant commented that her husband always introduces her with a title:  Sometimes it’s designer, sometimes marathon runner, sometimes expert seamstress.  “Being introduced as marathon runner indicated that is all I am,” she said.  “A title in social situations seems to be more important to my husband than me.”

Passion: If you loved your work to the level of being passionate about it, pursuits stemming from passion may be important to you. The challenge is to find them.

Once you decide the drivers that have been important to you, the next step is to create a lifestyle, activities and endeavors that tap some of these drivers as a way to ensure satisfaction in what you do.

As we progress through the life stages, we basically do no change who we are.  What differs is how we express ourselves in our activities and relationships.

These are just the first steps. Volunteering, pursuing an encore career, taking classes, mentoring or becoming a social entrepreneur all are possibilities.  In fact, the possibilities are endless.

Experiment and take a few risks.  Call this period a sabbatical to figure out “where to go from here.”

Thank you for your good question and best wishes in making choices that are wonderful for you.

© Helen Dennis 2010, all rights reserved.

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