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  • Sally Chapman Cameron

Retirement: Reading Your Next Chapter

Woman walking on a dirt path with the sun setting.

At the young age of 61, I retired from a job I loved. As sad as I was to leave the staff and friends and challenges and joys of the substantial mission I contributed to, how wonderful it was to step forward into a new chapter of my life. No more 45-minute commutes or boring meetings or college politics or stress or 6 a.m. alarms. I was free! 

But then ... 

After the hoopla and celebrations and goodbye dinners were done, I found myself at loose ends, no structure, no requirements, no opportunity to be … relevant. Everyone else in my circle got back to their lives – after all, they were still working! Even my body clock betrayed me – although I didn’t have to awaken at 6 a.m., I still found myself up with the chickens. I was gobsmacked – this time was supposed to be wonderful! Freeing! Energizing! Why was I moping around, feeling sorry for myself? 

Retirement is a major life change – it is not just an extended vacation. Just like getting married, starting a new job or new career, or having a child, you need to check your life toolbox and reimagine how you will use the tools you have and what tools you need to acquire to take this journey. It is not unusual to feel unsettled and off your game. But you have the tools to build a new game – and that’s what I had to learn.  

(Side note – if you are a regular reader of this blog [and if you’re not, you’re really missing out …] you may remember last week’s post examined “taming the advice monster.” Well, I’m going to give advice. I hope it helps you tap into your competence that will build your confidence [tools I learned in that article] and that you are still a valuable, capable human being, even if you are not getting paid for it.) 

Sign that reads "You can't start the next chapter of your life if you keep re-reading the last one."

This novelty sign at T.J. Maxx called me out – and I bought it to keep this thought top of mind. As I fumbled about with all this unanticipated free time, I realized how tied my identity was to my work. I got promotions, I got raises, I got praises, I got satisfaction from good work that made things happen. Now, I wasn’t getting that feedback. Who was I without my job, my title, my perks, my admirers? (Not proud of that, I’ve got to say …)  

If you’re like me, your work and your professional life is a major piece of your identity. In retirement that rug got pulled out from under me. I found it disconcerting – like I was untethered from the world I knew. But to have a successful third chapter, I needed to find myself again. 

Here are some of my “do”s that helped me embrace that next chapter. 

Do nothing. 

Older woman in a yoga class.

It can be really tempting to fill the now uncommitted parts of your days and nights with all sorts of new commitments – volunteer work, new hobbies, classes. (Or, perhaps even more disconcerting, to spend your day on Facebook and watching TV.) But as a newly retired person, make sure you take time for a bit to be uncommitted. Take walks. Go explore areas of your state that you have never made time for. Read. Go sit in the library and read the newspaper or take yourself out to lunch or dinner to explore some of the restaurants you’ve heard of but never tried. This is a time to check out new things that don’t require you to sign up. If your “nothing” is sitting in your backyard, that’s great. Marinate in the joy that no one is demanding your time.  

Do a dream or two (or more!). 

Something that really brought me joy was traveling. I tried some trips I had not experienced – I took my first ocean cruise (and learned that I am not a fan) and then paired up with a friend to go to Iceland to see the Northern Lights (an excellent trip that gained me a reliable travel buddy). 

Woman in Iceland wearing a life vest holding a large chunk of ice.
Traveling to Iceland was a dream come true.

Take time to experiment. I didn’t like ocean cruising, but I loved where we landed. It gave me fodder for planning future trips. Maybe you want to try painting or bird watching. Take your next chapter to learn what you like and what you don’t like. If something doesn’t meet your expectations, chalk it up to learning something important. 

I know a couple who dream of touring in a fifth wheel – one of those big honkin’ RVs. Before retirement they rented several and knew they loved the life and now plan to buy one of their own for their imminent retirement. Another couple has one spouse who wanted to be a snowbird in Florida, but the other did not. They bought a house in Florida on the condition that they would go home whenever the non-snowbird wanted. Much to the surprise of both, they both loved snowbirding and now spend much of their winter in Florida (with frequent trips north to see the grandkids). Another friend hopes to start a second career as a travel writer and capitalize on her deep knowledge of travel gained before retirement.  

The theme here is try what you want – and if it doesn’t bring you joy, you’ve learned something important. 

Do purpose. 

What moves you? Who needs you? “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” (Mary Oliver from her Poem 133: The Summer Day).  

With a world going to poop and so much need around us, the world needs us retired folk who have a heart for change and a desire to stay relevant. What can you do to make your immediate world better?  

Woman read to a group of children in a library.

I have friends who care for grandchildren; such a gift when childcare and living is so expensive for young families. (Plus, you know – baby snuggles …)  Others (e.g., me) get more involved in their place of worship, working in social programs that feed the hungry or build houses for those who otherwise couldn’t afford homes in my pricy neck of the woods. Another retired friend has a commitment to child literacy and volunteers in a second-grade classroom to help students master reading. 

We have time to make a difference. Making time to work on projects that matter to me helped fill my relevance gap. 

Do manage your retirement life wisely. 

In your working lifetime, you developed coping skills that made you successful – time management, project management, and professional skills. I found that planners and calendars and other management tools are not just for the office. Make use of the skills you’ve learned to manage your life going forward. For me, I need to set weekly goals on Sunday night, much as I did when I was working. Writing them down in a planner and reviewing every day at first felt like work, but it has become useful for getting stuff done (such as writing this blog post!). 

Another tip – hire the critical work you used to get for “free.” For me, one of the things I miss the most was access to a responsive IT department. I know enough to turn on my computer and run some programs, but some of the fine points of technology escape me. So, I take a yearly contract with a local computer store where I can get help when I need it. It was invaluable when I got scammed and needed my computer borders locked down, and short money to protect me when I have a problem. 

Do work if you want or need to – but keep your power. 

Within a month of retiring, I got a call from a friend who needed someone to manage a marketing and communications department until they filled the position. For eight months I was able to do what I loved (writing and creating and keeping the trains running on time). It was a good palate cleanser – part-time, low-responsibility, and meaningful work.  And it was a great taper from fulltime.  

Older woman working in an office setting

If you want to work, consider approaching some of your own network. I started consulting as a communications strategist for nonprofits – short-term projects that were mostly remote. I did what I liked and negotiated a scope of work that limited the stuff I didn’t like. I did one or two projects a year, which left lots of time for travel and socializing and knitting and reading and adopting my first dog. 

A neighbor retired from a state job and found herself recruited to fill in a couple of times a week. It was on her own timetable, and she stays connected with work friends and a mission that she embraces. One friend who retired from a very stressful 24/7 career said that if she ever worked again she would take a retail job stocking shelves – little responsibility that you leave behind when you go home.  

So, the moral of this story is – you do you. In retirement, it is your job to take pleasure in your life. Don’t take a job that will torture you. 

And don’t undervalue your worth. Which leads to … 

Do keep your power. 

Whether you work or not, remember that you are the architect of your life.  Sounds simple, but in practice I found it very challenging to realize that I am the boss. 

This could mean: 

  • Say no if something doesn’t interest you. Just because you have more time doesn’t mean you have to fill someone else’s need. 

  • Know your value. You are not merely a warm body to fill space. You are smart and you bring a bucketload of hard-earned skills. If you freelance or consult, set your rates commensurate to what you bring to the work. A retired project manager gave me guidance on setting my fee – take your rough hourly rate from your job (e.g., if you made $100,000 a year, that is roughly $55/hour.) But add in all the other compensation – employer’s contributions, such as healthcare, retirement, social security – and you get a more accurate hourly fee. Don’t be afraid to expect it. And don’t be afraid to set boundaries for how much you will work and what you will do. 

  • Know your value (part 2). It’s not (just) about money. Volunteer for issues you care about. Take on time-limited projects that are purposeful and make change. But do make sure that everything you do is worth your time and your talent and your treasure.  

Turn the page. You earned it. 

Perhaps you are one of the lucky souls who launched happily and productively into your well-earned, well-anticipated retirement. But perhaps, like me, you struggle to find your footing and to thrive in this new life.

Woman sitting on a throne in Scotland.
It's good to be queen (the author in Scotland).

Embrace it! It is such a privilege to have the time to discover new things about yourself and your world. And like any good story, you will want to keep turning the pages. 


woman wearing scarf

Sally Chapman Cameron is a now happily retired college administrator who wonders how she ever had time to work. She lives on Cape Cod with most of the other retired people in Massachusetts and now sleeps in whenever her two dogs and two cats let her. 


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2 comentários

27 de abr.

What a great read! All hail the queen. 👑 I’m looking forward to putting your tips to use. (Oh, and to H&J, there wasn’t an imbedded link in the email — think that’s happened a couple times, just so it’s on your radar) / Jan


26 de abr.

Thank you for your thoughtful writing. It was fun for me to review with you the joys and learning that retirement can give us. My current mantra is to do all the things I wanted to do but couldn’t when my priority was parenting and career, which I loved most of the time. Choices in life are such a wonderful gift.

Betty D.

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