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The "Golden Years" Needa Brass Ring:
Why a Sense of Purpose is Crucial for Retirement

By Mary Lloyd
Author of SuperchargedRetirement: Ditch the Rocking Chair, Trash the Remote,and Do What You Love

When you're working full-time,"retirement" is the brass ring you strive for. But whatkeeps you going once you retire?

Doing nothing. The popularfantasy is that you won't wantto keep going--that doing whatever you want all day every day will beperfect. But satisfaction with doing nothing typically lastsabout a year. And then?

For many retirees, it's the start of a long, frustrating time oflife. You've reached the Promised Land, and you don't like theprogram. Now what?

Doing anything. Manyresort to filling up their calendars--joining clubs and volunteeringfor everything that comes along. Maybe it beats meeting the guysat McDonald's for coffee every day, but you still feel empty. Pretty soon you quit because it's not working. Then you volunteersomewhere else, and the cycle repeats. And the emptinesscontinues.

Doing something authentic. Boththe "extended vacation" model of retirement and the "jam the calendar"model lack a sense of purpose. Knowing what's important and whatyou want to do about it is a huge piece of creating a satisfyingretired life.

Why PURPOSE? To reallythrive, you need to act on more than your own needs. You believe in what you need to dorather than just "having to get it done." Purpose keeps youexcited about life and that has a lot of pluses.
  • Purpose helps you physically. In one study, nuns who reached advanced age never exhibited symptoms ofAlzheimer's even though the physiological characteristics were evidentwhen their brains were studied after they died. The nuns were involvedin something more important than themselves even at age 100. Theyhad a reason to continue to function effectively. So they did.

  • Purpose helps you emotionally. Doing work you believe in confirms you're competent andrelevant--reinforcement that's hard to find in a leisure-centeredretirement.

  • Purpose helps you mentally. Doing purpose-defined work keeps your mind functioning moreeffectively. You learn new concepts and try new things to makethings happen. You seek and implement solutions. Acting onwhat's important to you keeps your world expanding and your learningcurve going up.

  • Purpose helps you socially. Being involved in something bigger than walking the dog connects you toa larger social sphere. You build relationships with people with thesame interest. You make contacts to learn more. That kindof involvement means you're less likely to be depressed. You'realso less likely to dwell on everyday aches and pains.
A sense of purpose if the very first thing anyone planningretirement needs to come up with--even before the money part. (Itmakes your financial planning easier because what you want to dodetermines how much money you'll need.) Purpose helps youthrive. It saves you money by helping your stay healthy. It's crucial.

Only you can find your purpose in retirement. Starting before you retire can make that alot easier.

Mary Lloyd is a consultant and speaker and author of SuperchargedRetirement: Ditch the Rocking Chair, Trash the Remote, and Do What YouLove. Her focus is on using on the potential of those over50. For more, please visit her website She can be reached at
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