Planning for a significant life in retirement

Happy senior woman sitting on bench near window in her pottery workshop

Image: LightField Studios /

Some things will come easily to mind as you plan your retirement and what you’ll do. They include the holiday; the more relaxed lifestyle; and who you want to spend time with.

It isn’t always as easy to work out what you will do that’s significant in these years. Significance is important because while you are retiring from your work, you aren’t retiring from life.

In their book Retire Right, Frederick T Fraunfelder and James H Gilbaugh say that ‘passion and purpose are fully intertwined and are crucial to a successful and meaningful retirement.’ That’s the basis of a significant life.

‘Ideal passions,’ they say, ‘are those that engage the body, the brain, and the soul. And the goal shouldn’t be easily attainable—involving and engaging us instead in a long-term quest. The process of striving offers the greatest amount of challenge, interest, happiness, and feelings of success.’

So, what will it be for you? ‘It’ doesn’t have to be one thing, of course, but what do you see yourself doing that will engage and involve you?

Stretching yourself for optimal experience

Stretching yourself can help you with life satisfaction. In Retire Right, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi is quoted from his book Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience: ‘The best moments usually occur when a person’s body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something that is difficult and worthwhile. Optimal experience is something we make happen.’

These experiences are not necessarily pleasant. Competitive swimmers, for instance, will probably have their muscles aching, lungs bursting and be fatigued, but it could be the best moment of their life.

‘In the long run, optimal experiences add to a sense of mastery—or perhaps better, a sense of participation in determining the content of life—that comes as close to what is usually meant by happiness as anything else we can conceivably imagine.’

Being involved in something you’re passionate about adds to your life. One of the joys of retirement is that you can focus more on your passions. You’re in charge. You can live with purpose—on purpose.

5 questions you can ask now for then

These questions can help you plan a significant retirement.

1. What skills or involvement can you develop further?

I enjoyed interviewing Alan Funk a while back. His hobby was making banjos. He made quality banjos, but when he retired at 60 he made it his occupation and at 80+ he’s still doing it. His hobby became his business in retirement. It was already a passion.

This question is, are you doing something now that you could develop further or continue in retirement that could be your passion and purpose?

2. Is there something you have wanted to seriously try?

Into politics? Why not get involved in local politics. I have an 80-year-old friend who is currently the deputy mayor of our local shire. Age is not a barrier in this area.

But it could be a craft or art or metal working or . . . The list is in your hands. You could start by thinking about what you have regretted not doing or following through on in the past.

3. How could you make it happen?

This is about process. And it begins with the first steps. What are they? What can you do now? Can you begin to get involved in this activity before you retire? Is there further education involved? Should you join a group?

4. Is what you’re thinking realistic?

Do the reality check. Planning to run a marathon in retirement could be a good, long-term goal. Yes, there are older people who run marathons—including a couple of centenarians—but if you don’t have the body build and strength to achieve it you probably need to make other goals.

Being realistic means considering the negatives. This may make you change your mind. Or it may simply help you understand the challenges so you can work out how to meet them.

5. How do you picture it?

Visualisation is something that’s common in the sports arena. Boxing legend Muhammad Ali imagined his victory long before the fight. Basketball great Michael Jordan saw the ball go through the hoop before he took the shot.

How do you imagine your retirement? What does it look like and what are the benefits to you? Is this how you want to spend your retirement years?

Importantly, do you see a significant life in your retirement?

Bruce Manners: the author of Retirement Ready?, Refusing to Retire, and founder of

Category: Planning, Purpose

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