The importance of retiring on purpose

Senior man driving a vintage car

Image: stefanolunardi/

I’d left the car for servicing and David,* the company’s courtesy driver, took me to a shopping mall where I could find a quiet spot with my laptop.

He was a former police officer who had retired at 58 years of age.

He told me he’d retired with a list of jobs to do around his house but found himself just sitting around watching television and telling himself he had all the time in the world to get the jobs done.

After three months none of the jobs were done. Actually, nothing was done.

‘I woke up to the fact that I had to do something or I’d just waste away,’ he said.

It’s important to retire with purpose—on purpose. Here are three reasons why:

1. Doing life deliberately is important

And mainly because it helps give meaning to life. Purpose means you are living deliberately, and this is just as important in retirement.

In your working life, there is structure, a routine. You’re expected to be at the workplace for a certain period of time or to achieve certain goals. Even if you’re self-employed, you’ll be working to your own goals.

Of course, the non-work life, the private life, is important. And it will also have some kind of structure. But, as David discovered, take away the work life and, without purpose, the rest may well fall apart.

At any stage, doing life deliberately is important. It becomes more important when you have full control over what you’re doing.

2. It’s your retirement

You can’t live someone else’s retirement or, as in David’s case, you can also avoid living your own.

That’s why it’s important to plan your retirement; to create your retirement; to live your retirement. And to live it on purpose.

3. Retirement is an end, but it’s also a beginning

Retirement is an ending in at least two ways: You have reached the age or have the resources to retire, and you no longer have responsibilities for your work or career.

It’s a beginning in the sense that you now have time to fill that former work space with what you decide. In retiring, you have gifted yourself time to create your ideal life. To fulfil dreams. To try new things.

David’s problem was that he had ended work, but without any plan—or the desire—to begin his new life.

David’s solution

David was so frustrated with his retirement that he gave up on it. He found another job in a related field—a full-time job—and got back into the workforce.

He’s now retired—again. But this time around he’s living a full life.

A year or so ago, when his car was being serviced, he was asked if he would be a fill-in driver for when the regular driver is away. It adds a bit of ‘pocket money’.

In an interesting twist, his psychologist wife has just finished her PhD and is short-listed for an academic position at a university. She doesn’t want to retire—yet. (Statistics from the US indicate that only about 20% of couples retire at the same time.)

David saw his predicament and did something about it. That’s the lesson from his story.

*David is not his real name.

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

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Category: Purpose

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