Why it matters that you matter in retirement—Part 2

Senior photographer in a forest adjusting camera.

Image: YsbrandCosijn/Bigstock.com

In the first post on this topic, the point was made that after retirement it’s more difficult to know that you matter. When you’re employed you do matter to make things happen for your boss and fellow employees.

There was a personal reflection in the Swiss research referred to in Part 1 that’s helpful in understanding what matters. It came from a 69-year-old male photographer:

‘The first meaning in my life is, above all, social relationships. It goes into hobbies, music, photography, travelling—into everywhere … As long as people need to see my pictures, this is the engine. When people tell me that they like my pictures, it enhances my personal worth. I think to myself: Well, I am still useful because I can please people with my work.’

There are four things here that can give some understanding of what can help us matter.

1. ‘The first meaning of my life is . . . social relationships’

Relationships are important. Atul Gawande, surgeon and writer, puts it this way: ‘Human beings are social creatures. We are social not just in the trivial sense that we like company, and not just in the obvious sense that we each depend on others. We are social in a more elemental way: simply to exist as a normal human being requires interaction with other people.’

And our relationships help us to matter. Just as our friends and family—those who we connect with—matter to us, we matter to them. That’s how relationships work.

2. ‘As long as people need to see my pictures’

His perception that people need to see his pictures is ‘the engine’ that drives him. He doesn’t say that they get to see his pictures. It’s much deeper than that. His perception may be wrong, of course, but it’s his perception.

This need helps give him purpose. And it gives him a task to fulfil.

We all need to know we’re needed in some way. It’s a certain sign that we matter.

3. ‘When people tell me they like my pictures’

Appreciation and gratitude is important for all of us. It says that what we’ve done has been worthwhile.

But it’s more than this. Psychologist Offra Gerstein says: ‘All people require ongoing validations for maintaining a solid sense of self-esteem. The healing effect to both giver and receiver of gratitude is measurable.’

It isn’t only measurable, but in this case, it also signals that the photographer matters.

4. ‘Well, I’m still useful because I can still please people’

The photographer believes he matters because he’s useful in pleasing people through his photography. People like his pictures. That matters.

But we can be useful in various ways—in our family, in our street, in our community, in our workplace. Being useful is likely to mean you’re doing things that matter to others, which means you matter to them.

A reminder

In the first post on this topic, sociologist Morris Rosenberg was cited saying: ‘The problem of retirement is that one no longer matters; others no longer depend upon [retirees]. The reward of retirement [may] be the punishment of not mattering.’

We need to matter in retirement. Knowing the problem before retirement means we can work on it before we get there, either by working on things that will continue to help us matter in retirement, or having a plan to make sure we will matter then.

In Part 3, the final of the mattering series, I look at the four contexts of mattering—a useful guide developed by Nancy K Schlossberg.

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

Category: Attitude, Emotional Health, Purpose

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