Why it matters that you matter in retirement—Part 3

Female Neighbor Helping Senior Woman With Shopping

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When counselling psychologist and academic Nancy K Schlossberg retired from her university job, she and her husband shifted to the sunshine state of Florida.

Their shift caused a problem: ‘These steps unleashed a series of unexpected challenges and questions about my place in the world and a sense that I’d lost my bearings as my connections with people and activities I’d depended on for decades to enrich my life were interrupted’.

In talking about it in her book, Revitalizing Retirement, she adds, ‘The retirement transition brings the issue of mattering into clear focus’.

Work plays a huge role in our daily life, she writes, and the loss of the ‘substance and challenge of work’; the relationship with colleagues; the place to go to work; and the daily routines can ‘leave a gaping hole, causing people to wonder, with so much new-found spare time, whether they matter anymore’.

Schlossberg suggests there are ‘four contexts of mattering’—four ways of replacing those work connections.

1. Mattering through work

One way you can gain a sense that you matter is to go back to work after retirement. It can be either a paid job or volunteering. Both bring structure to your life.

When I interviewed Marjorie for the book Refusing to Retire, I found that when she retired, she discovered that retirement wasn’t for her.

She isn’t alone in finding this. There are many who keep working—perhaps for fewer hours—and others who find other jobs or pursue hobbies for pay.

Those who volunteer may use skills they developed in the workplace. Many volunteer to simply help. This is related to the second point.

2. Mattering to the community

Schlossberg says, ‘Finding a way to matter to your community can also contribute to a higher quality of life for retirees.’

A few years back, research on volunteers discovered ‘significant improvements in their mental health, along with other socioemotional benefits ranging from a greater feeling of productivity to increased social activity to an overall sense that their life had improved’.

They mattered. Volunteers matter to the organisation they help. More importantly, they matter to the people they help.

Another way of mattering is to support a cause that will benefit the community or, even, the world. Or, you may want to fight for a cause. That can give you a mission that matters. Importantly, if there’s a group of you, you’re in it together and you matter to each other.

It’s important to matter to someone.

3. Mattering to family and friends

‘We all know how important it is to feel we matter to our friends and family,’ says Schlossberg.

Not only do we ‘know’ it, there’s a bundle of research that points out that knowing friends and family are there for you means you’ll be less likely to be depressed and anxious.

Then there’s this: ‘Older individuals who had more family in their network, as well as older people who were closer with their family were less likely to die’.

‘Less likely to die’ is an excellent outcome.

It’s worth working on our networks by keeping in touch with family and friends. They help us to matter. Schlossberg quotes Morris Rosenberg, ‘To feel that [you] do not matter to other human beings—that can be devastating’.

4. Mattering to yourself

‘At the end of the day,’ says Schlossberg, ‘you need to ask if you appreciate yourself regardless of what others think of you’.

That’s important. You matter whatever others think. You are significant, unique and you’re here. That matters.

In the first of this three-part series, I quoted Morris Rosenberg: ‘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’.

That could be a reality for some. What I’ve attempted to do over these three posts is to show that it doesn’t have to be. There are ways to tackle that feeling.

You do matter.

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

Category: Connecting, Emotional Health, Working

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