Growing up on the New Jersey shore, I learned to swim early on. Since the ocean is often too rough for a little kid, as a pre-schooler my mom took me to calmer inlets and, on occasion, to one of the community pools housed along the board walk. I loved the community pool. Other little kids would be there splashing around, doing the doggie paddle, laughing and just having fun. Going to the community pool expanded my little world, which was limited at the time to my family and neighborhood friends. As I grew and entered school and then work, my community grew along with me. As a teen I even worked one summer at O’Brien’s ice cream parlor at the north end community pool, making friends with some of my co-workers. Being retired is a bit like going back to that time as a little kid before my world expanded to include the community pool.
One of the dilemmas for many retirees is how to replace the community of work. After all, for decades work has provided a sense of identification. One of the first questions asked by any new acquaintance is, “What do you do?” I did my share of asking the same question. Work provides a sense of place and belonging as in the often asked next question, “Where do you work?” Work provides a place to come together with other people where we share connections wrought from common purpose, beliefs and values. Work also provides a place for us to be appreciated and recognized for our contributions to the group effort. Work may even provide us with friends. Some of my most enduring friendships are from earlier work relationships. So, while we work to earn an income, work provides us with much more than a paycheck. Replacing the work community and redefining your sense of self in retirement is actually a quest for connection.
In retirement we can seek community out of a sense of commitment as we are now able to exercise greater choice over what we commit to. Without a paycheck coming into play, our commitment is based on our interests, talents, beliefs and social connections. Volunteer work, civic involvement, part-time or full-time work in a new field, membership in clubs, living in over age 55 communities, being an activist for one cause or another. The choices seem endless and probably are. If you were active in your community before retirement, you may want to increase your commitment to those activities. Or, perhaps, you’ll want to try something new as you discover latent talents or interests. This is the opportunity to jump in feet first to try that something you always wanted to try but never had the time. No excuses now! I know retirees who teach computer classes, belong to knitting, quilting and garden clubs, do woodworking, volunteer for charitable organizations such as hospice, a domestic abuse shelter or, yes, the senior center, are artists or work part-time. The list goes on and on. The common theme with these people is they have remained engaged in life. They have a sense of community, a purpose, which has them looking forward to each day.
If you have identified a purpose for your life, which will give connection and community, embrace it full-throttle ahead. If not, find one. The choices are indeed endless. And finding THE ONE can be half the fun. Think of all the new people you’ll meet and all the new things you’ll learn. But, whatever you do, take a deep breath, hold your nose, jump in feet first and find your community pool!