Everyone has unique potential because everyone has innate talents just waiting to be used by the universe. For example, while cleaning out a box of keepsakes a while back I looked at my second grade report card (yes, I still had it) and noticed how I excelled at spelling and grammar, not so good at arithmetic. Spelling abilities later led to A grades in English, which led to Journalism classes and a stint as copy editor of my high school newspaper. See, even as a child my gift for verbal acuity was clear, innate. Retirement is a time to discover or rediscover talents, passions, gifts. We only have one chance to put our dent in the universe. If you haven’t done that to date, your last third of life is your last opportunity.
A couple of weeks ago a reader, Paul Wilkes, sent me a copy of his most recent book Your Second To Last Chapter. Paul has written some twenty books so writing a book isn’t unusual for him. However, what he writes about in Your Second To Last Chapter is in keeping with much of what I spout on this blog.
Paul’s small but insightful book chronicles his feeling empty and unfulfilled in retirement until he found, yes, I’m going to say it again, new meaning and purpose. The cover catch phrase “Creating a Meaningful Life on Your Own Terms” sums it up nicely. Paul already had a very enviable gig as a visiting professor at a university, a supporting role to his wife, Tracy’s volunteer work and the ability to travel to far off destinations. Yet, he felt something was missing in his life.
Then, on a month-long trip to India he serendipitously met a former street beggar at a home for girls. Her story and the conditions at the home would tug at anyone’s heart strings. But, Paul decided to take a small step to help the girls’ home. What began as a quest to obtain mattresses for the girls, so they wouldn’t be sleeping on straw mats laid upon a concrete floor, turned into a full-fledged passion to change their lives completely. In doing so, Paul changed his own life, filling up the empty place inside him.
While we are not all cut out to raise huge sums of money and wend our way through the logistics to transform a home and educate children living in deplorable conditions, we are all cut out for something bigger. Oftentimes, in my life, while going on my merry way, something happens out of the blue, something unexpected, which if I stop and listen, may change my life or someone else’s life or both.
I call this a personal Black Swan Event. Technically, a Black Swan is an unexpected, surprising event with huge cultural changing influence on the world in general. Behind a Black Swan Event is an outlier. For example, Bill Gates is an outlier, a person, who through their actions, brings about a world-changing event, such as Gate’s software to run personal computers. We all have events in our lives that, in hindsight, changed our personal trajectory.
I’m no Bill Gates, but I have done a few things in my life, which changed some other lives. For several years I helped raise money and planted garden beds at a domestic abuse shelter. I pleaded with friends and neighbors, business connections and anyone who would listen to give. I called and emailed state and Congressional legislators to support bills to thwart domestic violence. A starving cat eating bird food off of a rock wall behind my house led to my rescuing many, many cats.
I did not seek out these causes. They just knocked at my door and I chose to open it and let them in. There are others I turned away from because they did not speak to my passion.
Another event that knocked at my door was the creation of this blog. I know from your comments and emails, I have helped more than a few of you figure out some things about retirement or, at the very least, know there is more to retiring than having enough money. Writing a blog was not even a tiny seed of a thought in my mind when I retired. My personal frustration with finding answers to what I was feeling led me to dust off my innate writing talent and launch the blog. Then, you found me. Thank you for the following! I humbly hope I continue to offer insights and ideas of value.
Finding our passion is not easy. Even if we approach this quest with an open mind and heart, the answer can elude us. Our society is one of accumulating stuff, spending money to make ourselves feel better about the emptiness gnawing at us or to add a moment of pleasure or excitement to our lives.
That moment, however, is a flash in the pan as the feeling, the newness of our purchase quickly wears off. Ditto for retirement adventures such as traveling the world or buying an RV to see the country. I’ve spoken to plenty of retirees who spent years in the retirement honeymoon stage of enjoying themselves with travel, golf, tennis, book clubs, art or whatever. Then they woke up one day like Paul Wilkes and said, “I feel empty. Now what?”
None of these leisure activities put our dent in the universe unless, of course, we take them, somehow, to creating something meaningful, purposeful. All they do is take up a patch of time and temporarily fill the hole in our soul and help fuel the economy, making Wall Street happy, but doing little to permanently fill any personal void. With the possibility of living to be one hundred becoming more and more likely, you could spend ten years playing and still have twenty years or more left to put your dent in the universe. Then what?
If you are one of the people voicing disillusionment with retirement, ask yourself these questions:
- Is there something I did as a child or teen that excited me yet I never thought it possible? We all had childhood dreams. You may have an adulthood dream but backed away from trying it for fear of failure. I met a man last year who didn’t go to college until later in life because he thought he wasn’t smart enough. He thought he would fail. Conversely, some people back away because they fear success. How will they handle their dream if it actually materializes? Will they be able to step up to the plate and keep their success afloat?
- Do you give up too easily? Paul Wilkes talks about the obstacles, the set backs, the mistakes. His passion for what he is doing moves him forward. We never know what we are capable of doing unless we try.
- Speaking of trying, are you willing to try new activities until you find your passion? Or, do you place self-imposed limitations on yourself? Being open is imperative to finding your passion. Remember the old adage ‘if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again’? Keep going until you find the activity that sets your soul on fire.
If you are spending too much time on busy work, if you are spending too much time meeting people for coffee or lunch, if you find yourself watching too much TV, if you find yourself depressed in retirement, if you spend money on stuff you don’t need, if you find yourself bored, if you’re complaining a lot, if you don’t like your life, if you don’t have an activity that feeds your soul, then take the leap.
Get out of your comfort zone. Be open to finding your passion. Be open to listening to life as it whispers to you about how to use your unique potential. We only have one chance to put our dent in the universe. Don’t blow it!
Hi Kathy – Thank you for a truly insightful post. I will definitely be re-reading it as you give much to ponder. I will also look for Paul Wilkes’ new book.
By the way, I thought I was the only retiree who still had a copy of her (or his) Grade 2 report card!
Putting Your Dent in the Universe is a well written article and probably applies to many of us retirees, myself included. At 75 I am still searching for that passion. I love to write as evidenced by the two blogs I write content for, but am still struggling to find my niche. My educated guess though is that I am getting closer.
I truly enjoyed this particular posting and look forward to more.
Thanks for sharing.
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I am on cusp of retirement and keep thinking of all the things I will do when I have more time. Only 6 weeks more I tell myself and the I can lose weight, keep fit, see my friends, my children, my grandchildren. I guess the sadness is that as we move towards this goal more and more of my friends and family are starting to get unwell. So this Christmas I took my youngest son (aged 26) and my husband on a fantastic holiday to the carribean. No expense spared. It was wonderful and what I learned was that you can actually make dents of your own which you can replay over and over again. Because if you don’t seize the moment then it may not come again.
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A wonderful article with lots to think about. I have been retired for almost 6 years and I am still looking for that “thing” that will make me feel fulfilled outside of work. I have gone back to work on and off on short-term contracts over the past 5 years because I missed being busy. Love your blog and the inspiration it gives. Thank you.
I just commented on Donna’s blog and yes, I also found a copy of my Grade 2 report card when I was cleaning out my mother’s house. I was able to retire several years early as we got insurance through the Affordable Care Act. (That was just seven months ago.) After teaching third grade for 11 years, I was ready to move on. I planned to write full-time for children. I’ve been writing, but there are several other things that have me really excited. We became Airbnb hosts a year and a half ago and aside from the extra income, we’ve met some really amazing people from around the world. We had an incredible couple of artists from Lisbon here in LA for three months and during that time, I met twice a week to help Francesco with his English and he helped me with my Spanish. I got inspired and started practicing using the free program Duolingo. I finally went on Meetup.com (They have these groups around the world.) and found a nearby Spanish conversation group. I got up my nerve and went for the first time last week. There were people there of all ages who come together once a week to converse in español. I loved it! Now I’ve been invited to attend the monthly meetings at school for non-English speaking parents. For me, it’s been good to get out of the house and meet new people who share similar interests.
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I worked in a field that fed my passion for 30 years (Speech therapist and teacher in an autism class). Floundered in retirement for a few years doing stints as a substitute speech therapist, taking classes, and visiting friends. All very enjoyable , BUT… Finally realized that I was going to enjoy taking care of my granddaugter (her mom passed away} and be a “stay at home” mom. Both sons lost their spouses so I have plenty to do!! I enjoy all your thoughtful articles!
Again, I take away a lot from your blog! I can’t wake up each day trying to please me. I volunteer weekly and love giving back. I get more from giving than getting!
Thank you for writing. I’m trying!
Lovely article, it got me to thinking.
“If you are spending too much time on busy work, if you are spending too much time meeting people for coffee or lunch, if you find yourself watching too much TV, if you find yourself depressed in retirement, if you spend money on stuff you don’t need, if you find yourself bored, if you’re complaining a lot, if you don’t like your life, if you don’t have an activity that feeds your soul, then take the leap.” This is the part of your post that got me because this is me right now. I am going to get Paul Wilkes’ book because you have intrigued me about it but more importantly, I am going to try and take the leap out of my comfort zone. Thanks for this blog. It has been a help to me many times.