I have been reflecting on a conversation I had with my sister-in-law during our Thanksgiving visit. I asked her what she and her husband were thinking about retirement, as both turn 65 this year. Both have had significant professional careers since college which are still going strong. She replied that they had no intention of cutting back any time soon, then added that she didn’t know what she would do. Her husband has pursued many hobbies including birding, wine-making, ferns, travel, photography, and any number of things that are related to technology. She has none. Even on vacation, she is researching, grading papers and editing her next book. I think she is not alone in our generation.
My son and I contemplated this as we considered options for Christmas gifts to her, and he stated the obvious: “You can’t give someone a hobby; they need to find it themselves.” He went on to buy several cooking-related items, since we love to eat when we are together.
This connection between the importance of hobbies and successful retirement is one of the key features the PSRC staff identified when putting together the Engaged Retirement program. One needs to have meaningful activities that fulfill the functions that work created, such as having purpose, social contacts, and being intellectually challenged. Hobbies started earlier in life can develop into the passions of retirement. Hobbies such as teaching adult literacy or being a GrandPal reading with children can give that sense of purpose and meaning. Hobbies such as birding and doing puzzles keep us actively learning. Sports, fishing, camping and hiking keep our bodies fit. All of these give us opportunities to meet new people and make new friends.
For many working people, hobbies create balance in our lives. If we are employed in careers that have us interacting with people all the time, we may be drawn to gardening, walking in the woods, yoga or other pursuits that may be solitary, quiet and calming. If we work alone, we may seek excitement and social opportunities.
Just like an investment portfolio, one needs to re- balance periodically, especially after significant life changes. Do you need to add more social activities after losing daily contact with co-workers, or discover new physical activities when no longer playing on the office softball team? Is there an interest you dropped because you were too busy? Accept the invitation of a friend to join a new club, learn chess, or see if playing Wii golf with your grandson is anything like the real links! Pick up a book on that thing you always wanted to learn more about but never had the time!
This process of assessment, adjustment and new discovery needs to continue throughout the lifespan. I have watched my father turning his career as a carpenter into a gift for chair caning and repair and my mother continue her teaching through adult literacy. My New Years wish for my sister-in-law is to be open to turning her interests and curiosity into hobbies that will carry her into the future.
Susan W. Hoskins, LCSW
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