July 19, 2013

My First Few years of Retirement: Discovering The Passion

This is the fourth in a series of posts about some of the earlier struggles I endured on my path toward a satisfying retirement. If you missed the ones about finances, relationships, or time management, click any of the underlined links.

This time around I want to deal with one of the facets that tends to get overlooked until after retirement has started: finding a passion, strong interest, or hobby that you look forward to each day. From personal experience I can assure you that waiting until you leave work is a mistake. That's what I did and ended up drifting for several years.

No Hobbies, No Passion = Problem

Because my career consumed virtually all my time and energy, I did not have any outside interests to turn to. After work ended I filled my time with sports on TV, reading, or puttering around the house. Betty and I did take several major vacations within the first five years of retirement, but that became a very expensive way to fill my free time.

Brief flings at stamp and coin collecting as a child didn't light my adult fire. I really didn't have any typical hobbies as a child. As a youngster I did enjoy looking at large model train layouts, but never really had the money or skills to pursue it as a hobby.

Through a chance visit to a local radio station in Cambridge, Ohio at age 12, I became fascinated by radio. From that point on broadcasting became my focus for the next 40 years. I put together little radio studios in our attic and "broadcast" to speakers in other rooms of our house. I built a radio station in a tool shed in the backyard when I was 15 and spent countless hours pretending to be a DJ.

Finally, Something To Get Excited About

That radio fascination did lead me to my first real interest a few years after  retirement: ham radio. Very different from broadcasting, amateur radio is primarily attractive to those with a strong technical and electronics background. Most ham radio operators can build a transmitter from scratch, construct large antennas on their roof, or fix virtually anything electronic. I can rewire a lamp but that's about it.

I did discover that there are amateur operators who are primarily interested in simply talking with others all over the world. Many hams are very active in emergency communications after natural disasters. Others simply enjoy the social aspects of getting together with other people who enjoy the hobby. So, I studied what I needed to know to get my federal license, joined a ham club, and found a passion that became a driving force in my life for several years.

Eventually, for various reasons, that interest began to fade. It was replaced by a giant leap out of my comfort zone and background: volunteer work in prison ministry. Going into a prison the first time was terrifying. I was exposed to an environment I had only seen on TV or in movies. But, what I found were men who were trying to turn their lives around and simply looking for someone to care enough to be there with them. If you'd like to read more about my prison ministry experiences the posts, Pushing Back Against the Box  and Prison Ministry: What does it accomplish, might be worth your time.  

I'm afraid I can't provide you with any "secret" tips to help you discover your driving passion, the thing that will make your retirement truly satisfying. Ham radio became a part of my life because a friend was deeply involved and invited me to learn more about it. Prison ministry happened because my pastor asked me to write letters to some men in prison who were looking for pen pals. That quickly developed into a much more active involvement that continues to be part of my life. I stumbled into blogging three years ago simply as an outlet for my need to write. Last year, my wife and I made the plunge into RV travel and found something that is becoming an increasingly important part of our lives.

What will I be doing in another few years? I have no idea. It will probably be something different from what I am doing now. I could not have predicted any of the interests that have helped shape my retirement. Each was something new for me. Each required me to learn a new set of skills or allow a hidden part of my personality to surface. Each happened because of some external stimulus that came when I was receptive to a change.

Maybe that is the overriding lesson: be open to things that may seem wrong for you, out of your comfort zone, or simply alien to your experience. Is it simply serendipity, the accident of finding something good or useful while not specifically searching for it?

Sounds right to me.


  1. Being physically active is a passion that both my husband and I share. Some of it we do together (hiking, biking) and some separately (strength training and group exercise classes for me). From our early dating days, we have always sought out activities to keep us physically active. The joy of not having to work it in around a busy work schedule is absolutely delightful.

    While I can't imagine ever losing this passion, I know that there is more to my life to discover as a retiree. Still new at this, I am open to developing other interests as well. I think that at some point, volunteering will be important to me. I feel I have a lot I could "give back".

    It's funny, but when people learn I have retired, one of the first questions I get is "so now what?" It goes back to figuring out your identity outside of your job title. I'm not there yet, but imagine that it will be clearer as time goes on.

    In the meantime I'm enjoying the new found freedom to structure my days as I see fit. Other interests that I may pursue include being a better photographer, writing, and playing my piano again (I'm very rusty!).

    1. Blogger Retired Syd (Retirement: A Full-Time Job) started playing the piano again after a many year break. She says she is now obsessed, putting in several hours a day of practice and loving every minute of it. That is the definition of a true passion.

      You may not feel that way again about the piano but I am confident there is a passion or two waiting for you to find it.

  2. I think it is kind of like love. If you are seriously looking for it, it won't happen. You simply can't force yourself into something you will be passionate about. As you say, it most often happens serendipitously.

    I, like you, started blogging five years ago. I simply needed an outlet for some creative thoughts. I have started perhaps ten different blogs and am now down to two that I maintain on a regular basis. They are topics that interest me and I hope my readers. I continually test new waters in this area. I am currently prepping one on local town histories. We will see how that one goes.

    Volunteering is a natural for us retired folks. We can pay forward for all the blessings we have had in our lives by helping others who need it. To me, and I'm sure to you, that is a very fulfilling part of retirement life that every retired person physically capable should approach.

    I have come to the conclusion that all us retired guys, and I expect gals, also need some "physical" thing too. A couple of years ago I was getting ready to sell my 22 year-old truck when I got an idea to instead turn it into a micro-RV. Weather permitting I am out in the barn fiddling with that project. Satisfyingly getting my hands dirty and coming into the house with an occasional bruise or cut for my wife to roll her eyes at.

    1. I want to see a few pictures of your RV project! And, ten blogs? I feel like a real slacker.

      I wish I had been born with some of those mechanical skills. I have a next door neighbor who is constantly maintaining his 4 vehicles, the newest of which is 15 years old. He replaces the brakes several times a year, changes the oil every 2,000 miles, and rebuilds things I can't even name. He says it is therapy for him.

    2. Not ten blogs at the same time though! I tried my share of "senior" blogs but just couldn't keep the material fresh. I congratulate you for that.

      My micro-RV (uRV) is in the shop right now getting new brakes and shocks. They haven't been replaced in more than 60,000 miles so desperately need them. I plan on taking some pictures and doing a few posts over at RJsCorner in a few weeks. Keep an eye out for them.

  3. Hi Bob. I agree with your ideas of being open to things that may not fit with your usual choices. When I began, my overriding mantra was Try New Things because I think as we get older we get comfortable in our safe little world and maybe, just maybe, a little bored.

    So encouraging myself to try something new each day (small and large) has opened up a lot of new options, some great and some not so great. But it makes life enticing and I have ended up doing some fascinating things as a result.

    Admittedly though, sometimes when I have planned something, I wake up wondering 'why did I plan to do this?' Often though, if I get past that initial reticence, I have some great new experiences.

    1. Even with the things detailed in this post I am feeling a bit stale at the moment. Trying something new is a great cure - now I just have to figure out what that "new" thing is.

      I hope our 3 weeks in Portland next month will give me a fresh burst of inspiration.

  4. Since retiring long, long ago, I've tried (1)performing accountant duties for a homeowners association,(2)golfing six days a week,(3)returning to work to write a history on a contract,(4)publishing a memoir,(5)leading a discussion group at the local Unitarian-Universalist Church,and(6)playing a whole lot of puter games. Throughout all that, blogging has turned out to be the most rewarding and sustainable activity.

    1. At least for me, blogging satisfies several needs: creative, recognition, helping others, and building something from scratch. Not bad for an activity that is essentially free.

  5. I think one of the attractions of retirement is the opportunity to be open to new things and the time to pursue those opportunities when they arise. I already have one passion (gardening) that I am looking forward to having more time and energy for and another old passion (sewing) that I'm planning to get back to. And who knows what else :-) -Jean

    1. "Who knows what else" is really the key, isn't it Jean. We are able to stumble onto something and give it a go. If it connects with us, great. If not, then on to something else.

  6. Hi Bob, I just wanted to tell you how glad I am that I found your site. I find the experiences that you share both insightful and thought provoking. Even though I am 4-5 years away from retirement, I can't wait until my wife and I are able to enjoy ourselves as we choose!

    My biggest fear is not so much about money, as it is about managing our free time. We have always spent alot of time working and raising our family and have very little outside interests or hobbies. We hope to spend the first few years traveling across the country in an RV, then decide where we want to settle down. I would like to stay in the Northwest and snow bird in the winter. My wife is a "Type A" and she will have to stay busy most of the time.

    I look forward to learning more from you! Paul

    1. Welcome, Paul. I hope you and your wife find a lot of helpful information here. Please visit often and leave comments, ask questions, and pose problems. We are all in this together.

      You and your wife don't sound very much different from us. We are heading to Portland in 2 weeks to check out the possibilities of spending part of our summers there in our RV. Betty must stay busy all the time or she drives me bonkers!