November 1, 2015

Can You Lead a Life of Significance While Still Nurturing Yourself?

How is that for a post title. Is it a rhetorical question or do I have an answer? And, what exactly is a "life of significance?" Is it diametrically opposed to a life where "self" is protected and nurtured?

Immediately, here in paragraph number 2, I will state that the question is not rhetorical. I will also note that I don't know if I have the answer. But, it seems like a question or dilemma that should be asked. So, let's see where the discussion takes us.

This potential dichotomy is not one that exists exclusively during the retirement years. Of course, as infants and young children the whole world is about us and our significance. Periods of loud crying and temper tantrums pretty much work to keep mom and dad focused on our wants.

Once we realize that the world is round and big and we are not at its center, hopefully we begin to incorporate the feelings and needs of others into our world view. Sharing, consideration, and compromise are skills that become necessary for our social survival.

If we look at our society over the last decade or two, I could argue that those precise skill sets of compromise, consideration, and sharing are falling into disuse as we age. How else to explain the extreme polarization in our world? 

One could make the point that some of us have regressed back into the young child mode of self being the only motivator and "what I want" becomes the mantra. There is no debate that our innate sense of self worth and preservation are powerful motivators. But, if we let those feelings rule all our decisions I contend we (and the world) are the worse for it.

Certainly, one of the most pleasing aspects of my satisfying journey through retirement has been the growth in my need to connect more with others and lend a helping hand when I can. I enjoyed what I did for a living for all those years. But, there was little time or motivation to do much for anyone other than my immediate family. They were my focus and the beneficiaries of my work and thoughts. 

For me, retirement has allowed me to see the deficiencies in that approach to life. The freedom of time and change has opened up parts of my self that were well hidden for years. My spiritual growth has made it abundantly clear that I was too self-centered and too concerned with the pleasures of the material world. Family is a blessing, but we are made to do more.

A life of significance is one in which an individual does more than is required, more than is expected, more than is simply expedient. It may mean volunteer work. It may mean using skills from your working years to help others now. It can mean clearing a large chunk of your schedule to be a caregiver for a family member or relative. It could mean getting deeply involved in a cause or subject that moves you or you believe has an importance beyond just yourself.

At the same time, you are nurturing yourself. You are likely to find parts of your character or personality that you didn't know existed. It is certainly probable that you will find a sense of fulfillment and joy that eluded you in the past. You will be more connected to the world around you, becoming stimulated and enriched in a way that would much more difficult if you were isolated and only focused inward.

Please, don't simply accept what you have just read without some serious thought on your part. You may disagree with some (or all) of what has been written. But, if you think about the subject and come to a way forward that works for you, then this post has served its purpose.


Note: did you remember to change your clocks this morning? Daylight Savings Time ended at 2 am Sunday, November 1st.



19 comments:

  1. Oh Bob, this is a loaded post. If we're honest, when most of us are on the brink of retirement we have a list of plans we're just itching to pursue. We've worked hard, raised kids, and saved money in order to finally do what we want to do. Fast forward a few years: most items are checked off on the list and we wonder why we feel somewhat empty. I believe most people have some sort of void that can only be filled by reaching out to help someone in need. There's nothing wrong with fulfilling our dreams, as long as our hearts and heads are open to reaching out when those opportunities arise. The big problem I have is keeping a healthy balance. I can get lost in trying to do good. That's where my husband comes in--the voice of reason. He helps me stay objective. There are definitely seasons in our lives; a time to relax and a time to work; a time to take and a time to give. Thanks for this post.

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    1. Thanks for your thoughts, Pam. Isn't it interesting how several of the last few posts have resulted in a lot of comments that stress the need for balance. It doesn't seem to matter what the topic is, balance and moderation rise to the top.

      In this case, balance between personal needs and our sense of compassion for others is obvious, but hard to achieve. What is encouraging is that most of us are trying to make both sides of the equation work.

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  2. Very heady post here Bob, thanks for all the thoughts. Yeah this is not just a retirement thing and should apply throughout our lives. But isn't it great the our retirement years enables us to kick it in high gear. Love God and love each other, and that "other" means everyone. That to me is what life is all about and why each of us were put on this earth.

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    1. I will have a post in a week or so about the results of my search to find the involvement answer for me after my prison ministry efforts ended two years ago. My wife noted how enthused and passionate I was after coming back from my first meeting with this organization. I am ready to kick that portion of my life into high gear.

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  3. Can you lead a life of significance while still nurturing yourself? I respond with a resounding YES to that question. I believe that one begets the other. The nurtured self is more fully capable of giving to oneself, to family, to community. Self care is important, not in the sense of entitlement but so self is not depleted giving to others. Service to others can contribute to a sense of fulfillment and joy. I also believe there is significance in the mundane. For example, how many times has someone reminded you of a conversation or act that you may have thought was insignificant but was life-changing for that person? Or the daily chores that get tedious but contribute to a full family life, like changing that diaper for the hundredth time, taking out the trash, cooking yet one more meal?

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    1. ou had several very important thoughts to pass along, Mona. " Service to others can contribute to a sense of fulfillment and joy" is what I believe, too. Helping others makes you feel alive and happy. While that may be a selfish byproduct, it is reality.

      "There is significance in the mundane" is also right on the mark. The stuff that we do everyday impacts others in ways we don't really appreciate. You cite a few examples. Add in simple things like being pleasant to the checkout clerk, helping your spouse put away the groceries, even going down the street to the mailbox and bringing back your spouse's favorite magazine are simple acts that please others.

      If you think about it, there is virtually nothing we do that doesn't impact others in some way. With a little effort that interaction can be a positive for everyone.

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    2. My response to this question is very similar to Mona's. This fall, I've made an arrangement with my recently widowed next-door neighbor to have her over for dinner once a week. In some ways, this is something I am doing for her. Her husband was the cook in their family, she is a hard-working teacher who doesn't always have the energy to prepare a meal for herself at the end of a day, and it helps to have some regular social engagements during that first year of widowhood. But it is also something I'm doing for myself: Last winter, I experienced both cabin fever and social isolation because I was so often housebound. Having a regular social engagement with someone who doesn't have to drive to get here will help to keep me from that fate this year. An example of a small, mundane act that is simultaneously self-care and care for another. -Jean

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  4. I don't know--after reading everyone else's post I may sound like a selfish scrooge, still in an egocentric, hedonistic, self-centered phase of retirement, but right now when I contemplate trying to devote significant time to something which might be labeled "of significance," I often feel something equivalent to either anticipatory burn out or anticipatory exhaustion at the very idea. This feeling also links into one of your recent posts about "how much of your retirement life do you structure or need to have structured." Right now my answer is still "the most minimal amount possible." I think taking on something "of significance" would of necessity require that I take on more external structure. I do keep an eye out though for possible ways to engage, ones that would overcome my inertia. I am always very intrigued by people who talk about finding an energizing passion and hearing their stories of how that occurs, especially in retirement. Perhaps that is because In retirement I haven't found one yet. I also didn't really have one to transplant or transfer into retirement and continue from my working life. As to looking around, I don't live in a place with an abundance of structured volunteer opportunities to explore anyway. I sometimes think, for example, that I'd like to be a volunteer docent at our state's nature museum or art museum, but that would require a 150 mile drive. Most local "helping" opportunities are largely coordinated through the largest local churches, which I don't attend, and events such as "Feed the Hungry at Thanksgiving" have more helpers and servers than partakers! In the past though, for many years, I did quite a bit of volunteer work, for example as a Crisis Line volunteer, but again that requires ilving in areas, i..e. cities, that support such services. Oh well--I'm happy some of you are keeping the cogs of the world turning!

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    1. Excellent comment, B.E. The time and desire to do something, the phase of retirement one is in, and location are all part of the mix of factors that influence what we can or choose to do. Obviously, your past volunteer work tells me you are inclined to become involved at some point and certainly are not a selfish scrooge! What happens in the future will happen when you are ready and you find the best way for you to do something in your location.

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  5. The 12 Stages of Life mark the years 50 - 80 as the Benevolent stage when we have raised our families, established ourselves in our work life -- maybe completed our work life -- and "become contributors to the betterment of society through volunteerism, mentorships, and other forms of philanthropy. All of humanity benefits from the benevolence. Moreover, we all can learn from the example to give more of ourselves to others." Of course, this is an ideal. I think you're a bit further along the path than I am. But I'm still trying!

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    1. I like the concept of the Benevolent stage. That seems to fit this time of life well.

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  6. This post bothered me. I would like to think most live lives of significance, whether or not they actively do good works. If you are a kind and thoughtful person, it's not for me to otherwiise judge your life's journey.

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    1. I understand your reaction completely, Jane. All human life is significant, so my choice of a description may need improvement. Being kind and thoughtful means you are giving back to others by making them feel good. So, I might argue that such a lifestyle actually fits what i am attempting to convey, though not as clearly as I might have.

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  7. I've been giving the idea of doing something more meaningful a lot of thought. There is no shortage of opportunities, but it's important for me to find the right fit. I've still got about 4 more years to figure this out. I think we owe something to society to try and make the lives of others better. In return we'll be better people for at least trying to do some good.

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    1. You are absolutely, right, Gail. There is no shortage of opportunities to become involved in a way that best suits each of our needs, talents, and temperament. Yes, it takes a little effort to find the right fit, but the payoff is tremendous.

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  8. After being retired for 3 years now, I just enjoy the life of early retirement. It provides a lot more time for exploring hobbies that I did not have time to pursue before. I haven't drilled down at the level of self reflection that you seem to have. But I think sometimes keeping things at a higher cerebral level is less stressful and more fulfilling.

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    1. It took me several years into retirement to add the "need" for more community involvement to my lifestyle. 3-4 years into retirement I was just past of the stage of worrying my money would run out!

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  9. It took me a year to connect! Now I am contemplating dis-connecting one thing out of three passions: writing, painting, charity work. HMMMM - which one, which one? Thanks for the insight as always!

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