Have you considered volunteering? Here are lessons from a case study
You may remember that in Post #93 I mentioned that I had been interviewed (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JY86c2YIshM) by Victoria Tomlinson, Founder and CEO of Next-Up (http://www.next-up.com/). In researching Victoria’s website, which helps retirees in the UK to make their Life Two more satisfying, and which I recommend, I found an interview with a gentleman named Jim Pearson (https://www.next-up.com/peer-story/page/2). It struck me as capturing a lot of feelings about the transition to Life Two that sound very familiar. Jim used to be a manager at Shell, which you’ll recognize as a large multinational company. Now, one of the things he does is to volunteer.
I was inspired by Jim’s wonderful interview, and stole extensively from it for one part of the session I conducted in October last year at the Fall 2019 Aquatic Academy in Long Beach, CA. And it occurred to me that you might be inspired by it too. So it is the subject of this blog post – I’ll try to reproduce a portion of my remarks on that occasion.
My thanks to Jim and to Victoria for permission to use the interview.
Before I get there, let me mention that Episode 4 of our Podcast series is now available at https://donezra.com/podcasts/. In it, Alex Mazer (of Common Wealth) and I interview Fred Vettese, Canadian actuary and popular newspaper columnist. You’ll remember that, in this series, we divide the financial aspects of a working and saving career into three broad phases, which we call Get Started, Get Serious and Get Set. Fred is our expert for Get Serious, which spans roughly the twenty years before you plan to retire. Enjoy his wisdom!
OK, back to volunteering …
Let me quote from Jim’s interview, and then draw out some lessons. So many angles, so many nuances, so many different feelings. Here’s what he says:
“I needed the discipline of getting up on a Monday morning, and having a focus to go and do something.”
Yeah, we know that feeling! Surprisingly, this businessman found it with an organization that looks after gardens. It was a totally different experience for him.
Quote: “I didn’t have any responsibility, which was nice. I was told what to do, which was lovely, for a change. I was out in the fresh air (I’d been locked in an office for 30 years). I was getting fit through physical work. I met lots of wonderful people who were actually in the same boat as me: retired headmasters, national rail managers, who all hit the same wall. Now I get from it a sense of belonging to a group of people, and I’ve made some very good friends, so it’s like being back at work again in some ways.”
By the way, it wasn’t a natural transition. It needed a lot of mental adjustment! Jim continues:
“We have to be careful at times because we’ve all held senior positions; now we’re in gardens and it would be quite easy to say: Why don’t we do it this way. But we’re not the professionals, the gardeners are the professionals. We’re there to dig and weed.
“We have good fun, which is important. It’s wrong to say it fills the day – but it does, and it gives you that sense of purpose and pride. When the gardens you’ve been working in win ‘Best garden in East Anglia’ like we did last year, it’s a great sense of pride again in what we’re doing. It’s really nice when people walk through where you’ve been weeding or digging or planting trees, and people say: This really looks good here.”
Is this what he thought he’d end up doing, or even what his ideal would be today? No.
He continues: “If I had a magic wand today and I was able to go out and do what I want, it would be about helping people in business or in school. I’ve still got a lot to give and add, and I feel it’s a shame that’s being wasted, because in a way I’m filling in time. Of course, a lot of that filling-in-time I’m really enjoying. I wouldn’t give up the volunteer gardening, even if I found that ideal job tomorrow, because that has allowed me to bridge into this next journey of my life.”
Think about it.
Retirement forced him to reinvent himself, and he’s actually finding it remarkably fulfilling, so much so that now he wouldn’t give it up.
Volunteering connects you to others, so you make new friends and contacts.
You get constant social interaction – a lot better than working in your home office five days a week. (That’s too much discipline!)
It can be good for your mind and body: a sense of purpose and pride and self-confidence, physical health, it reduces stress and depression, you learn new skills.
Work was work, not your life. You may not have the job title any more, but what you bring from it, is that you have knowledge and experience to share. At work, you’ve helped others – keep doing that! There may be a way to mentor younger people. But just remember: you’re good at all kinds of things, and what you valued most in your career may not be what’s most useful for you to contribute in Life Two. Jim was a manager, and did not expect to become a gardener, let alone one who wins prizes.
Just think of the benefits to society from the army of retirees who could help in some way. What a huge amount of talent, not being used! What we know for sure is that the need for volunteers will never fall to zero.
We can find all sorts of opportunities, to benefit our communities.
Because in fact we all belong to several communities. Few of us are genuinely a lone wolf. Think of your neighborhood, your sports community, your school community, your work or union community, your arts community, your entertainment community, your spiritual community, cultural communities – because in Life One we don’t just define ourselves by our job, we also have family and friends and all kinds of interests, all of which together define us as a collection of interests. And a community is any group with a shared focus or a shared purpose.
Visit many organizations: schools, libraries, community organizations, service organizations, senior centers, youth organizations, national or local parks or conservation areas, places of worship. Go online to find volunteer opportunities. In fact you can volunteer in many ways: not just in person, but also remotely, via phone or computer.
And all I’ve mentioned, to this point, is volunteering. It’s much more likely that you’ll find other much more obvious forms of fulfillment: traveling, playing, new learning, more socializing – etc etc etc.
Talk to your partner, to your friends, to people who have done this before. And try a bunch of different things, because something may look good on paper and not work out for you. You don’t have to get everything right first time. People often find that they come for the craft or the activity, and they stay for the community.
And you don’t have to find just one thing. For many people, a portfolio of activities can be a very practical alternative to a single focus. I know that’s how I approached life after full-time work: the portfolio approach. There may be one thing in that portfolio that’s bigger than all the rest, one slice in your pie that’s bigger than the others. But the point is that there isn’t just one thing. In fact, given my career, I use an investment analogy. In investing, you make money with a concentrated portfolio; you preserve money with a diversified portfolio. I applied that to life. In Life One, I succeeded with a concentrated effort. In Life Two, I enjoy it with a diversity of activities.
Volunteering helps individuals as well as society. Individuals find fulfillment and shared company. Society benefits from needs filled.
I have written about retirement planning before and some of that material also relates to topics or issues that are being discussed here. Where relevant I draw on material from three sources: The Retirement Plan Solution (co-authored with Bob Collie and Matt Smith, published by John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2009), my foreword to Someday Rich (by Timothy Noonan and Matt Smith, also published by Wiley, 2012), and my occasional column The Art of Investment in the FT Money supplement of The Financial Times, published in the UK. I am grateful to the other authors and to The Financial Times for permission to use the material here.