Finding purpose in retirement

Most retirement gurus recommend taking your time before jumping into volunteer activities once freed from the rigors of the work world. I took that advice to heart when my fulltime work morphed into parttime and began exploring ways I could put my time and energy into something meaningful in my new beautiful city of Beaufort.

My previous volunteer work ran the gamut from leadership and fundraising roles to guiding a vision-impaired runner. It was the runner who changed the way I look at volunteering. He was a police officer, catastrophically blinded in the line of duty. I played a small role that combined my love of running and my desire to do something that had an immediate impact. Guiding him on long runs, via holding a shoelace between us, and through 5Ks and other races worked out for both of us. I got my runs in, and he was able to continue one thing he loved among the debris of all that he lost.

Once I settled into the Lowcountry, I began looking around at various ways to contribute. The joy of docenting at the Pat Conroy Center eventually led to volunteering at Lady’s Island Elementary School in the newly launched Storybuilders program where a group of mostly (not all) retired teachers help 3rd and 5thgraders tap into their creativity through poetry, personal narrative and playwriting.

The kids are smart, eager to learn and sometimes exhausted from all the hard things in their world. The teachers, librarian and administration provide amazing guidance and support. I have to say, it’s been one of the great joys of my life. And, like guiding the blind runner, it feels immediate and impactful. I’m not sure how the story writing translates into test scores, but I can confirm the way the kids’ eyes light up with one-on-one attention from the volunteers.

Plus, they crack me up. I was explaining to the group how the kind of personal narrative writing I do has the power to make people laugh or think or roll their eyes. One boy raised his hand and I paused and let him ask his question.

“Do you tell stories about when you were in World War !!?” he asked.

Yes. We are really old to these kids. But it’s not lost on them that people from their community care about their success and give up their time to show them how to write about the hero journey of their own lives.

When I make a pitch for the newly retired to explore volunteering opportunities, I suggest keeping it hyper-local and finding something that’s a little out of your comfort zone. The only elementary school kids I’ve ever been around were my own and that was decades ago.

There are incredible volunteer positions in this community and a great need for help. I have friends involved in social justice, health care, Friends of the Library, and on and on. My husband docents at the History Museum and participates in area conservation programs and the Good Neighbor medical clinic. There’s a huge need for former leaders to assume leadership positions in churches, local and national associations that tackle poverty, food insecurity, land conservation and other critical issues facing this community.

Figuring out a meaningful way to spend time newly free of deadlines, meetings and business travel requires some mindful planning. Take that first (or second or third) step, even if your contribution seems small and is right around the corner. For me, it’s a simple love of both telling stories and teaching storytelling that led me to Lady’s Island Elementary School.

To those who say, ‘I don’t have anything to teach someone or particular skills to share,’ I can truthfully respond: I don’t even know you, but I promise you do!

And now, I must get started on my WWII memoir.