BRENT STOLLER

Writer. Advice giver. Peanut butter and chocolate enthusiast.

Man’s Search for Meaning

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(Question has been modified for space and clarity.)

I just retired after working for 42 years. While I was happy to sell my business, I’m not sure what my purpose is anymore, because my work was a big part of my identity. I used to get up every day knowing what was in front of me, but now I feel lost. How do I find myself?
–Anxious Alvin; South Florida

When you hear the question, “How do I find myself?” what do you think of?

I think of somebody young, maybe just out of college, unsure of who they are, what they want to do and who they want to be.

But the truth is that the search for ourselves is ongoing, if not never-ending. Anyone who tells you they’ve got it figured out is lying to you, and themselves.

And this search only intensifies in times of transition, regardless of age.

In your case, Anxious Alvin, what you’re going through is likely similar to what you went through in your youth, before you had a career or your own business. Only instead of entering the workforce, you’ve now exited it.

Yet the unknown feels just as frightening.

The good news, though, is you’ve proved that not only can you survive these transitions, you can thrive because of them.

Maximizing your retirement isn’t much different from building a business.

In each, you have to be diligent, dedicated and open-minded. And most importantly, you have to be willing to experiment, to try new things in order to figure out what works best and what feels right.

Below are three ways to do exactly that…

1) Neglect your loved ones no more

Recently, I was referred to a blog post from 2015 called “The Tail End” by Tim Urban. In it, Urban uses diagrams to depict the human lifespan in days, weeks, months and years.

Not only that, he takes things a step further by diagramming, based on his current age (34) and previous rates of engagement, roughly how many more times he’ll get to enjoy certain experiences, including swimming in the ocean (60); eating pizza (700); and watching his hometown Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park (20).

It’s a fascinating, visual demonstration of just how short life is, and how we don’t have as much left of it as we think.

But what stuck with me the most was the section on relationships.

Because I’ve failed to do his work justice to this point, I’ll let Urban explain:

I’ve been thinking about my parents, who are in their mid 60s. During my first 18 years, I spent some time with my parents during at least 90 percent of my days. But since heading off to college and then later moving out of Boston, I’ve probably seen them an average of only five times a year each, for an average of maybe two days each time. Ten days a year, about 3 percent of the days I spent with them each year of my childhood.

Being in their mid 60s, let’s continue to be super optimistic and say I’m one of the incredibly lucky people to have both parents alive into my 60s. That would give us about 30 more years of coexistence. If the 10-days-a-year thing holds, that’s 300 days left to hang with mom and dad — less time than I spent with them in any one of my 18 childhood years.

When you look at that reality, you realize that despite not being at the end of your life, you may very well be nearing the end of your time with some of the most important people in your life.

Of course, Alvin, in your scenario, YOU are the person of parental age. But the point remains the same:

You have limited time left with the people you love.

And now you have the time to be with them.

2) Look beyond yourself

For the first part of your life, your professional life, you had to be focused on your own little world — your business, your family, yourself.

That’s not a bad thing. In fact, it’s what you were supposed to do.

But for your second act, you can expand that focus to the world around you.

Is there a charity that inspires you? Is there a crisis you’re passionate about? Is there a way for you to make a difference, to lend a helping hand, to ease somebody’s struggle?

Few things will get you moving more than a cause that moves you.

For instance, I love to sleep. I’m terrible at it, which makes me love it, and need it, that much more.

But once a month, for the last eight months, I’ve been happy to sacrifice it for a worthwhile reason:

Volunteering at the local food bank.

Alongside my wife, I complete various tasks, from sorting donated canned goods to packing meals for the elderly.

It’s menial work that means so much more. Which is what gets me out of bed, even when I’m exhausted.

To give is to receive.

3) Invest in yourself

Obviously, I don’t know your financial situation. But I do know you have enough money.

I know that because you’ve retired. And when you voluntarily retire, you’re declaring that to sustain your desired lifestyle, you no longer need an income (investments aside).

Do you realize what kind of freedom that gives you?

In the truest sense, money is no object.

Whereas those of us still working have to figure out how to service our bank accounts, your primary job is to satisfy your soul.

Of course, that’s part of what makes this so scary. You’re a veteran at the former, a rookie in regard to the latter.

But instead of running from this challenge, rise to it. With great change comes great possibility.

For over four decades, you were a business owner.

Now, retirement offers you the chance to be something else.

What have you always wanted to do? What have you been avoiding? What have you been dismissing to your rainy-day shelf?

Dismiss it no more.

Your time is yours, and your time is now.

What are you going to do with it?

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WE NEED YOUR QUESTIONS!

This column wouldn’t exist without you. So if you’re struggling with life, love or anything in between, all you have to do is complete this form, and we’ll do what we can to help.

Anonymity guaranteed.

*****

This originally appeared on the Good Men Project.

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