In the thirteen years that I’ve been blogging, I can’t remember a blog that attracted more views and responses than the one I posted last week called “Who are we?”
Among the responses, I received a question from a relatively recent retiree who told me that he felt stuck in depression as a consequence of the loss of his professional identity. He asked me for specific strategies that I used in my own transition into retirement that might help lift him from his depression and reestablish his identity and sense of well-being post-retirement.
Before listing some of the strategies that I shared with him privately, I believe that it’s important to understand that regardless of how we leave a position (i.e. voluntarily or involuntarily), our sense of being productive and our need to be relevant are core issues that contribute to our sense of well-being.
Here are some of the attitudes, actions, and strategies that helped me refocus my life after serving for 40 years as a congregational rabbi:
- Take justifiable pride in our professional accomplishments, in what we learned, created, initiated, and built, in the people we touched, mentored, and helped, and in the legacy of hard work and commitment for which we were known by colleagues and those we served.
- Each of us has a unique personal story to tell and we ought to tell it not only for ourselves as an exercise in self-reflection, but also for the sake of our children and the generations to come that they know the nature of the legacy they inherited from us. I wrote my memoirs soon after my retirement in which I noted the most significant events and people in my life that helped to shape my values and life-perspective. I included in it a detailed family tree, photographs of my parents and grandparents, and other photos of important personal memorabilia.
- Become a mentor to someone starting out in your former profession, business, or occupation. Many of us had mentors when we were young who helped guide us and who we recall still with special affection and gratitude. We can offer what we’ve learned too to younger people.
- Offer your expertise pro bono to those in need – if you were in business, help someone start, grow, or save a business. If you were a lawyer, offer your counsel to those who can’t afford an attorney. If you were a social worker, therapist, nurse, or doctor, volunteer at a clinic. If you were a teacher, help kids read and older students succeed. If you favor political candidates, work for their election.
- Volunteer – Determine your favorite cause(s) and advocate for them.
- Find a creative outlet as an artist, sculptor, potter, writer, poet, musician, composer, singer, or dancer – not for “show” but to re-engage yourself as a creative being.
- Learn something new or enhance what you already know in an area of study.
- Nurture and deepen your experience of the Ineffable through prayer, meditation, silence, yoga, reading, study, being in nature, and engagement with the arts.
- Exercise daily – Walking outside even for 20 minutes each day is important, especially for older folks, and more time as we increase strength and stamina. Experts note that exposure to the sun increases our serotonin levels and helps us stave off “Seasonal Affective Disorder” (SAD). Sun exposure can also help people with anxiety and depression, especially in combination with other treatments.
- Get enough REM sleep (7-8 hours uninterrupted sleep for most adults is the minimum recommendation) and eat moderately. If you have trouble sleeping, check with your doctor about possible causes and what ways there are to address them.
- Reach out to people suffering illness and loss. Throughout my rabbinate, my visiting with and/or calling someone who was suffering were among the most meaningful contacts I had for both them and me.
- Stay in regular contact with the people you love.
- Read widely, listen to music, and watch quality films, documentaries, dramas, and comedy that inspire and provide relaxation and relief.
- Do everything in moderation and nothing to excess.
- If you are depressed, get psychological and/or psychiatric help, and accept medication if it is so indicated. But, don’t self-medicate with alcohol or drugs.
- Don’t fret if you’re bored from time to time. It happens.
- Allow enough space in your daily schedule to welcome into your life new opportunities for engagement.
- Do nothing you don’t wish to do. Abandon strategies and activities that are failing or that disinterest you. Disengage with people who make you feel continually unworthy, angry, frustrated, and unhappy. In retirement, we have the license to choose how and with whom we spend our time and resources, and we ought to take full advantage of that license.
My mother (z’l) was alone for most of her life after my father died when she was only 42 years-old. She lived to be 98. She once told me – “The only thing keeping me from engaging with the world is the front door. All I have to do is walk through it.”
Those are a few of the suggestions I made to my reader. I hope they helped.