My Satisfying Retirement : Volunteering After Retirement: Been There, Done That

by

Last month reader Linda made a thought-provoking comment on the post about volunteering. She had spent decades of free time volunteering during her work years, involved with Camp Fire Girls, acting as a Sunday school teacher, and volunteering at the local school district.

Now, after retirement, her thoughts had turned to activities and passions that excited and involved her.  That decision made her wonder if she were a bit of an outlier (her words) for not wanting to spend some of her time in a volunteer position.

From my perspective, I completely understand her decision. I assured her she was not being selfish or out-of-step with the choice to decide the volunteer phase was over, at least for now. After 20+ years of giving her time and talents to others, focusing on self was both logical and acceptable.

If you had children and your schedule allowed,  you certainly put in volunteer time: Boy or girl scouts (and their cookie sales), PTA meetings, field trips, sports team coaching, costume-making for plays, classroom volunteer, Sunday school help…..the list was long and never-ending.

Her comment did prompt me to wonder how many others are in her position.  It is almost a cliche: volunteering after retirement is considered a given. After all, we have all this free time. Shouldn’t we get off our duff and sign up to help?

Many of us responded to that siren call. It was expected, it was what retired people did. And, volunteering did give some structure and purpose to our day. After decades of having our movements controlled by others, it felt good to pick and choose how we spent some of our time. It made us feel good about ourselves and gave us a sense of worth and contribution.

My situation is a little different than Linda’s,. During my working years, I was on the road for large periods of time each week; volunteering was not possible. Since retiring 21 years ago, the urge to give of my time made itself known. Prison ministry, lay counseling, Junior Achievement teaching, and now a strong link to the local library system have given me a needed tie to the community and a feeling of contribution.

Importantly, over those two decades what I volunteered to do, and how much time I gave have changed as my interests have evolved. One consequence of this shift in how I choose to spend my time is being more selective in volunteer commitments. 

Physical work, like sorting pallets of food for a food bank or helping at Habitat for Humanity is no longer on my radar. We’ll leave that for the younger or more agile. Something that requires a lot of travel and several meetings per week, like Prison Ministry, just doesn’t work for me at this stage of my life. Even something like working backstage at a community theater is best left to the more nimble. 

Larger group options have largely disappeared with the pandemic. At our age, there is just too much of a risk. With vaccination and masks a political issue, even verbal confrontations becoming more common, I don’t need that in my life.

Working on various library boards and helping sort donated books meets my physical and mental requirements quite nicely. I can see the results of the volunteer efforts; I have a sense of “job well done” when the last book sale went well, or our discussion of funding a yearly scholarship program moves forward. 

Like Linda, I have to admit that volunteering can become a bit overwhelming. It is too easy to succumb to the feeling of guilt or “should do” because others ask for my time. Being more selective, even saying “No” at this stage of my life are legitimate choices. 

Volunteering should be voluntary. That is important to accept.

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