Finding Purpose and Meaning in Work and Retirement

1. Falling into a Career vs. finding meaning in work and retirement

Twenty-five years ago, I fell into a career. I had no idea at the time that I would find a niche and become a sought-after expert in a certain aspect of my field. After all, I just went after a position in my company that paid a significantly higher amount of money than my current position. After that, I was both interested in and able to learn the same specialty that launched me into the role of “expert.” So I have come to understand the importance of finding purpose and meaning in work and retirement.

2. The Weight of Discontent

The only problem was that I hated every day of my seventeen years in that career. I enjoyed watching machines that I had built or modified. And I loved hearing operators be excited about how much easier their machines were to understand and keep running. But that pleasure was short-lived. As soon as I walked away from the machine or operator and had to take on a new task, the disdain was back. I stayed and deliberately kept moving up both in skill and pay for one simple reason – money.

3. Missing Purpose in Success

The point of telling you this is that despite being one of the best in my specific niche, at least in my state, if not the country (and I did travel around the country, helping other factories), I still hated my job. I didn’t feel like I had a purpose. Having a purpose or doing meaningful things is so much more important than we realize.

4. Redefining Retirement

When I became disabled, all I could imagine was being stuck sitting on the couch for the rest of my life. It was a very depressing thought! My wife sagely said, “You’re not disabled; you’re retired. You get to choose what you’re going to do with the rest of your life.” Now, I don’t get to choose just anything, as I am disabled. But the beauty of it is that it freed me from living for money to living for purpose.

5. Retirement Statistics: A Wake-Up Call

I recently got an email from a coach that I have learned some things from that I plan to implement into new projects soon. He mentioned a couple alarming statistics. First, back in 2001, the Social Security Administration released some research that on average, the sooner you retire, the sooner you die. Another study showed that a full one-third of retirees are clinically depressed.

6. Finding Purpose in Retirement

Neither one of these statistics is a surprise to me as a counselor. But they do point to something very important. That is, ‘retirement without purpose’ is bad for you. Added to that, as Christians, we need to realize that retirement per se is not a scriptural concept. In Numbers 8:23–26, we see the only mention of retirement in the entire Bible, New or Old Testament. It says that the Levites shall enter full-time service at the age of 25 and work until the age of 50. At that point, they shall not work any longer. However, it also says, “They may, however, assist their brothers in the tent of meeting, to keep an obligation.” (NASB95) Personally, I find the use of the word obligation to be a tad strange. But, as is often the case, there is no one English word that will truly explain what the Hebrew phrase here means. In essence, they were to quit doing the more laborious tasks, i.e. work. Instead, they were to keep ‘charge’ of the temple. This could include teaching younger Levites or watching to make sure that only those who are clean enter the tent of meeting. 

The question, then, for you is simple but maybe not easy to answer. What is your purpose? Or what are you doing that’s meaningful? And if you are approaching retirement or already retired, what are you doing or can you do that has purpose and meaning.

7. The Ministry of Retirement

The retired years, whether they be from age or disability, give us a fantastic opportunity to minister. The eight years since I became disabled have been the most fulfilling of my adult life, hands down.

Of course, as we age or as we become more disabled, we have to adjust what we can do. But there is always some way to have purpose and meaning in our lives. And indeed, I believe that’s what we are called to.

Need some help?

If by any chance you are struggling with finding purpose or are having any other struggles, feel free to reach out to me here.

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