5 Ways to Make Retirement Meaningful
When asked to write about "ways to make retirement meaningful," I pondered the word meaningful. I think we can all define it, and use it in a sentence, but it has a personal connotation as well. What is meaningful to you in particular?
Looking at some of its synonyms refines it a bit more—eloquent, expressive, significant, purposeful. It remains personal though as a particular activity may be meaningful to one but not another. Meaningfulness to me primarily involves doing things well and deriving satisfaction from that. I'd hazard a guess that our profession plays a large part in that.
To offer some background on me, I can say it’s trite but true; I always wanted to be a veterinarian. I realized my goal via a circuitous route and earned my DVM at age 36. It was a grand thing to be a practicing veterinarian at last, and retirement seemed too remote. Now I can proclaim—on my Facebook page, no less—to be “semi-sorta trying to be retired."
It’s a work in progress, but there are five things I’ve learned that have made my retirement incredibly meaningful. I wholeheartedly recommend keeping them in mind for whenever you might retire.
1. Relax—Enjoy Your Time
Perhaps the biggest benefit so far in retirement is the luxury of time. I read once that a veterinarian is interrupted on the average of every nine minutes during the day. It is stimulating and invigorating to keep lots of balls in the air, but it's lovely to feel relaxed and unhurried/harried as well.
While still in practice (I had my own clinic) and speaking about retirement, folks would say, "But what will you do?" My response always was "Just watch me!” I must admit to not being fully retired from veterinary medicine, as I now work for a friend four days a month. But there is no call which is absolute heaven. If you have never been on call, you cannot fully appreciate the luxury of going to bed with no trepidation whatsoever that the phone might ring in the middle of the night. There also is none of the attendant stress of running a clinic. I am just "the vet" practicing medicine and surgery. I love it.
2. Make Every Day the “Perfect Day Off”
I live on 100 acres out in the country with my husband, horses, chickens, bees, dogs, cats, birds, and fish. There are always chores to do and projects to embark on or complete. There is nothing I like better than to just be at home to do what I feel like, and not answer a telephone or get in a car. That used to be the perfect day off. Now those are most days.
3. Expand Your World
I enjoy traveling and have discovered “voluntourism” (volunteering and touring) which I feel is the best way to see the world. In a previous life I was a surgical nurse. By serendipity I connected with two charities that go on medical missions to Africa and South America and perform cleft lip/palate surgeries at no charge. My first trip was in 2008 to Ecuador for three weeks. I was hooked from the beginning. I have now been to Ecuador three times and Zimbabwe twice.
There is no doubt it is a lot of hard work but so supremely rewarding. It's marvelous to come together as a team with volunteers from all over the country and perform surgery that transforms lives—both the patients and their families. There is little time for sight-seeing but I've enjoyed bird watching, hiking, horseback riding, going to markets and listening and dancing to mbar (thumb piano) music in a rural village. Best of all is getting to know the people and having a glimpse of their lives. It is a truly humbling experience to travel to a third world country. One realizes all that we have here in the United States and just how much we take it for granted.
When I was in Zimbabwe last year, I met with two veterinarians who work with a veterinary conservation trust called AWARE (Animal and Wildlife Area Research and Rehabilitation). I was hoping to be a veterinary volunteer with them. Unfortunately, I discovered that to perform veterinary work in this location the government requires that you pass their equivalency exams, which are only given once a year. I decided I would not pursue that avenue but am hopeful to be of use to them in other ways.
4. Scrap the “Bucket List”—Take Adventures as They Come
Many people have a clear idea of what they want to accomplish at various points in their lives and are quite motivated. I'm not sure I'd fall into that category. Once some friends asked us what our five year plan was. My husband and I burst out laughing and he said, “We don't have one—we're happy to get through the day.” I detest the term “bucket list” and prefer to take things as they come. I'm not sure if being a veterinarian helps shape that but it certainly teaches you to be flexible.
5. Plan Only Your Finances
Having said that I believe that unless you plan to "die with your boots on” (or your stethoscope around your neck), you'd best look to the day you leave practice. There's plenty of financial planning information available about retirement but it behooves you to look within for what is meaningful to you.
And, as with most things in life, that significance can and often will change. Best wishes for all your exciting future endeavors—a meaningful retirement included!