You’re retired! Now, what?

You are officially retired. You got the gold watch or the going-away party; or if you were an entrepreneur, you took down the shingle, closed your business bank account, and filed your clients or customers under “Inactive.” These activities formalized a big step in your life—one you’ve been thinking about, planning for, and on particularly rough days, dreaming of.

Perhaps your friends and former co-workers have started asking, now what? You may even be asking the same question. Now, what do you do with your time, pent-up energy, and knowledge and expertise that have taken you years to acquire. Are you relieved that your working years are over, or are you at a loss for how to fill your time productively?

This is a crossroads. One path leads you to traditional retirement activities—playing golf, babysitting for your grandchildren, traveling, taking a course, or teaching a course in your area of proficiency. The other path guides you right back to work. “Work” doesn’t mean doing just what you’ve been doing for decades. Work can mean anything you want it to mean.

Work can be tackling something new part-time or freelance, consulting in your field, or volunteering in one of the many organizations out there that need exactly what you do. In some cases, you will be paid; in others, your payment will be the satisfaction of passing along some of your accumulated knowledge and skill to those who will benefit.

Reentering the job market at this stage of life may feel intimidating or awkward, but once you stick your toe in the water, you’ll discover that you have a lot of company—others in your situation who want to make a meaningful contribution to the world. Why do this? Why go “back to work”? Here are some reasons.

  1. Do it for your future security. You don’t necessarily need to make as much money as you did in your last job because even a part of your previous salary can make a difference to your income. A 2020 paper from the Boston College Center for Retirement Research found that, for people sixty-two and older, working can substantially improve their retirement picture. Working longer means you don’t have to deplete your savings; in fact, you can add to them.
  2. Do it for your brain. According to the University of Michigan’s Health and Retirement Study (HRS), continuing to work improves your intellectual health. This is partly because people with better cognitive health are better able to work, and partly because switching to a different type of job and learning new things may help slow mental decline.
  3. Do it for your body. Part-time or volunteer work that is different from what you did in the past may help reduce dwindling physical abilities and improve mental health, says Amanda Sonnega, an associate research scientist at the University of Michigan’s Institute for Social Research. A University of Maryland health and retirement study (HRS) of more than 12,000 retirees found that it also led to fewer major diseases and functional limitations.
  4. Do it to make new friends. One of the major findings of The Harvard Study of Adult Development has been how much retirement well-being depends on having good-quality relationships, says Robert J. Waldinger, professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and the current director of the study. Doing any regular work—whether full-time, part-time, or as a volunteer—exposes you to new people and possible new friendships.
  5. Do it to find purpose. Finding a new sense of purpose after retirement is an essential contributor to a healthy retirement, according to Nathan LeBrasseur, professor of physical medicine and rehabilitation at the Mayo Clinic. Research shows that people with a sense of purpose feel younger in retirement.
  6. Do it to pay it forward. One of the great blessings of retirement, says Tim Maurer, a financial planner in Charleston, South Carolina, is that it gives you the opportunity to help others. A 2021 study of retirees in England found that volunteer work in retirement led to less depression, higher satisfaction, and improved quality of life. The secret to maintaining those outcomes is to keep volunteering.
  7. Do it to enjoy yourself. Whether you’re spending time with people you like or working in an environment that coincides with your hobbies, a job can be fun,” says Nancy Collamer, a retirement coach and author of Second-Act Careers. If you are considering a new job, you want to ask if it will provide you with a community of people you will enjoy; will there be opportunities for growth, challenge, or learning; and, most of all, will you have fun.
  8. Do it to help your local business community. There were 11.5 million job openings in the United States at the end of March, the highest level since the government started measuring this in 2000. We hear stories of severe worker shortages every day. Why not help a local business struggling with too few workers fill some of their positions? You can learn about the business, meet new people, and do a good deed.

(Based on an article by Kimberly Lankford, a longtime columnist at Kiplinger’s Personal Finance, is the author of Rescue Your Financial Life)