“I just don’t know what to do now. I mean… what do I do with myself at this stage? Where do I go?”
It was early one morning during my most recent visit with my family back in Baltimore, before the rest of the house was up. My mom was sitting across the kitchen table from me, looking down into her coffee mug.
“I’ve been considering options nearby. I’ve looked at retirement homes, but I’m not ready for that yet. I’ve looked at condos, including the ones where your aunt is living. I’ve spoken with real estate agents about town houses and private communities.
“I know I need to do something, and I’m ready to make a move. I want to take a next step soon, before the end of this year. But I have no idea what that step should be…”
My mother and father were happily married for more than 35 years, until my dad died in a car accident 12 years ago. A couple of years later, my mom moved from the house in the country that she and my dad had built together to a smaller place a block away from my sister. The years since, she has occupied herself helping with my sister’s kids, who, when they were younger, visited her nearly every day.
Now, though, the grandkids (my sister’s three kids and my two) are nearly all grown up. Post-kids, post-husband, post-grandkids, my mom finds herself an ultimate empty nester.
She’s still relatively young and healthy. She has a comfortable retirement nest egg. But she has no direction… no plan. She sees no reason to stay in the house where she’s been living now that the grandkids aren’t in the picture day to day. She wants to downsize further, but she can’t figure out where to go or what to do with herself when she gets there. She’s fully preoccupied trying to figure it out.
Everyone’s situation is different, but I think my mom is representative of the new retirement demographic.
Retiring somewhere warm, sunny, and affordable sounds great. But today’s retirement generation, younger and healthier than any that has preceded it in history, is looking for more than nice weather and a low cost of living. Those things are as important as they’ve always been, but now they’re only a starting point.
The real point is purpose.
During that early morning conversation with my mom recently, I mentioned the Student Center that I’m developing in Panama, in Veraguas Province, as part of the community that Lief and I are developing the Los Islotes. Then I told her about our plan to hire an administrator and then to try to find volunteers to serve as teachers and tutors.
“We’ll begin by building a four-room schoolhouse,” I told her, “where we’ll provide English-language and computer literacy courses and offer after-school tutoring for any kids in the area who are interested.”
My mom looked up from her coffee, and her face brightened.
“What a wonderful project,” she said. “Something like that would give real purpose to your life…”
Purpose could take many forms. It’s limited only by imagination.
How would you like to reinvent your life in retirement? Would you like to pursue a hobby you set aside your entire life until this point?
Would you like (or maybe you need) to start a business, either laptop-based or bricks-and-mortar, to generate cash flow to supplement your retirement nest egg while also giving you a reason to get out of bed each morning?
Would you like to volunteer to teach (keep Los Islotes’ Student Center in mind!)? Donate your time to help out in an orphanage or a shelter for single moms?
Perhaps you’d like to build houses… or plant gardens? Learn to play a musical instrument… to speak a new language… or maybe to scuba dive or practice tai chi?
The secret to success pursuing any purpose anywhere in the world, I’d suggest, is connecting with others who share your interests and perspective.
That connection can happen organically. It won’t likely be the driving force behind when and where you choose to reinvent your life overseas… though it could be.
Imagine your dream lifestyle… and then seize it wherever in the world you find it on offer for a price you can afford.
Once on the scene, put yourself out there. Make an effort to become part of the community where you’ve chosen to base yourself. Get to know your new neighbors. Each connection will lead who knows where…
The key thing, as my mom is beginning to see, is to chart a course.
Happy New Year’s Eve.
This article was first published in 2018 and has been recently updated.