My Mom Is Struggling With This, Too
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 townhouses 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 10 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 my plan to start a school in Panama this year, in Veraguas Province, near where Lief and I are developing the Los Islotes community. Then I told her about two friends, Peg Fairbairn and April Hess, who retired to Panama from Texas a few years ago. Peg’s career was in education.
“I’m enlisting Peg’s help with the school,” I explained to my mother. “She’s going to pitch in to get this project off the ground. We’ll begin by building a four-room schoolhouse, where Peg will help to 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.
“She must be so excited,” she said. “She’s found a purpose…”
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 (like Peg)? 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, as it has for Peg. She didn’t move to Panama with the idea of becoming involved in starting a school for her neighbor children. She and April retired to Panama because this, they realized after doing their sums, is a place where they can enjoy the retirement at the beach they’ve dreamt of their whole lives. In the States, they’d never be able to afford to build a house and settle in to become part of a private oceanside community, as they are now doing on the Pacific coast of Panama.
Peg and April came to Panama for the sun, the sea, the sand, and the affordable cost of it all.
Once on the scene, they put themselves out there. They made an effort to become part of the community where they’d chosen to base themselves. They got to know their new neighbors at Los Islotes, including Lief and me. That connection has led to the school project… which will lead who knows where.
You could make a move and then work to develop connections on the ground after you’ve arrived. Or you could make connections that could help lead you to the ideal place for you to reinvent your life in retirement… with a purpose.