What is Personal Growth in Retirement?

As I looked back at my 7 Life Domains Model on which I based my retirement life vision, I realized that I had not fully investigated the area of Self-Development/Volunteering. Serendipity has raised her head on this topic as well:

  • A friend recently sent me the quote “You are either green and growing or ripe and dying.”
  • I read an article that talked about personal development as growth and giving back. Growth is finding ways to make you a better person. Giving back is finding ways to make other people better.
  • Another recent article talked about psychological growth and spiritual growth in your retirement years. Psychological growth was defined as being the freedom to pursue your own interests, develop new capabilities and experience new things with those activities, actions and behaviors linked to your personal values. Spiritual growth was about expanding your consciousness, mindfulness and being of service to others.

One of the reasons I have avoided delving into this Life Doman was that I felt it was all about volunteering.   And while I admire folks who selflessly volunteer their time, talents and treasures for others, active volunteering has never been my vision. Not that I don’t like helping folks and I have always donated monetarily to those organizations I believe in – many of them in my local community. I just feel queasy when I think about committing regular time to volunteering. (Yes, I’ve blogged about my fear of commitment.)

So how could I explore this Life Domain with some reframing of the idea?  How could I reframe helping others in a way that is more “me” at this point of my life:

— Self-development as personal growth – growing as an individual.

— Volunteering as giving back in ways that feel authentic – helping others

For me personal growth is about pushing past my comfort zone and experimenting in different things.    And I have definitely been doing this – from doing Zumba, to starting a blog, to taking cooking class at the local Culinary Institute, to learning how to choose happiness. All of these things required me to grow in different ways.

What other things on my possibilities list have me saying “I really can’t do that, I’m too old to do that, I’m scared to fail at that?” For example, how can I push past my comfort zone and create a safety-net support system for my writing? I’ve thought about joining a Writing group… when is the right time to activate that?

I think I am helping others in my own way. For me blogging has become a way to reach out to others and offer support on this retirement transition.  Especially being open about the highs and the lows so others don’t feel alone if they are hitting some lows themselves.   Small, but definitely fits me.

I also created a mid-week foodie club as part of my intentional connections, which not only benefits me, but a group of others as well. Again, small, but fits me.   I also continue to reach out to a number of women I used to mentor and still meet with them to encourage and guide. Again small, but fits me.   Maybe I’m not going to save the world (right now), but I can continue to look for ways to help others in ways that feel authentic to me. I believe that someday I will join in for regular volunteering commitments, but not now.

So, after exploring this Life Domain with a reframing, I’m feeling like my current life plan is actually addressing both self-development and volunteering in a way that is authentic to me.

What elements of your life could use a re-framing review so you feel better about them?

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Freedom versus Commitment

I really enjoyed reading the in-depth survey recently published by Age Wave/Merrill Lynch where they talk about the 4 phases of retirement.   Having just passed my 2-year into retirement mark, I have definitely lived the “2-year retirement transition” phase they called Liberation and Self-Discovery.   I do believe I am entering the next (quite long) phase of Greater Freedom and New Choices.

The issue I’m feeling right now, however, is the tension between enjoying the freedom and feeling the constraint of making regular commitments.  So much tension that I am in fact avoiding new commitments because I love the feeling of freedom.

What am I not committing to right now?

  • I am being pursued, in a nice way, by one of our local non-profits who mentor small businesses.   But it requires a series of training and then commitment of specific amount of time per month.
  • I have become a certified retirement coach, even created a business plan, but am hesitant to push out for clients.
  • I know I want to be more physically active (it’s a big part of my vision), but I don’t commit to another Zumba class, a yoga class, or even walking my dog everyday!
  • I am not committing to a number of other activities that fit my life vision: actively working on my book by finding an editor, learning to make jewelry (yet I continue to buy materials), listening to the courses I bought (both topics I am very interested in), scheduling swimming lessons (summer is over), actively putting my cooking lessons to use, scheduling a series of seminars with OLLI, and planning our next big travel adventure. All these items remain on my to-do list week after week.


Why am I not committing to so many things that obviously fit into my life vision?

  • Is it a basic fear of returning to my workaholic tendencies? I promised myself and my husband that I would not return to those habits, and once I make a promise, I try very, very hard to abide by it – that is part of my values.
  • Do I have a fear of failure? I know I have a tension between the joy of planning and frustration of doing!   Too often the anticipation of the activity creates positive feelings, but also raises too high expectations.  I worry about it (any activity) not going well.
  • Is it lack of activation energy?  Are some of these just so big of commitments I just need to break them down into more manageable steps?
  • Do I just have too many activities and not being choice-ful enough?  There is a great concept of analysis paralysis that says if you have too many choices, you do nothing.


This might feel a bit like I am beating myself up.   I AM doing a lot of things on my new life vision plan. It’s just that I feel a bit lacking in not committing to more.  Oh dear, does that sound like a workaholic tendency?!

How are you managing the constraint of regular commitments versus keeping a feeling of freedom in retirement?


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Recently, one of the bloggers I followed recommended a new book by an author I had read during my transition.   This new book, as with many authors, includes a repeat of some of the same great tools and exercises the author finds especially useful – in this case tools to aid in transitioning.  It made me ponder what tools and exercises I had found most useful from the many books I read throughout the past 2 years of retirement transition.

In hindsight, what has truly worked?

Julia Cameron’s The Artist Way, or any of her subsequent books, has a number of great self-discovery exercises.   Her Morning Pages tool has become an integral part of my morning ritual.   I use it for emotional awareness, creating feelings of accomplishment, and positive self-talk.  I attempt to have Artist Dates with myself a couple of times a month and they have pushed me to explore a number of new, fun (out of my comfort zone) activities as well.   During self-discovery, I used her memoir exercises, her secret selves exercises, exercises for creating future visions (both as stories and in a visual collage), lists of little luxuries, and customized affirmations. I continue to use many of these visioning exercises as part of my Morning Pages and regular Action Planning. (I am a planner.)

I had used this book series years ago when thinking about career change, and was pleasantly surprised that What Color is your Parachute in Retirement (John E. Nelson and Richard N. Bolles) really helped me in this life transition. Written in an educational way, the book builds on Laslett’s Four Ages of Life Model with retirement as the Third Age (freedom, flexibility and fulfillment). The authors provide excellent perspective about six elements of an ideal retirement (financial, social, geographical, psychological, biological, and medical). I found a lot of benefit in the concepts of Positive Psychology (pleasure linked to interests, engagement linked to strengths, meaning linked to values). This book really helped me articulate my values with a values questionnaire and I’ve used their thinking on geography and meaning of home as we look to our next “place”.

From Ernie J. Zelinski, I’ve latched onto the concept of a Possibilities List.   [Blogger Mr. Firestation calls his the Not-be-Bored List, a name I’m contemplating stealing.]  But Ernie’s approach to creating the list was what really got me started.   He’s another author who has repeated some of his great tools in two books of his that I read; I’d recommend How to Retire Happy, Wild and Free for someone really focusing on not working as they retire early.  He has so many ways to think about generating possibilities about “what should I do” when you’re not working…you should not be bored!

The Joy of Retirement by David C. Borchard was one book I wished I had read earlier in my exploration into transition.   David presents a Profiler Model that helps you define who you want to be in retirement and then proceed to help show what aspects of lifestyle will help you be that person. As with many books on retirement, the work or not question is well-embedded in the thinking, but in a way that allows you to choose the right path for you. I loved his exercises on identity-based roles, personal definition of success, and a unique way of identifying strengths.

Don’t Retire, Rewire by Jeri Sedlar and Rick Miners assumes you WILL work in retirement.  Besides that going in premise however, I found their exercises on defining your motivational drivers and what in your work-life was satisfying your drivers to be extremely helpful.    So even if you choose not to work, you can identify what drivers need to be fulfilled in other aspects of your life.  For me it was structure and connections.

So that’s my top 5 books and the elements that really worked to help me through the transition from workaholic to learning how to live. There were other books that helped, but these 5 definitely had the biggest impact.  As I relooked at my book stack, I also realized I still have a few unread ones in the pile!   Maybe there’s another gem in there… oh, the researcher in me is intrigued!

And now, what book(s) worked best for you?  Do I have another one to add to my unread pile?   (I should warn you, the read pile is 32 books… did I mention I’m a researcher?)

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