Life’s Purpose

Ride On


It has been over a year since I retired from a 35-year career. I feel very fortunate and am thankful to have had a job I enjoyed. It’s a cliché, especially since I was a pilot, but all those years flew by.

One unique facet of my job was a mandatory retirement age. It was interesting to see how people felt as they got closer to retirement. Almost everybody said, “I can’t believe I’m almost there. I can’t wait.” In reality, many were terrified to take that next step. It was like they were being forced to step off the plank into shark-infested waters. I guess the “shark-infested” part is the legitimate fear of running out of resources. For many of us, I think the fear was stepping into a dark void. It was absolutely the “unknown.”

Throughout our lives, most of our education and effort are geared toward taking progressive steps up the ladder to earn more money and/or more corporate power. Innately competitive, we work harder to get more. Success is measured in endless financial accumulation or professional advancement. Inspiring hard work and self-reliance is a benefit of American capitalism.

But there isn’t much preparation for what comes after. Corporations and public education don’t offer classes on how to live “successful” lives after we stop working. If they exist, we sure don’t want to take time off work to attend.

Financial institutions are happy to coach an employee on economic security in retirement (usually the advice is to keep working). Ads and solicitations for what to do with your money are abundant. But what about the most precious (and at this stage of life, dwindling) asset: your time?

I recently heard a radio personality say, “I talk to people who are elderly, and they lose their purpose in life when they stop working.” I’m no Bible scholar, nor would I recommend listening to me for life guidance, but I don’t believe our “purpose in life” is simply working for a paycheck. Truly enjoying your work is great, but if it isn’t fulfilling and bringing joy, we shouldn’t let the inertia of the daily grind shackle us.

This podcast advocated increasing the age at which we start taking Social Security. As a 40-year-old multi-millionaire paid to sit and complain, I’m not sure he’s qualified to recommend we all “work until we die.” It’s shallow and insulting to say our job (and staying off Social Security) is our “purpose in life.” Talk radio is a fertile field for multiple editorials, but not this one.

So, if our purpose isn’t to make more money, what should it be? A better purpose in life is to get more of it. Retirement can be filled with a longer, richer, more robust life with a focus on us, our community, and the planet.

Numerous studies show consistent movement leads to a longer, happier life. Without the obligation of daily work, we could go for regular walks, hikes, or rides. These are cheap investments in improving our physical, mental, and emotional health. Joining others is even better. Our parks and trails are busy with people out enjoying their time. When I’m out there exercising, I often stop and talk to people I see. These quick conversations almost always make me happier.

If exercise isn’t our thing, or possible, there are abundant community organizations that need volunteers. Reading to kids, litter pickup, community beautification projects, helping the elderly or those less fortunate, or pulling invasive plants are samples of the things we can do. Each involves spending time with inspiring people and helping our community (and ourselves) along the way.

Community colleges offer a ton of great courses. I’d love to learn a foreign language or environmental science. What about film studies or literature? Possibilities are much more abundant than the time available.

In appreciation for the very brief time we’re given, how can we help our family, community, and our world be better? Taking a few seconds to pick up and properly dispose of trash, or planting flowers or trees, produces great results.

We can check out our local, state, and national parks. If we have the ability, we can go places we always wanted to go. There are amazing sights all over the world. I’m often blown away by the things I see and the people I meet when I go someplace different and keep an eye (and mind) open.

Anxious about the specter of slowly decaying in a rocking chair, people would ask, “What are you going to do in retirement?” My answer became: “Everything.” At least as much as I have time for.

Gotta go!

Mark Michel is a retired commercial airline pilot and a Key Pen Parks commis- sioner. He lives in Lakebay.