Life & Work After 60… Giving Back
First we learned it, then we earned it, and now we return it
“Look at every path closely and deliberately. Try it as many times as you think necessary. Then ask yourself alone, one question . . . Does this path have a heart?”
Carlos Castaneda, The Teachings of Don Juan
Bill’s “Giving Back” Story
From “Elected Studies,” to law, to microcomputers, to IT SVP of a Fortune 100
“I never had an easy time deciding what I wanted to be when I grow up. My baccalaureate was in “Elected Studies” because no one major seemed to fit me. Law school intrigued me (I saw it as a means to be of service to others and a good earning), but the study was more engaging for me than my brief ‘go’ at my own law practice with a college friend and legal partner. At the same time, microcomputers were coming into vogue and I went to sell them for a while to learn more about how they worked and benefitted law offices.
Soon, I realized that for me, technology appealed more than lawyering. That led to an MBA in information systems and a new career in IT, beginning as a systems analyst and covering 30+ years until retiring as IT SVP in a Fortune 100. Being of service never left me. Work afforded me opportunities to lead a diversity council and green team. And, volunteering let me help a Red Cross office and a food sharing organization with their technology upgrades.
What, me retire?
I approached retirement with indifference. My retirement plan while still working was simple – wait and figure it out once I got there. I knew others who were planning for it in a more concrete manner with pretty clear ideas of what they wanted to do in retirement, but nothing jumped out at me. I enjoyed working, but I was starting to look forward to more schedule flexibility. I had some ideas for new hobbies – fishing, maybe golf – to add to hockey and skiing. But, nothing as time demanding as my work as an IT leader.
So, when my position came to an end (conveniently just as I was getting closer to retirement age), but before I was ready to leave the full-time working world, I found that I had plenty of time to spare. My wife was quick to convince me of the need to exercise more fully and more routinely. And, I could only hang around the house and catch up on my piles of things needing addressing for so long. Mind you, I wasn’t at all unhappy. Life was good. But, making leisure my primary purpose in retirement wasn’t going to be enough. I knew from way back that I would want to find something that fulfilled in me a desire for a sense of purpose, of giving back, of being of service.
Bill’s “giving back” research
Just before exiting work, the company had run a volunteer fair with different organizations sharing their opportunities for volunteers. One social service group caught my attention, but would require an hour plus drive to and from their offices. More importantly for me, it did get me thinking and evaluating what kinds of organizations would be a fit for my skills and interests (which really meant probing my own beliefs about what mattered most to me). This led me to researching more about the kinds of non-profits out there.
An advisor and friend shared some places to search for non-profit related work or volunteering. This included:
PollenMidwest.org – organizations seeking/offering jobs, board and volunteering assignments
LinkedIn – set a ‘Job Alert’ search for nonprofit or nonprofit board of directors in your area; don’t forget to have your LinkedIn profile up-to-date and showing your social service side
Minnesota Council of Non-Profits – organizations seeking/offering jobs, board and volunteering assignments
Idealist – “change the world” job search site
I visited the local library (they really are one of the most marvelous of institutions) and inquired both about their need for volunteers, particularly computer tutors and their resources for finding area non-profits and social services organizations.
There are a staggering number of organizations and ways to get involved with them. Searching through them helped crystalize my thoughts on what kind of services I was interested in, what function I wanted to perform, how deeply involved I wanted to become and re-focused me on how I might be of service to others yet do something that was well within my wheel-house without taking on a steep climb into another line of work or profession.
Zeroing in on the best options
Many sources led to organizations that weren’t really too nearby. My wife pointed out there must be service groups in my area and searching for those might prove valuable. That led to me refining my search parameters and just using Google and searching “volunteer opportunities near me.” Sure enough, that surfaced two nearby organizations with web sites, both posting ways to become involved as a volunteer.
I contacted both and met with their volunteer coordinator to discuss my interests and possible roles with them. I started volunteering with both. One wanted someone to assist job seekers needing help with resume writing, job searching, applications, and interviewing skills. That fit well with my years in management hiring and career coaching employees. The other wanted a volunteer to teach and tutor computer students also seeking better employment. This added up to several hours a week of volunteering. I added Meals on Wheels delivery and food recovery driving to help restock food shelves. That put me at six hours per week.
After about 10 months of job search volunteering, one non-profit decided to engage a 15 hour a week jobs program contractor. That was a natural to come my way as we now had flight time with each other. So, I dropped back on the Meals on Wheels volunteering hours and happily took the contractor job staff position. It was nice to receive a paycheck, even if a fraction of my former corporate pay, as I was serving some social good.
I continue to tutor computer skills once in a while if my schedule allows and still drive twice a month for food recovery. Voila! a post retirement portfolio of work, volunteering and hobbies had emerged. And, who knows what’s next – maybe a board slot, maybe a different social services organization, or maybe more leisure – life’s an explore.
Bill’s lessons learned
Search multiple resources more than once to a) see the wide variety of organizations, b) learn more about your areas of interests and the roles you see for yourself, and c) search again, as new positions and volunteer opportunities arise at different times.
If you’re retiring take a little time off, months even, but start volunteering at something – it’s not necessary to find the perfect fit for yourself before taking action, and you can start small or change it up when you find that next right gig.
Look nearby – it may surprise you what’s available in your own backyard.
It’s OK, and maybe even advantageous, to take on smaller roles than what you once did. You may enjoy doing what helps others but comes easy for you.
Final thoughts, and what’s ahead
One thing I would add to Bill’s list is networking. Landing a great volunteer opportunity is linked to networking just as much as landing a great new job. First, do your self-assessment and community research, as Bill has suggested. After that, engage your network. This is especially true when seeking opportunities with greater responsibility and a longer tenure, such as board roles. Networking will help you discover and vet new opportunities, find your best fit, and present yourself in the most favorable light.
Thanks for sharing your story and for your sage advice, Bill. Your last point about exercising regularly is the perfect segue to next month’s focus on healthy living, the fourth of five portfolio life elements featured in this blog series. My wife, Dr. Bonnie Hill, will be featured in that blog about maintaining good health after age 60.
Happy trails as you pursue your version of a path with a heart.